Category: Fall 2020, Georgetown Magazine

Title:Students inspire Medical Center to advance systemic inequity work to a new level of commitment to diversity, inclusion, and racial justice

Jennifer Gyamfi Holiday (M’22) speaks to health care providers on June 6 at McPherson Square in Washington, D.C., before a White Coats for Black Lives protest at the White House. She spoke on how anti- Black racism and white supremacy are institutionalized in medicine and urged providers to combat implicit biases.
Jennifer Gyamfi Holiday (M’22) speaks to health care providers on June 6 at McPherson Square in Washington, D.C., before a White Coats for Black Lives protest at the White House. She spoke on how anti-Black racism and white supremacy are institutionalized in medicine and urged providers to combat implicit biases.

This past summer, student activism inspired the Georgetown University Medical Center to deepen its existing commitment to racial justice work. Motivated by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, more than 500 members of the School of Medicine community signed an open letter to university leaders calling for institutional action against systemic and structural racism.

“In order to adequately create culturally competent and effective physicians, it is imperative we be trained to consider the impact that racism and the history of race-based medicine has on our patients’ lives, clinical encounters, and health outcomes,” wrote the students who initiated the effort.

How institutions contribute to dismantling systemic racism has been top of mind in recent months, with widespread protests over police killings of Black people and the Kentucky grand jury decision to not charge Louisville police officers in the killing of Breonna Taylor.

The letter inspired the July launch of the Racial Justice Committee for Change (RJCC) to develop “specific recommendations to achieve racial equity in admissions, education, and the diversity of faculty, students, and staff across schools and programs at the Georgetown University Medical Center campus, and to better achieve Georgetown University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and to address systemic racism,” said Dr. Edward B. Healton, executive vice president for health sciences and executive dean of the School of Medicine.

“The RJCC work is focused on actions to better create and strengthen a culture of mutual respect and support, equity as a lived value, and to be truly welcoming to each of us and all of us,” Healton added.

RJCC subcommittees meet every couple of weeks to discuss the following topics: well-being, experience, and responsiveness; safety and campus policing; recruitment, retention, and success of URM (underrepresented in medicine) students, staff, and faculty; and racial justice curriculum reform.

Mariama Jallow (M’22), student co-chair of the RJCC subcommittee on underrepresented minority well-being, experience, and responsiveness, says that the work has felt like history in the making. “I have faith that this is just the beginning of sustainable institutional change.”

The RJCC will present recommendations to medical center leadership by December 15. Several action items have already begun, and recommendations are expected in the short term, with ongoing implementation until the final recommendations and plans for continued work are submitted. The RJCC submitted its first report on September 30.

“I remain grateful for the student leadership that has been a critical driving force behind this initiative,” Healton said, emphasizing that the work goes well beyond a committee.

“Standing up the RJCC is an important goal, but it is by no means an end. It is one of our important vehicles for change, and its establishment marks only the beginning of the impactful work that lies ahead.”

In response to the open letter with specific requests for curricular reform, the Medical Center has held fall workshops to review the medical school curriculum for racialized content. Additional changes have already been implemented, including:

  • A new required orientation session for first-year students on anti-racism, during which facilitators lead small group discussions of excerpts from Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century.
  • New student and faculty training on responding to micro-aggressions in the Cura Personalis M1 course.
  • Diversified curricular content for the Immunology, Rheumatology, and Dermatology module for this academic year.
  • Expanded representation by renaming a learning society to honor Georgetown otolaryngologist Earl H. Harley Jr.
  • Diversified portraiture across the medical center to include physician leaders of color Cliff Leftridge Jr., and Princy Kumar, M.D.
  • A renamed School of Medicine Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, with expanded content including Health Equity Forum events, Healing Circles, SPARK engagement and support activities (e.g., a student, faculty, and staff book club series including White Fragility), and a Teaching for Inclusion and Equity series.
  • A new Committee on Admissions Subcommittee on Diversity, committed to recruitment of URM students.

The RJCC is also working on next steps beyond the letter to build on the tremendous initiative medical students began, collaborating and work closely with colleagues in the School of Nursing & Health Studies, Biomedical Graduate Education, and the new MedStar Working Group for Racial Justice.

More from this Issue

Coach Thompson at podium

At 6 feet, 10 inches tall, Coach John Thompson Jr.—affectionately known as “Big John”—stood above many as an athlete, pioneering NCAA coach, architect of the Big East, three-time Olympian, and…

medical students with pipettes in lab

Above: Aline de Souza, M.D., (left) and Xie Wu (right) do RNA prep for ACE2 studies led by Hong Ji, M.D. When the pandemic began widening in March 2020, Georgetown…

Rio Djiwandana

The Crown Heights community is made up of mostly low-income families of color. The vast majority of my students identify as Afro-Caribbean and are from countries such as Jamaica,…