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School of Medicine Columbia

School of Medicine Columbia Response to Recent Episodes of Racism and Inequity

All within our School of Medicine family and our community have been deeply affected by recent events that highlight ongoing racism within our society. The senseless death of George Floyd is a potent reminder that we are still far from the American ideal of achieving “liberty and justice for all.”  Inequitable treatment and illicit use of power at the expense of the powerless brings harm to the victims, while collectively breeding anxiety, fear, mistrust, hopelessness, and depression.

As a school of medicine, we must acknowledge these issues serve as barriers to achieving a just society, and exercise our responsibility to be part of the solution. Many of the health disparities that continue to plague our surrounding community find their roots in hundreds of years of oppression of minorities. It is shameful that many of our neighbors do not have equal access to needed health care services and struggle to find adequate housing. As health care professionals and healers, this is our space. We neither ignore the validity of the concerns nor observe from the sidelines offering advice; we can and must join with millions who are prepared to work together to combat racism and bias, and to find real and lasting solutions.

Our School of Medicine leaders have talked at length about actions we can take within the School of Medicine in partnership with the communities we serve. This is an ongoing discussion that will in time lead to a more extensive list of opportunities and commitments. However, we wanted to share with you some initial actions that the School of Medicine plans to take in the coming weeks.

  • New student orientation for incoming medical students and graduate students is immediately being revised to include additional material related to racial bias, cultural competency, equity, and inclusion. Using assigned readings related to recent events, students will be challenged to reflect and share how their learning can enhance their ability to make a difference as health professionals.

  • New elements are being added to the medical student curriculum focusing on better understanding of health disparities and interventions available to address those disparities. We will continue to seek additional enhancements to our medical school and graduate program curricula that effectively explore the impact of racism on health and health outcomes.

  • Prior to students returning to campus for the fall semester, faculty will be reaching out to some groups of students seeking their input on how to improve equity and inclusion within the School of Medicine. These discussions will continue during the fall semester.

  • We will reinvigorate the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, through which faculty, staff, and students will be able to provide ongoing input about proactive steps we can take to improve the climate of diversity and inclusion within our school.

  • For the coming year, the top fundraising priority for the School of Medicine will be the raising of funds for minority student support. The Dargan Scholarship fund was established to honor Dr. Everett L. Dargan, a renowned surgeon who served as an early African-American faculty member in the UofSC School of Medicine. In establishing this endowment, Dr. Dargan’s dream was that more minority students would have the opportunity to pursue a medical career in South Carolina. To learn more about supporting scholarships, visit the Give to Medicine webpage.

  • The School of Medicine’s Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity in the Arts, which was formed this spring, will be asked to facilitate the development of a display highlighting exemplary minority faculty, staff, alumni, and benefactors of the School of Medicine, whose contributions have advanced our school’s mission and values. This display will become the cornerstone of ongoing efforts to highlight the enduring contributions of dozens of individuals of all genders, races, and backgrounds whose efforts have established the foundation on which the current success of the School of Medicine has been built.

  • For the coming year, the School of Medicine Strategic Planning Steering Committee will focus primarily on enhancing our strategies to build a more robust culture of diversity and inclusion. These efforts will examine ways to facilitate meaningful dialogue and deeper understanding, while seeking opportunities to improve our student pipeline programs, hiring practices, and faculty and staff development efforts.

  • The Dean’s Executive Advisory Council, a diverse group of community leaders, alumni, and friends of the School of Medicine, regularly advises the SOM. We will be reaching out to them to solicit their input on further steps we can take to strengthen our culture of diversity and inclusion.

We harbor no illusions that the answers to these profound issues are simple. However, despite the almost unfathomable pain and sorrow experienced by so many in the past two weeks, we are hearing a new theme of “hope” introduced into conversations over the past few days. Many share a growing sense that our nation seems to understand that we must move beyond rhetoric to real change. There is a belief that perhaps we now have a critical mass of individuals interested in being a part of the solution, enough that together we will become part of a better future. We commit to working with each of you toward building such a better future in the coming weeks, months and years.

Les Hall, M.D.

Carol McMahon, M.D.
Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion

Robert Rhinehart, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion

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