Diversity, equity, and inclusion have long been important to the Department of Medicine, but making progress toward those ideals gained a new urgency last summer.
The COVID-19 pandemic was hitting communities of color hard. Then George Floyd was killed at the end of May, just months after Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. June saw nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, including a “White Coats for Black Lives” march on the Duke medical campus.
Soon after, the School of Medicine launched the Moments to Movement initiative to combat racism. And in the Department of Medicine, Chair Kathleen Cooney, MD, MACP, issued a call for the department to become anti-racist. Members of the Department of Medicine were ready to respond to that call.
“We are in a moment right now,” said Julius Wilder, MD, PhD, “and we can leverage this moment to effect positive change.”
Dr. Wilder, assistant professor of medicine (Gastroenterology), is the chair of the newly formed Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (DEIAR) Committee.
The idea for the DEIAR Committee grew out of conversations among members of the Department of Medicine’s Civility Champions, a group that offers support and resources to members of the department facing incidents of bias or harassment.
“We wanted to identify ways to address diversity, equity, and inclusion, not just discuss them,” said Kimberley Evans, MD, associate professor of medicine (Nephrology). “Our goal is to make sure we’re looking at diversity, equity, and inclusion and addressing anti-racism in everything we do.”
And so the DEIAR Committee was established, with a mission to create policies for lasting change in all divisions and in all program areas.
“The idea of the committee is to really focus on changing structures, as opposed to changing hearts and minds, with very clear strategies and benchmarks,” said Laura Svetkey, MD, MHS, vice chair for faculty development and diversity and professor of medicine (Nephrology).
The DEIAR Committee has four sub-committees, each charged with developing short- and long-term measurable goals in their respective program areas: Research (led by Wilder), Clinical (led by John Duronville, MD), Education (led by Aimee Zaas, MD, MHS), and Career Development/Climate (led by Evans).
The first DEIAR Committee meeting was in January 2021, and the subcommittees are now working on finalizing their first sets of short-term goals. “We are building initiatives to help us move forward, with an emphasis on actionable goals,” Wilder said.
For example, the Research subcommittee wants to increase the number of NIH Diversity Supplement grants in the Department of Medicine. The subcommittee is coming up with specific targets, plans, and resources to meet those targets, including benchmarks along the way. “There needs to be accountability,” Wilder said, “so we are always moving forward and don’t become stagnant and focused on theoretical ideals but are actually seeing outcomes and change.”
Members of the new committee include faculty, residents, and fellows, and they come from almost all Medicine divisions. Wilder is working to recruit at least one member from each of the rest so that every division will have a point person to serve as conduit of information and resources.
Wilder encourages those who aren’t members of the committee to engage with their point person to stay informed and support the committee’s work. “This is a committee for all of us,” Wilder said, “and we are always open to input from the individuals that are part of our community.”
Having representation from all divisions will also ensure that growth and progress happen throughout the entire department. “We want the work that the committee does to be reflected in positive change that is actually felt within the department,” he said.
The DEIAR Committee will maintain lines of communication with other efforts supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion across the School of Medicine and the university to avoid duplication and find areas for collaboration.
Wilder doesn’t expect the change to be fast or easy, but as chair of the DEIAR Committee, he believes change will come.
“Duke is a very special place,” he said. “It has tremendous potential, and it has people willing to work so that we can achieve the vision for us that we all want. If I didn’t believe it was that kind of place, I wouldn’t have taken on this role.”
This story was written by Mary-Russell Roberson, a freelance writer for the Department of Medicine.