Learn How George Washington University’s Anti-Racism Coalition Advances Change

Earlier this month, the EDI Team spoke with Susan LeLacheur, DrPH, PA-C, and Howard Straker, EdD, PA-C, from George Washington University’s Physician Assistant program to discuss how an anti-racism committee is advancing change within their program.

After the death of George Floyd in 2020, Yolanda Haywood, MD, senior associate dean for Diversity, Inclusion & Faculty Affairs, spearheaded the creation of an anti-racism coalition at The George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. They focus on four pillars of anti-racism work: individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural.

  • Individual is defined by understanding what racism is and what part we play as individuals when it comes to racist behaviors.
  • Interpersonal refers to being aware of how we interact with other people and our microaggressions, as well as our role as bystanders, so racist behaviors are no longer ignored in interpersonal gatherings.
  • Institutionally, this means supporting policies and procedures that foster anti-racism in our community.
  • Structural includes influencing national and local policies through voting and advocacy.

What makes the anti-racism coalition so unique is the collaboration across integrated teams of basic sciences, research, community-based medicine, hospital-based medicine, surgical and nonsurgical domains, pediatrics, health sciences, academic leadership, training/development/education, students, and administrative and professional staff. Every department within the School of Medicine and Health Sciences has an equity director with a three-year term who sits on the coalition, each of whom have time dedicated to this role and duties.

Every coalition meeting looks different. Their first priority was developing specific, accomplishable, and measurable goals unique to each department. In addition to ongoing work on department goals, they discuss current events and how the state of the country or the world may be impacting students, faculty, and staff. At times they invite groups such as White Coats for Black Lives to discuss possible collaborations. There can be educational components, such as experts workshopping with the group. Often, members of the coalition will bring problems they are having within their own program and the coalition will work together to build a solution.

Additionally, they have launched an Anti-Racism Coalition Educational Series which aims “to increase learning on issues related to race, racism, and anti-racism; to facilitate growth in the personal anti-racist domain; and to promote a culture where race and other intersecting identities are understood, valued, and have equitable standing.” They hold a spring and fall book club that reads titles such as “Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation” by Linda Villarosa, “Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism” by Laura E. Gomez, and “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum. Their past events range from “What Decolonizing Our Classrooms Look Like” to “What Exactly is Critical Race Theory (CRT)?”

LeLacheur and Straker emphasized the importance of recognizing that this work is much more than having a diverse student body or a diverse faculty. Diversity isn’t an “either/ or” it’s a “both/ and.”