6 Key Takeaways from PAEA’s 2022 Anti-Racism Town Halls  

Earlier this fall, PAEA hosted two Anti-Racism Town Halls, the first dedicated to PA students, and the latter to PA faculty and staff. These town halls provided a platform and space for students and faculty and staff to share their feelings and experiences to help shape the vision for how PAEA advances the conversation around efforts to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in PA education and the workforce. Attendees were encouraged to bravely share their lived experiences while being respectful of others. In both town halls, the discussion portion was led by three PA relevant panelists who were identified for their efforts in advancing justice, equity, and inclusion in their respective programs. These sessions were not recorded and all data collected was anonymized.  

As the student attendees delved into their experiences in their PA programs and the cultural environment that they face as they matriculate, three major themes emerged.  

  1. Perpetuation of racial stereotypes in course material. Attendees were concerned not only that they were being invalidated by white privilege or being stereotyped by monolithic generalizations, but that bias was warping evidence-based medicine that is being upheld by programs as the standard for medical practice. Rather than a biological construct, the students identified race as a social construct that is driven by culture, politics, and socioeconomic status. Some underrepresented in medicine (URiM) students took the extra burden upon themselves to educate the class and their professors on the current, evidence-based literature and they worry that after they graduate, their programs will continue to propagate the old curriculum.
  2. Othered by their environment. A prevalent theme of the students’ discussion was the impact of racial bias and white privilege on their sense of acceptance and belonging within their cohorts. Often, URiM attendees felt like they were alone or singled out. When they gathered the courage to speak out about the racism within their programs, they were met with gaslighting and dismissal, or even reprimanded. PA programs must not dismiss the concerns of URiM students or react with hostility toward the students who raise them by weaponizing deceleration or dismissal in response. Students pointed to the need for greater cultural humility to address these systemic problems. For example, one university offers a microaggression course that can be requested for students and offered to faculty. However, students from other programs could not identify a similar opportunity at their schools. 
  3. Unsafe clinical rotations. Some students discussed being placed in clinical rotations in smaller rural communities where they were threatened by an intolerant, racist environment. One rotation cited was located within a “Sundown Town,” a term used to describe a primarily white community that has been purposely cultivated and kept segregated through structural racism and violence against Black people. URiM students who spoke up in worry of their safety at these sites were ignored or told there was nothing that could be done. This is an acute example of how a program’s lack of racial awareness can be a safety issue for students. It is imperative that PA program faculty and staff think about these issues before students are even placed and listen to students’ concerns.  

While faculty and staff attendees raised a myriad of issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, these three themes were consistently referenced.  

  1. Racism from their students.URiM faculty and staff discussed how they constantly feel challenged by unconscious racial bias from both students and their programs. This is evident in students questioning their lessons, providing poor student evaluations, and in some cases, students would even ask white professors to confirm the validity of their teaching. Within their programs, faculty and staff feel ignored or belittled when their concerns about racism from students are not taken seriously or they are dismissed for being too sensitive. When students question the need for lessons in racism and inequality, white faculty need to take the lead in validating the cause by adding their social power behind it. 
  2. Fewer words and more action from the administration. Many URiM faculty recounted how they are assigned to several “DEI focused committees,” increasing their workload with unpaid labor, but are reprimanded for speaking out against racism. For example, a URiM faculty member was told to tone down anti-racist language to not make others “feel uncomfortable.” Another faculty member’s proposal for a URiM student mentoring program was rejected because the administration did not want other students to feel left out. This creates a perception that a program may want to appear that they are interested in progress but are unwilling to confront uncomfortable truths or enact real change. 
  3. Hired but are not supported. It is important that programs recognize the social isolation and trauma that URiM faculty and staff can feel as one of the only people of color in their programs. Many URiM faculty are traumatized by the undue scrutiny of students and the lack of institutional support from their programs. If you want to build an inclusive environment and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, it needs to be an entire program effort. Every faculty and staff member must use their power and resources to uphold their values and hold everyone accountable. Issues cannot be ignored. 

Hearing directly from students, faculty, and staff enables PAEA to tailor our programming to suit their needs. Throughout 2022, PAEA’s DEI Team has had our ears to the ground and are excited to launch new programming in 2023. We appreciate the support of the PAEA Board of Directors and others to stand up as collaborators in the fight against racism.