This time last year, our VCU community honored the return of ancestral remains from the East Marshall Street Well (EMSW). The remains journeyed back to Richmond from the Smithsonian, where they had been studied and stored since their discovery. Upon their return, our university, the EMSW Project’s Family Representative Council and many from our community attended three solemn and beautiful ceremonies as part of the healing process. The year has moved fast, and last week the Family Representative Council marked this anniversary with a small, virtual gathering. This ceremony also provided continued recognition of our problematic history, which we have only begun reparative actions as a university. The remarks made that evening were powerful and hopeful.
Along with Drs. Michael Rao and Art Kellerman, I was honored to attend and offer some observations and reflections on the social unrest we’ve experienced this year in Richmond and across the country as well as the actions we are taking in the School of Medicine to advance social justice. I was proud to be able to recount several meaningful situations that our trainees, faculty and staff have contributed to. I highlighted how on June 5, our local White Coat for Black Lives group participated in a national protest as we knelt with our colleagues in outrage over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Soon thereafter, we promoted dialogue across our community. We met with small and large groups of students in various venues, and we talked with staff. The SOM Executive Committee of the Faculty held a session with Dr. Kevin Allison to explore equity and justice issues. We also hired an interim senior associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), with a search for a permanent DEI leader underway. Our Inclusion Council has just been named, and they will meet for the first time later this week.
We continue to take steps with educational efforts, including expanded content on race relations and the history of our city during orientation that was available to all students, and we held our first annual DEI Dean's lecture this fall. I also shared the progress of the curriculum review that is underway where we have four groups examining aspects of our medical training, including words, meanings and historical societies and changes we will be making to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive. We will continue this work with our DEI plan and faculty, staff and student recruitments.
While there is much more to do, our community leaders, representing the EMSW project were heartened by the progress made so far. As a community, we will continue this journey in 2021 and beyond, and I look forward to all that we will accomplish to make medicine and our school more diverse, equitable and inclusive.