Enduring Change for Enduring Change

No matter how urgent the need for change is, it can seem like it takes a long time to achieve it. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” In August of an election year, there are two notable examples of this:

This year is the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. Beginning in 1848 and culminating when this amendment was signed into law on Aug. 18, 1920, the women’s suffrage movement took 72 years to attain this change.

This year is the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is federal legislation that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It was signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965. The Civil Rights Movement began in 1954, so it took 11 years to achieve this goal.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading President Gabel’s message from yesterday, in which she talks about the impact the late U.S. Congressman John Lewis had on the Voting Rights Act, as well as our campus-wide response to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

These examples are not to discourage us about how long it can take to affect change. They are to inspire us to maintain constant forward momentum, regardless of the difficulty or magnitude of the task. They are to encourage us to take the skills we have learned in rapidly adapting to a crisis in one area—the COVID-19 pandemic—and apply them in another—DEI in medical education, research, and care.

  • We have expanded the successful Rapid Response Grant program to include funding to Reduce Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare. The first eight awards cover a fascinating range of projects from improving access to care through mobile technology to efforts to better understand how COVID-19 impacts different communities. I hope you will take a few minutes to read about these and take inspiration from them.
  • On August 5, “Medical School Grand Rounds: Moving the Dial on Health Equity Through Impactful Research” was given by Michele Allen, MD, MS, and Brooke Cunningham, MD, PhD, both of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. If you missed this, you can watch the recording at the link above.
  • Drs. Allen and Cunningham will also lead Equity in Research Seminars to guide a small group of faculty as they examine their research agendas and identify steps to consider and address health equity in their work.
  • We recently posted our DEI One-pager that describes our goals, our priorities, and our work to date.
  • Our Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Ana Núňez, MD, FACP, will join the Medical School on Aug. 31.

On Aug. 4, Christopher Warlick, MD, PhD, head of our Department of Urology, spoke at Medical Alley on “How Do We Begin to Address the Cost of Health Inequities?” I would like to pass on the excellent parallel he and Taj Mustapha, MD, Department of Medicine, have made between the culture of DEI and the culture of quality and safety in clinical care. In both areas, it is critical to give people permission to speak up (without fear of retaliation), to take collective responsibility for actions and results (rather than individual error or blame), and to learn the right language so we are clear, confident, and competent in what we are working to achieve.

As with any significant change, people are at all points on the continuum of what needs to be done and how to do it. In the weeks and months to come, I hope we can create a safe place for people to come together and speak freely, civilly, and honestly* from their own experiences and viewpoints. I hope we can consciously work to avoid the toxicities of division, backlash, and “cancel culture.”* I hope that we can listen to one another. I hope we can see this as an opportunity to learn more and develop a better understanding about each other in all the permutations of DEI as we create a better Medical School for everyone.

*These two opinion articles are suggested as food for thought. As we are part of an academic institution, I am not expecting us to agree, only to learn more about these issues.