Equity as Health

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

One of many English translations of a poem by Saadi Shirazi,
13th century Persian author and philosopher

Just as in medicine, where we cannot have a healthy body if some part of it is not taken care of, so also in our Medical School, we cannot be a healthy and successful whole if some of our members are excluded from the benefits we should share equally.

Over the past several years, the Medical School has focused on improving some very basic aspects of gender equity at the faculty level. This is critical and fundamental work; however, while we were working on these issues, they were rapidly becoming more complex. Today, it is simplistic to view diversity in binary terms. Nothing fits that model. Not gender. Not race. Not any of the seemingly infinite number of complexities and variations we encounter on a daily basis: such as age, religious belief, cultural background, socioeconomic status, and education level.

So, how we do build on these early efforts to create a truly inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplace? What obstacles stand in our way?

Well, we’re human. We come into our working world with our preconceived ideas, our prejudices―our “immune system” if you will, which has been developing since the day we were born.

When we meet a new person, we evaluate them. We start with what we can perceive. How does the other person sound, look? Familiar or not? And then, perhaps after having developed a fuller picture of the other person, we begin―like an immune system does―to determine whether you classify this person as “like self” or “other.” And that’s where the challenges start, when we include or exclude this new person based on external or obvious features alone.

In this artificial universe of the University, it helps to consciously develop “immune tolerance” for each other―an intentional, active process where differences between self and other remain, but our response is changed due to an alteration in our understanding of those differences and the realization that they are not a threat to self. Each of us can thus individually and internally become inclusive, welcome diversity, and ensure equity.