Mirroring Minnesota

Diversity and inclusion can’t just be buzzwords. Mirroring the diversity of our state and creating an inclusive environment where individuals feel respected and valued is at the heart of our vision of excellence for this Medical School and this University. Diversity and inclusion need to be a part of how we think and what we feel—in developing curriculum, training physicians, hiring faculty and staff, and enrolling students. Our patients reflect the diversity of Minnesota. Our students should, too. But, how do make this happen? One way would be to match the demographics of our incoming students to the state’s demographics. But…it’s not that simple.

To see why, let’s look at Duluth, where 20% of our new medical students identify as Native American/American Indian (NA/AI). This is much higher than the percentage of the state’s population who identify as NA/AI (1.35%), and we can point to this as success (and it truly is), but the statistics are not the story. These students are not here because they are a member of a group that is underrepresented in medicine, they are here because they are excellent students who are committed to serving the world as physicians.

How does Duluth do this? Their success in recruiting a diverse student body does not come from artificial goals but from working to remove the artificial barriers that have historically stood in the way of an equitable opportunity for education. Duluth faculty members and staff have worked within the NA/AI communities to build a community-based educational infrastructure that gives students opportunities for interest in and knowledge of scientific and medical fields. They have created support systems (Center of American Indian and Minority Health), developed summer enrichment and other pre-medical school programs, became role models, and sometimes introduced students to the very idea that college is for them. The Medical School campus in Duluth, from the George Morrison sculpture in the commons area to the opportunities for cross-cultural medicine, creates an environment of inclusion. This is a step toward embracing the excellence true diversity brings.

We have a moral and intellectual responsibility as an educational institution to ask deeper questions and to produce the best possible physicians, which means ensuring the excellence of our graduating students. Percentages, goals, and quotas are not enough. It is about reaching out to our communities—all of our communities—building connections, listening respectfully, and removing obstacles built by a power structure that is hundreds, if not thousands, of years old.

Diversity is not about optics; it’s about understanding and representing the people we care for (although, obviously, we can’t have five-year-old pediatricians). I will say this again and again. Diversity starts with us individually and as a group. It starts with examining all our pre-conceived ideas, it starts with challenging how we have historically operated, and it starts with being thoughtful and proactive about including everyone.