The University of Alabama at Birmingham honored six students in the School of Health Professions' M.S. in Occupational Therapy program with the President’s Diversity Champion Award at a celebration on February 20, 2020. The annual award recognizes employees, students and organizations that have helped create a more culturally diverse, inclusive university community through their achievements.

The six students - Denise Dixon, Morgan Gordon, Chukwuemeka Ikejiani, Carissa Jones, Andrea Reed and Carl Robinson - won the Graduate Student category for developing a Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) chapter.

The collective work of our occupational therapy students began in their first year at UAB. They were inspired to make an impactful change within their cohort and future cohorts regarding diversity sensitivity and awareness. Their motivation to effect change was inspired by presentations regarding social injustice, biases and inequities in the healthcare field given by Carmen Capo-Lugo, Ph.D., and Zena Trost, Ph.D., during their “Barriers” course instructed by Sarah Dos Anjos, Ph.D., and Gavin Jenkins, Ph.D.

These presentations encouraged the graduate students to reflect on their individual experiences of racial bias as students at UAB and share their collective concerns. Together they felt a new conversation was necessary to promote and enhance diversity sensitivity and awareness within the occupational therapy graduate program. The idea was proposed to Dos Anjos and Jenkins, who is chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy, to create a safe place for open dialogue between occupational therapy staff and students to discuss social injustices and biases in the OT field and within their cohort. They desired to have the discussion be a catalyst to promote and inspire individuals to look beyond their own biases and encourage being open to experiencing the unfamiliar realities and perspectives of classmates and future clients.

This push resulted in the implementation of an all-day diversity training for the OT department staff and students in Summer2019. Each student was an active participant in establishing the UAB chapter of the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) in Fall 2019. Together they continue to advocate for diversity training that will improve cultural awareness and sensitivity, and create more diverse, equitable and inclusive students and professionals within the occupational therapy community.

Nominations for the President’s Diversity Champion Award are solicited from the UAB community for all categories, and awards are given in each of five categories for projects or activities that best reflect the implementation of unit and/or campus diversity goals.