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UMass Medical School taking a stand in support of positive change

To:       The UMass Medical School Community

From:  Michael F. Collins, MD, Chancellor and Senior Vice President
            for Health Sciences

            Terence R. Flotte, MD, Executive Deputy Chancellor, Provost and Dean,
            School of Medicine

Date:   June 11, 2020

Re:       Taking A Stand in Support of Positive Change

Our nation, once again, finds itself at a profoundly important inflection point that demands resolution of a fundamental question that has long plagued the soul of America: Will we, as a republic, finally confront and dismantle the centuries-old structures of racism that have marked and marred our systems, institutions and ways of life? 

The senseless and tragic death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, during his arrest by four Minneapolis police officers last month, has triggered a torrent of raw emotions and civil activism. Those who eulogized Mr. Floyd during his funeral in Texas this week, vowed to fight for change in his memory. With so many of you, we share the desire for long overdue progress toward eliminating all forms of structural racism.

The searing and sobering reality is that in America, racism is a public health crisis. We see its deeply ingrained impacts in our nation’s inequitable systems of education, housing, criminal justice, governance and health care. Racial and economic disparities inhibit the ability of marginalized populations to access healthy food, clean air, safe spaces and career opportunities. Even well-intentioned allies can perpetuate unconscious biases and structural racism. Regretfully, our state, our city and, yes, even our Medical School community, are not immune from these societal phenomena.

The question before us now is, what will we do about it?

As an institution, our shared values implore UMMS to be a part of the change that is so urgently needed; to do our part to ensure a more just, equitable and unified path forward for our people and our nation. At UMMS, we embrace and celebrate the full richness of people, perspectives and experiences. We aspire to create an academic community where all are—and feel—welcome and able to thrive.

As individuals, no matter the color of our skin, we can help end racism by educating ourselves; connecting with organizations that support our highest ideals; and reaching out to those who may be hurting or feel disillusioned. Vote. Volunteer. Donate. Speak up when you see injustice, and never stop learning.

As leaders, we know we have a role, too. We are committed to protecting and promoting the special function we play as an institution of higher education to serve as a safe space for honest dialogue, universal truths and common ground. We are committed to policies, training and incentives to increase the representation of people of color in positions of leadership. We are committed to supporting the UMMS community in healing and in achieving positive change. We have been encouraged by the ways in which our community members have already come together, hundreds strong, in Campus Conversations and in solidarity on the campus green last Friday afternoon. We will continue to listen and learn from you as, together, we rise to meet the urgency of the moment, however challenging it may be. 

In this spirit of humility and humanity, we share these thoughts and outline some of the actions that are underway:

  • Diversity and IMPACT 2025: In our newly launched IMPACT 2025 Strategic Plan, diversity is recognized as fundamental to our future direction and continued success. As such, it is woven throughout all thematic areas of the plan, with emphasis given to the persistent gap in the number of underrepresented minorities amongst our faculty.
  • Vice Provost for Health Equity: UMMS is in the process of establishing a new Vice Provost for Health Equity (VPHE) position, the primary objective of which will be to increase minority faculty recruitment and retention. The VPHE search committee has been formed and charged, and is chaired by Mark Johnson, MD, PhD, chair of the department of neurological surgery. The Vice Provost will oversee and distribute recruitment funds for minority faculty under the Faculty Diversity Scholars Program, which has now been incorporated as the KL2-Training Program. The Vice Provost will also develop a plan for additional recruitment and retention resources for mid-career and senior diverse faculty.
  • Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion: Stakeholder interviews are nearly complete in support of the search committee that will help recruit the next Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at UMMS. As a member of the institutional senior leadership team, the Vice Chancellor is responsible for designing, implementing and championing a range of diversity training, programming and collaboration at UMMS. Our next Vice Chancellor will resume unconscious bias training for all members of the UMMS community and, specifically, for members of all search committees. This will include an assessment of bias, stereotyping and discrimination when evaluating candidates for faculty positions. The DIO also supports the Committee on Equal Opportunity and Diversity and the Women’s Faculty Committee.
  • Diversity in our Student Population: The student body at UMMS is more diverse than ever before, and we commit to further progress that will be achieved through a variety of efforts, including:
    • rigorously recruiting to achieve greater representation of black and URIM applicants from across the nation, strictly applying holistic review, and identifying and eliminating admission tools that unfairly and disproportionally disadvantage these applicants from consideration;
    • expanding the BaccMD Pathway Program to attract more black, URIM and disadvantaged applicants from various Massachusetts undergraduate institutions;
    • establishing a task force that will re-create the Health Science Preparatory Program to recruit a larger number of black, URIM and disadvantaged applicants who have unsuccessfully applied to our School of Medicine and other medical schools; and
    • requiring the Implicit Association Test, beginning this August, as part of unconscious bias training for all members of the Admission Committee, all faculty who review School of Medicine applications, and all individuals who participate in the interview process.
  • Curriculum Updates:
    • As part of Curriculum Revolution for AY21, a team has been engaged to support appropriate and consistent threading of issues related to diversity and inclusion throughout the curriculum. This work will expand on the model of community-informed curriculum development that was successfully employed in redesigning the DCS1 session focused on LGBTQ+ care in the 2019-2020 AY. 
    • Expansion is recommended of the three-school and GME Diversity, Representation and Inclusion for Value in Education (DRIVE) initiative to specifically address anti-racism curricula and incorporate more robust student partnership in advancing the DRIVE appraisal and library guide.
    • For several years, course leaders, managers and search committee members have participated in diversity training. Anti-racism training is recommended for this year’s annual collaborative development session with DCS1 faculty and learning community mentors.
  • Professional Development: Human Resources and the Diversity and Inclusion Office are partnering to create and advance a range of professional development tools for the UMMS workforce, including:
    • a learning program to help individuals increase their diversity and inclusion competencies;
    • a diversity mentoring program; and,
    • accountability measures for departments and managers to track and report on hiring, promotion and other metrics.
  • Campus Connection and Transparency:

For many reasons, these are distressing times. We want to remind members of our community who are in need of support that they may call the Employee Assistance Program at 800-322-5327 or find online resources at Student Counseling Services can be reached via email or by calling 508-856-3220.

We look forward to continuing to engage with you on these critically important initiatives, and we respectfully request your perspectives and contributions as together, we lead UMass Medical School through a process of continued introspection and improvement.