February 01, 2021

Evaluating who we are: our commitment to racial justice

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Birmingham is no stranger to the fight for racial justice. In the middle of the 20th century, Birmingham became the center of the Civil Rights Movement. During Black History Month, we honor achievements by Black Americans and recognize their central role in the struggle toward equality.

While we have come a long way in the fight for civil rights, last year brought all of these arduous histories into view again as we witnessed the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others that put a spotlight on the current violence against Black Americans. This brought feelings of distress and anger to our community, and as the School of Medicine, we took formidable action to see that changes would be made within our institution.

In June, Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, senior associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion, presented a racial justice response plan to the School of Medicine leadership team which outlined three phases: listening and gathering information, strategy development, and implementation.

An external consulting firm conducted focus groups that included faculty, staff, students, and trainees to collect information and assist in a long-term, comprehensive plan. As an organization, we truly wanted to take the time to listen and gain insight as to what we could be doing better. We have learned much from these groups. Future communication is forthcoming with more detailed information, but I wanted to inform our community of some of the highlights. There were multiple challenges identified within the focus groups, but some of those include a lack of diversity that does not reflect the city and state population, lack of resources and support to welcome and engage new Black/African Americans or Hispanic/Latinx students, residents, or faculty, a lack of awareness, and an ineffective process to report offenses related to racial justice.

Soon, our leadership team will begin working with department chairs to develop metrics to show advancement in diversity and inclusion, develop and implement an accountability system to address microaggressions, harassment, bias, and racism within the School of Medicine, and increase support and programming for the professional advancement of staff. Again, these are just some of the ways we will improve our commitment to diversity.

Black History Month gives a moment to rejoice and honor the extraordinary changes our society has experienced. At the same time, it is critical that we recommit to learn about what we can do to shape the future of diversity, not only within our institution but within our communities.

I hope you all take a moment to learn more about Black History Month. As dean of the School of Medicine, I want our UAB community to know we are committed to honoring, celebrating, and cultivating the achievements made by those who persevered for what was right and just.