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Bringing Our Commitment to Diversity to Life

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

There’s no question about it. The Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) has been deeply committed to fostering diversity in the classroom and beyond for over a decade. The School’s diversity statement makes it clear: 

…By embracing diversity and inclusion in all that we do and strive for, we strengthen our community, our pedagogy, our research and the future design, development and delivery of a health care system that eliminates disparities both locally and globally.… 

But, writing it or saying it doesn’t bring the results to fruition. That takes action. And, over the past 18 months, DUSON has increased its supportive efforts around diversity and inclusion through the School and the University. “Making changes at all levels for a more tolerant environment might be challenging,” said DUSON Dean Marion E. Broome, PhD, RN, FAAN, “but the rewards are worth the investment.”

“As individuals and organizations, we have to look at our core values to see how well we’re collaborating with others in the workplace and generating a culture of inclusivity,” she said. “It’s difficult because many of us are busy, sometimes stressed, and we sometimes don’t take the time to think about things that we say that could be negative or seen as a slight.” To bring more attention to unconscious actions and unintended word choice, Broome and other DUSON faculty and staff leaders engaged the School in several activities.

Dean’s Diversity Conversations and Committee on Diversity and Inclusion

Any attitude or behavior changes intended to impact the School’s culture must start from within, Broome said. It’s incumbent upon everyone within DUSON to take stock of how they treat others. And, the onus to start it all lies with the faculty and staff, she said.

“It’s our responsibility to help our students find their voice and be able to speak out about ignorance,” she said. “If we don’t have the courage it takes for this conversation, we’re not going to be able to help our students.”

As a result of this conviction, she worked with the diversity and inclusion committee already in place to engage faculty and staff on an ongoing basis around issues of diversity and inclusion. She launched the Dean’s Diversity Conversations — periodic meetings open to anyone in the School — where individuals can feel free to voice their concerns and opinions about issues of diversity, intolerance or discrimination. It’s an opportunity, Broome said, for her and others to hear about ongoing issues within the School that they might not otherwise be aware of.

Students, staff and faculty attend these bi-monthly conversations, which usually attract about 12-15 people, who together, discuss issues important to them. So far, these forums, and the groups that work alongside them, have proven effective and are welcomed across the board.

“It has been an honor to serve on the Dean’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion,” said Julie Cusatis, senior manager of international programs. “Over the years, this forum has provided valuable opportunities for members of the DUSON community to gather regularly with the Dean to discuss issues, share stories, identify strategies and make recommendations aimed at enhancing equity, opportunity, inclusiveness and respect at DUSON.”

“I Don’t Say” Campaign

Last year, DUSON joined several other schools and universities by participating in the “You Don’t Say?” Campaign. The national initiative is designed to bring awareness to language that denigrates groups for any number of reasons, including race, ethnicity, religion, gender, abilities or sexual orientation, in an effort to stem usage.

A total of 37 faculty, staff and students participated in the voluntary photo project, dubbed “I Don’t Say…,” that was released over three weeks in June and July of 2015. Each photo included a term that was seen as disparaging and the reason why the participant refused to use it.

According to Broome, nurses are primed to support diversity and inclusion campaigns because they’re intrinsically natural advocates. They spend extensive time with individuals who are not privileged in our society due to various circumstances, and they see firsthand how language can empower or marginalize people.

The hope was that the campaign would reinforce the School’s commitment to diversity and inclusion — and it did.

“The campaign was a purposeful way to raise awareness about the power of marginalizing words and phrases. The intent was not to ban or censor words but to rather bring awareness about the impact of the words that we use,” said Margie Molloy, DNP, RN, CNE, CHSE, assistant professor and director of the Center for Nursing Discovery. “We’re educating the next generation of health care providers who are going to see a very diverse patient population, and we have to prepare them for that.”

Responses from alumni and the greater DUSON community to the campaign were appreciative and grateful that the School has addressed such a sensitive and important issue in a direct way.

Racial Equity Institute

To keep the conversation about equality and diversity alive within the School, leaders organized the first in a series of workshops through the Greensboro-based Racial Equity Institute (REI). During the two-and-a-half-day workshop, diversity experts led conversations about feelings and attitudes in the School, assessed progress to-date on combating inequalities and helped faculty, staff and students pinpoint specific, actionable goals for improving gender, race, sexual orientation and age issues. The response to the experience was overwhelmingly positive.

“What an important, powerful and eye-opening workshop for DUSON. The Racial Equity Institute workshop was one of the best workshops I’ve had the privilege of attending,” said Julie Yamagiwa, a DUSON grants and contracts administrator. “The leaders of REI walked us through racial history in the United States and provided a safe forum to discuss racial inequality and allowed us to share our own experience. It was truly profound.”

The trainer-led conversations were in-depth and thoughtful, focusing on how racism impacts social structures, institutions and policies to create disparities and inequalities. The event was geared specifically toward academia, said Michael Cary, PhD, RN, assistant professor, and gave participants the opportunity to share experiences honestly along with real-life testimonies. “I have been so impressed by the courage of our students, desiring a deeper understanding about racism, privilege and its outcomes, and their steadfast commitment to organizational change — a call to action,” he said. “I am equally impressed but also proud of the support and investments made by Dean Broome and all others who participated in the REI workshop — the response to the call.”

Those factors, he said, have pushed the School toward equity and inclusivity Cary hopes the School will soon become a model for other institutions within the University and beyond.

Campus Engagement​

As a diverse and inclusive environment, DUSON has a responsibility to share and spread its values throughout the University. Doing so requires getting involved in institution-wide initiatives, such as the Task Force on Bias & Hate Issues.

Launched in November of 2014, this coalition is charged with reviewing the University’s policies, practices and culture, as well as making recommendations that will reduce bias and discriminatory actions. Comprised of 10 students and 17 faculty, the task force analyzes policies for bias, investigates incidents for intolerance and makes recommendations to increase transparency when addressing these issues.

There are currently six task force working groups focusing on specific issues: best practices from other institutions; communication and outreach to student groups; data collection and surveys of relevant issues; legal rulings around speech and hate issues; listening to student groups to gain experience; and prevention and learning groups to explore bias. A full analysis report is expected soon. 

DUSON began participating with the task force early in 2014 by hosting a town hall in the School. And, in doing so, the School demonstrated it has a leadership committed to creating an environment that is safe and welcoming — one that gives students of all backgrounds an opportunity to learn the skills needed to safeguard the health of patients who also come from all backgrounds. Much of the School’s success thus far can be attributed to Broome’s dedication, said Duke University Vice President for Institutional Equity Benjamin Reese Jr, PsyD.

“Leadership is critical around issues of diversity and inclusion. Dean Broome’s efforts have really raised the bar for deans across the country because she is actively engaged in most of the diversity initiatives that she has initiated or sanctioned,” he said. “Having a dean who is personally involved is the hallmark of an engaged leader.”