PAEA Vignette Project: The Ongoing Reality of Institutional Racism in Academia   

This Black History Month, we are sharing vignettes from the newly released PAEA Vignette Project. These short, descriptive stories aim to increase understanding of the experiences of members in the PA education community who are underrepresented in medicine. The vignettes will cover a multitude of topics related to racism, discrimination, hostility in the workplace, and more. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please share your story here. Or, you are welcome to participate in an anonymous 15–30-minute interview with Dr. Monica Miles, who you can contact at She can listen to your story and capture the vignette. The Vignette Project would like to thank the brave people that have shared their stories to teachable moments for PA educators.  

Vignette #2: The Ongoing Reality of Institutional Racism in Academia    

Dr. Darius Green was excited to begin his tenure track PA faculty position at a northeastern university. He was eager to work at an institution that described itself as being on the forefront of diversity efforts with a commitment to combatting racism. Once in this new role, he started to observe and even experience racist policies and practices but tried to remain hopeful as he didn’t want to derail his career. Dr. Green’s optimism vanished his second semester when horrific pictures of his school’s white faculty and administrators in Ku Klux Klan regalia holding nooses from the 90s began circulating on social media and the news. The university quickly began to try and “save face” as ignited racial tensions were growing across the country at this time. Dr. Green recalled how the institution’s response was to “sacrifice the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), a Black man, in front of all of the heat.” The CDO tried to combat the blazing uproar but soon left his position, only to have the university “promote” another Black person, a Black woman, to this role. She soon also began experiencing burns from the heat of the racist photos. Dr. Green described sitting there and watching as Black people were not only the victim of the racist photos but also assigned to cleaning up the mess. Black faculty and staff bodies were being incinerated as the university used them as shields for their white colleague’s racism. Reflecting on his initial excitement for working at an institution that seemed to align with his values, he realized how their words were performative and empty when contrasted with their actions, as if they wanted “the fire of racism to quietly smolder to minimize attention.” Ultimately, Dr. Green concluded that he couldn’t continue his work at the university “with a good mind and sound heart.”  

Discussion Q’s  

  • How could the university have more effectively addressed the needs of the Black community when the photos came to light?   
  • Describe how this vignette is an example of institutional racism.  
  • What did Dr. Green mean when he concluded that the university’s commitment to diversity efforts was “performative and empty?”