Advancing Inclusion Through the Racial Equity Institute

In 2015, four Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) PhD students were infuriated by strong images and even stronger feelings after several violent incidents took place across the country. From the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to the deaths of three dental students in Chapel Hill, individuals in our community began having conversations to spark change.

Joyell Arscott, RN; Deanna Befus, RN; Courtney Caiola, PhD ’15, RN; and Megan Winkler, PhD ’16, CPNP-PC, RNC-NIC, wanted to do something that would ignite change around issues of race. “After the incident in Ferguson happened, I returned to school and was depressed,” said Arscott. “As a nurse, we are taught to navigate and bridge gaps. However, for me, it was missing here in my own world. Minorities felt not enough was being done, not out of a lack of movement, but a lack of understanding.”

The four students came together and presented an idea that would change the culture within DUSON. “It is important that the entire DUSON community come together and really understand what equity means, so that we can embody it,” said Befus.

In December 2015, DUSON held its first two-day racial equity training workshop conducted by the nationally-renowned Racial Equity Institute (REI). The objective of this training is to serve as a first step in developing the tools and vocabulary necessary to create a cultural shift and ultimately a cultural transformation of Duke into a place of racial impartiality.

Faculty, staff and students attended the workshop, and it was an eye opener on the impact of race and how it shapes the outcomes of all institutions.

DUSON held another workshop in 2016 and will host its third one March 20 – 21.

“It was important to continue the REI workshops so that each person in the DUSON community has an opportunity to understand the history behind racism,” said Brigit Carter, PhD, MSN, RN, CCRN, director for the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program, and one of the executive sponsors for the People & Environment focus area of the DUSON Strategic Plan.

Carter added: “Having this understanding is beneficial to what we do as nursing professionals. It helps you understand why there are disparities in education, in how people are developing as individuals, and being able to have equity in all areas of life, including housing, health care, education and socioeconomic status. This workshop brings all of this to life.”

With more than 50 years of combined experience in community organizing and anti-racist training, REI provides individuals and organizations with:

  • An analysis of racism and its cultural and historical roots.
  • Assistance in accessing an organization’s progress on the journey to become racially equitable.
  • Assistance in creating structures to hold the efforts towards racial equity.
  • Assistance in developing an anti-racist vision and plan for change.
  • Coaching for traditional and emerging leadership in the principles and practices of racial equity.

Carter said the way in which REI presents all of this information isn’t demeaning or degrading to a particular race but is there to help inform people of the history. This in turns helps people to make better informed decisions as they move forward.

Participation in the workshop is on a volunteer basis, and the hope is that the entire DUSON community will take part. “These workshops become part of the foundation that we need to fulfill our goal of becoming the destination for outstanding talent,” Carter said. “However, in order for us to continue to build a respectful and supportive environment that is collaborative and advances working together, the entire community must come together to break down barriers.”

Next Steps

Carter has been working with the Office of the Dean for DUSON to establish what she calls Phase II. “Once we receive all of this information and we are enlightened by what we’ve learned in the workshops, what do we do with it?” she said. “Next steps require us to put things in place that will allow us to have bigger and broader conversations across the University.”

These next steps include the Dean’s Diversity Conversations, which are 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.

Another part of Phase II is the implementation of a new role at DUSON that allows a dedicated person to conceptualize and promote an environment that embraces a broad and comprehensive definition of diversity and inclusion. The Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at DUSON was an idea developed by one of the teams from the People & Environment focus area. Recruitment for this role begins soon.

 In line with the School’s core values, the individual will promote diversity, inclusion and cultural sensitivity in teaching, practice, research and service in collaboration with DUSON administrators, faculty, staff and students.

If you’re interested in signing up for the next Racial Equity Institute, email Dr. Carter at

News Category: 
Scroll back to top automatically