Taking a major step forward on the path to confronting racism, the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine highlighted the findings of the Task Force on Racial Justice in a virtual presentation on Tuesday.
“If our medical school is to live up to our goals of excellence, relevance, and service, we must adopt a culture that is truly anti-racist,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School. “To promote an optimal learning environment for all members of the Miller School family, we must be intentional in our approach and address structural racism in all its aspects.”
Dean Ford moderated the online session, “The Path Forward: Report of the Task Force on Racial Justice,” which drew more than 320 attendees. Key recommendations from the 200-page report include:
- Recruiting and retaining more Black faculty members.
- Encouraging more students from groups that are underrepresented minority in medicine (URM) to join the Miller School at every level of learning.
- Creating a diversity, social justice, and cultural sensitivity training program.
- Providing greater student exposure to minority cultures.
- Providing counseling and support for Black and brown students to discuss micro-aggressions and uncomfortable situations.
- Strengthening health outreach initiatives to South Florida’s underserved minority communities.
Formed in July, the purpose of the Task Force on Racial Justice (TFRJ) was to develop strategies and actions to address issues of systemic racism at the Miller School to create a sustainable culture of inclusion and diversity that supports racial justice. More than 350 volunteers, including faculty, staff, students, residents, and fellows participated in seven subcommittees that discussed root causes of problems, then devised best practices and strategies for implementation, as well as timelines and goals.
UM President Julio Frenk, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., called the TFRJ report a “remarkable document” that provides a strong foundation for action. “This is a key effort in addressing issues of racial injustice and cultural belonging across our campuses,” he said. “Racial justice must imbue and inform every aspect of our scholarship, research, and service, and guide how we relate to each other in our daily interactions.”
Roderick K. King, M.D., M.P.H., senior associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, has overseen the task force along with Nanette Vega, Ed.D., assistant dean for the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement. Dr. King presented a summary of its work, which included the following subcommittee goals and selected recommendations:
- Admissions, whose goal was identifying and eliminating racial bias in the admissions process, and building a URM talent pipeline. Recommendations included evaluating the current admission process, building ties with historically Black colleges and universities in Florida, and establishing a “Forever Miami” program for select URM applicants who would like to study, train, and practice at UM/Jackson Medical Center.
- Student Affairs, charged with ensuring that diverse students feel welcomed on the medical campus and that the topic of racism is included in wellness programming. Recommendations included creating a formal mentoring program for URM students, reviewing campus financial aid opportunities, and maintaining telehealth counseling options so students can access URM clinicians.
- Curriculum, which was asked to promote racial justice and equity in the curriculum, while educating students to effectively serve diverse communities. Among the recommendations: Adopt core competencies related to anti-racism, eliminate race as a biologic predictor/risk factor in materials, and integrate anti-racism in the basic science curriculum, as well as in clinical and social sciences courses.
- Residents and Fellows, whose focus was increasing the number of URM residents and fellows and creating an inclusive, welcoming environment on campus. Recommendations included developing a structured approach to expose URM medical students to residency programs, ensuring that residents’ voices are heard early in training, increasing the numbers of Black chief residents and fellows, and developing pipeline programs with high school students using Black residents as mentors.
- Faculty Affairs, charged with improving recruitment, mentoring, promotion, and retention, while eliminating racism and micro-aggressions among faculty and learners. The subcommittee recommended that the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement (ODICE) and the Office of Faculty Affairs develop a package to assist in the recruitment of Black faculty. Other steps include hiring 10 Black clinician investigators and two Black basic science faculty researchers in the next 12 months, and creating a Society of Black Faculty at the Miller School.
- Research, whose focus was creating a diverse research workforce that provides mentoring and support for URM researchers and enhances opportunities for researchers to address health inequities and racial justice. Recommendations included a formal review of existing faculty for possible advancement, creating a robust pool of research candidates, and building a sense of community through staff networking events.
- Community Engagement, which focused on improving security and policing to ensure equitable treatment for URM students, residents, and faculty, and increasing supportive engagement with disenfranchised communities in Miami to promote health equity and wellness. Recommendations included increasing accountability for UM security officers, increasing their salaries, and establishing anti-discrimination training, as well as promoting faculty community engagement and partnerships to increase minority access to care.
“This report represents the incredible work of our volunteers,” said Dr. King. “Now it will move to the Dean’s Diversity Council, where we will establish a dashboard to track our progress.” The Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement will also continue to work on the recommendations, and Dr. King cited a new Task Force for Racial Justice website that can serve as a focal point for further discussions.
Hilarie Bass, chair of the UM Board of Trustees and president and founder of the Bass Institute for Diversity and Inclusion, said the report provides an important example to the rest of the University. “We know that it takes serious self-reflection and identification of the real issues to make progress,” she said. “The board is fully supportive of this effort, and I am confident that Dean Ford and President Frenk will make this a continuing focus of energy, toward the short-, intermediate- and long-term goals set by the task force.”
Responding to the report, Jeffrey Duerk, Ph.D., executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said the work of the task force serves as a roadmap for other UM schools and colleges. “The findings will be followed by an action plan with tangible outcomes expected,” he said.
Donald Spivey, Ph.D., professor of history and special advisor to President Frenk on racial justice, praised the report, but cautioned that he has seen the same issues and battles over racial justice since the 1960s. “I believe it all comes back to the racial climate,” he said. “We must recruit and retain a critical mass of Black faculty at this University.”
Dr. Spivey noted that 169 of UM’s 3,937 current faculty members are Black, just 4.3 percent. “Let’s shoot for 7 percent and hire 35 new Black faculty annually for the next three years,” he said.
During the discussion, Joseph Echevarria, interim CEO of UHealth – the University of Miami Health System and special advisor to the president, said he has spent much of his professional career working on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“To be successful, you have to be accountable for outcomes and be honest and transparent with the facts,” he said. “This is an excellent report, and I am ready to go. We have to get started, and the next generation will finish this work for us.”
Reflecting on the importance of the task force’s findings, Dean Ford said, “We will continue to move forward to transform the University of Miami into an oasis of racial justice. Thank you again to all the volunteers who participated and demonstrated your commitment to this spirit of diversity, inclusion, and racial justice.”