The events in Ferguson were sparked by the shooting death of an unarmed African-American teenager by a white police officer in early August. In the ensuing weeks, many people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds protested the shooting and called attention to racial injustices.
Ferguson is a suburb of 21,000 people in a metropolitan area of nearly 3 million. It is about 10 miles northwest of the Medical Campus. Our medical campus has close ties with many people in Ferguson: A number of our employees and the patients we serve live there.
The tensions that have become so palpable in the Ferguson community have existed under the surface for a long time and are not unique to the people of Ferguson or the St. Louis region. The protests exemplify our struggles as a nation and as a community in becoming more diverse and inclusive.
The events have reminded us of the challenges of racism, health disparities and unequal access to education and economic opportunities for many people in the St. Louis region and throughout the United States. We see these challenges as an opportunity to be a leader in bringing about a culture of change to make our community a better place for everyone.
As one of the largest employers in St. Louis, we have a responsibility to be diverse and inclusive. Everyone benefits when the best and the brightest people from diverse backgrounds work together toward our mission and toward being the best community members we can be.
A year ago, WUSM’s Executive Faculty modified the medical school’s mission statement to reflect that we work together and educate students in a culture that supports diversity and inclusion. The medical school aspires to recruit faculty, staff, fellows, residents and students who can contribute toward our mission of advancing human health through the best clinical care, innovative research and education of tomorrow’s leaders in biomedicine in a culture that supports diversity, inclusion, critical thinking and creativity.
Larry J. Shapiro, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, has been an advocate for diversity and inclusiveness on the Medical Campus. We pledge that everyone – no matter his or her race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability and regardless of position – should feel welcome and appreciated as part of our campus community. Each of us contributes to this being one of the best medical schools in the world.
Started in 2008, the Diversity Lecture Series is a series of talks convened each fall and spring semester which focuses on addressing contemporary issues of diversity in research and encouraging discussions about the future. The Diversity Lecture Series is a collaboration between DBBS, OPA, MSTP, the Office of Faculty Affairs and The Clinical Research Training Center. Lecture topics have included, “Why is Diversity in the Biomedical Sciences So Difficult to Achieve? Explanations and solutions from the social sciences" and “Is it What You Say or How You Say It?” Understanding Linguistic Bias and its Impact On Building Acceptance in Education and Research.
In 2013, the School of Medicine also expanded its diversity and inclusion initiatives with the hiring of two full-time diversity and inclusion leaders: Denise DeCou and Daniel Blash, PhD. They are charged with providing diversity training to all faculty, staff and students on the Medical Campus.
Over the past ten years, the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences and the Medical Scientist Training program have more than tripled the representation of underrepresented minority students in the programs.
Creating and sustaining a climate that is diverse and inclusive takes conscientious effort. We are making strides in the right direction. Over the past year, nearly 4,000 faculty, staff and students have participated in the diversity and inclusion program. Additional training is underway, including higher-level training to generate deeper discussion and greater understanding.
For decades, Washington University has been directly involved in urban planning and community development projects, which have promoted economic development and improved the lives of residents in the St. Louis region. Our faculty are playing a leading role in Better Together, a project studying the potential benefits, including improvements in public health, of regional cooperation between St. Louis city and county.
Washington University faculty also partnered with St. Louis University on a multi-disciplinary project, For the Sake of All, that analyzes the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis. The project explores how the unequal distribution of health in the St. Louis region is related to education, income, the quality and composition of neighborhoods, and access to community resources like healthy foods and safe public spaces.
Barnes-Jewish Hospital Residents and Fellows Diversity Initiative. Through a competitive process, stipends are provided to groups of residents and fellows who demonstrate a commitment to cultural diversity and wish to engage in innovative programs directed at improving the hospitals’ cultural climate while providing service to the community. As an example, residents have created a professional development program and volunteered at the Gateway Homeless Shelter.
Regardless of whether students eventually become physician scientists, specialty physicians, primary-care providers or opt for a career as a research scientist, Washington University and DBBS encourage students to be instruments of change in the communities where they live. We’re all invested in the health of society, and we can all make a difference.
Toward that goal, the Washington University Medical Plunge takes first-year medical students through a weeklong crash course in public health, diversity and health-care disparities in St. Louis. The popular program brings students into the underserved communities to understand the environments and struggles that some of our patients face. The program, initiated several years ago by MSTP students, was such a success and deemed so valuable it became a requirement starting in 2014.
Participation in a host of community service projects nurtures students' altruistic nature and provides an alternative educational experience. University-sponsored, student-run, community-based service activities include:
Association of Black Biomedical Graduate Students (ABBGS) Created by DBBS Students, ABBGS is a student-led organization dedicated to strengthening the social, cultural, and academic well being of black biomedical graduate students at Washington University, while promoting diversity within the campus community. ABBGS welcomes all members of the Washington University community to aid in the mission to heighten cultural awareness on campus and to support active recruitment and retention of a culturally diverse student body.
Biomedical Research Apprenticeship Program (BioMed RAP) – Each summer, 15 talented undergraduate students, particularly those from groups traditionally underrepresented in biology and the biomedical sciences, come to Washington University for 10-week paid summer research internships. The students engage in independent laboratory research projects with dedicated faculty mentors. The program is designed to provide a rigorous in-depth research experience to prepare participants for top PhD and MD/PhD programs.
Connections is an inclusion initiative, founded by DBBS and MSTP students, where students explore their identities with respect to socioeconomics, culture, religion, sexual orientation and race. They will also learn how these identities impact their personal and professional relationships in the Wash U community. Dismantling unconscious bias and stereotypes are an important part of the Connections experience.
Graduate Association of Latin American Students (GALAS) Another DBBS student initiative, GALAS provides an opportunity and space for gathering the Hispanic/Latin graduate students, as well as, students interested in Hispanic/Latin culture. A support system is established to pursue common interests of the Hispanic/Latin community, such as, cultural education, networking and mentoring. GALAS organizes events to share the Hispanic/Latin heritage with the Washington University in St. Louis community, thus, supporting diversity and tolerance among the graduate population. GALAS represents the Hispanic/Latin graduate community and establish a resource of reciprocal benefit between the administration and the graduate students; for example, working towards the recruitment of students with Hispanic/Latin descent, thereby increasing diversity at Washington University in St. Louis. Lastly, GALAS promotes integration and service within the St. Louis Hispanic/Latino community.
OUTgrads is an LGBTQIA group dedicated to developing community among Washington University graduate and professional students, faculty, and staff of all genders and sexual orientations, promoting awareness of the issues that affect our communities, and facilitating community involvement by its membership.
Public Health Interest Group – This student organization advocates for and partners with the St. Louis community to improve health-care outcomes, particularly among its most underserved citizens. The group’s efforts include health screenings, patient navigation, nutrition outreach and public policy discussions.
Saturday Neighborhood Health Clinic – The Saturday Neighborhood Health Clinic is dedicated to providing free medical care to the uninsured in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood and surrounding region. The clinic, created by MSTP students, is run by Washington University medical students and staffed by our physicians. More than 90 percent of our medical students volunteer at the clinic each year, making it one of our most successful service-learning projects.
Voices- All of us at Washington University must do our part — by reflecting and better understanding each other, by convening important conversation and by taking action. Wash U Voices: Ferguson and Beyond is our online gathering place to inspire and motivate each other to do just that. Here we can share perspectives, learn about the underlying issues, find information about events and activities and, most of all, engage. The website has a blog and a collection of stories from leading news sources with insight from WU faculty experts. As well as list of many events for the WU community.
Young Scientist Program – Founded in 1991 by two Washington University MD/PhD students, the Young Scientist Program attracts high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds into scientific careers through activities emphasizing hands-on research and mentorship. The program is run by more than 100 graduate and medical students at the university. It includes a Summer Focus initiative, which brings St. Louis area high school students to the medical school for eight-week paid summer internships. Each student in works directly with two graduate students and a faculty mentor to carry out a research project. As part of the Continuing Mentoring Program, medical and graduate students provide personal and academic mentorship to students in the Young Scientist Program to foster their interest in science-related careers such as medicine, biotechnology or research.
Other projects include:
Documenting FergusonA project that aims to preserve community and media-generated original content to create a resource of diverse perspectives that is freely accessible for students, scholars, teachers and the greater community.
Provided Comfort Kits for early childhood students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District in their first weeks back at school. These kits helped children de-stress and feel safe while providing informational materials, concrete resources and tips for families on how to listen and talk with their young children in times of stress and trauma.
A series of one-hour open discussions for faculty and staff was coordinated by the Office of the Provost, the Gephardt Institute for Public Service and the Office of Human Resources. Read the Student Life Article HERE.
The Medical Campus is flanked by historic Forest Park to the west, a 1,400-acre gem where you will find free admission to the St. Louis Zoo, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri History Museum, and the St. Louis Science Center and Planetarium. The park also offers bicycle and running/walking paths, two golf courses, a tennis center and an outdoor ice rink. The Cortex Innovation District is just east of the medical center and home to a burgeoning biotech industry. Many students, residents and faculty members live in the residential neighborhoods just to the north and south of the medical center, where they can bike or walk to the campus. The Central West End is known for its historic homes and vibrant restaurant and shopping district. Forest Park Southeast, to the south, is an eclectic neighborhood popular with younger crowds.
Washington University is committed to providing a safe and secure environment for faculty, students, staff and visitors. The School of Medicine is located in a major city, and we take a proactive approach to deterring crime not only on the Medical Campus but in nearby neighborhoods, where many staff, students, residents, fellows and faculty members live and spend their free time. The medical center – which includes the School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital – is patrolled 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the medical school’s own security team and officers from our affiliated hospitals. The School of Medicine has invested in new street lighting and security cameras in areas serving the medical center. Free shuttle buses transport faculty, staff and students to nearby parking garages and some area neighborhoods. We think this commitment to safety keeps crimes to relatively low levels on the Medical Campus and in surrounding neighborhoods.