In 2019, Dean Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, declared that SIU School of Medicine would become an anti-racist institution. OEDI has been at the forefront of implementing this commitment across the entire organization. But in 2020, societal events pushed the need for this work into the foreground.
COVID-19 began to infect communities, taking a disproportionate toll on people of color. The data shined a bright light on health care disparities that have existed for centuries in the United States.
As families were isolating at home, two brutal deaths of African Americans occurred at the hands of local law enforcement. The uproar over police brutality and racial discrimination prompted marches, rioting and soul searching that transcended the nation’s typical short attention span. It forced many segments of society to hold bracing conversations about equity and justice. SIU School of Medicine had some groundwork in place.
“I was proud that Dean Kruse had the foresight to make opposition to racism a central tenet of our strategic plan,” says El-Amin. “It needs stating because it’s obviously important. It threatens public health.”
Leading an antiracist institution
Antiracism includes a multiplicity of ways of being that include being race conscious and race aware. It pays attention to and notices how systemic racism is embedded in our systems through long held cultural practices and policies that have biases for and against. It uses a framework and pays attention to power as it presumes that our relationships are complex, as is the system of racism in the United States since the moment we determined to be a race-based society and our institutions are divided and human beings perpetuate those ideologies even in ways they don’t always recognize.
Upholding those ideas relies on upholding other oppressions such as xenophobia, anti-immigrant, anti-Blackness, classism, homophobia, and transphobia. SIU School of Medicine addresses racism explicitly but not exclusively.
In 2020, SIU System President Dan Mahony also charged each campus to establish an anti-racism task force. For the School of Medicine, Kruse appointed 35 members to develop four focus areas: metrics, organizational analysis, policies and procedures, and training.
President Mahony also commissioned a series of “Conversations of Understanding” to create even more opportunities for equity work to be prioritized in the SIU System that includes Edwardsville and Carbondale’s campuses. Having the system office lead these discussions elevates their importance and underscores the need for OEDI in academic medicine.
While the system office's external support is instrumental, one of the reasons that OEDI's small team has been successful is because of its partnerships with other teams within the School of Medicine. Working with the Alliance of Women in Medicine, the Department of Medical Humanities and the Center for Human and Organizational Potential (cHOP) has amplified the impact and helped share the burden of work as OEDI builds for the future.