Through letters and rallies, URMC’s learners, faculty, staff, and community members have shared strong recommendations that have caused us to reexamine fairness and inclusivity within our own organization. The text below is an email response from Mark Taubman, M.D., CEO of the Medical Center and Dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry, sent Thursday to Dr. Guylda Richard Johnson, a second-year resident in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and 2018 graduate of the School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Reflecting on our conversation Tuesday, I realize that you deserve a more complete response to your June 5 email than my initial acknowledgement. I’ll start by repeating something I said the day your note arrived: Thank you.
That was the sentiment I shared with the entire URMC community after you, Mofi Obadina, and Michele Sainvil called me out at the White Coats for Black Lives protest. In that message I thanked the three of you for speaking truth to power, and it was meant sincerely. I respect your courage. More important, I appreciate—as difficult as it is for me to acknowledge how little we have accomplished since December of 2014—that our institution deserves to be called out for inaction. Personally, I benefitted from reading and hearing your words. Gathering to take a knee in condemnation of George Floyd’s killing by white police is a powerful, humbling, but simple act. Translating that emotional moment into meaningful changes for our Medical Center and our community is the harder challenge. I understand that, and I am committed to doing the work.
I also want to thank you for becoming a doctor, and for staying in Rochester during your training. As doctors, we are in a unique position to address the health disparities that are one of racism’s most pernicious impacts. Reading through your email carefully, it is clear how long and hard you have been working to end systemic racism—and how valid your frustrations are at the lack of progress URMC has made. It would be understandable if you had decided to leave for another institution that is farther along at promoting diversity and supporting inclusion. I am glad you have stayed, because I believe we can use this moment to act now and get it right this time.
As you know from my response Monday to the demands submitted by Briaunna Minor on behalf of Actions Speak Louder, and similar recommendations from ADSE, we have recently taken some actions. I have acknowledged racism as a public health crisis; committed to removal of Dean Whipple’s name from public areas on our campus, and conversion of his former office to multicultural space; reallocated resources to provide two full scholarships to recruit Black students to the incoming medical-school class; directed work to make resource information more readily accessible on web sites; and mandated diversity advocates on leadership search committees.
This week, I met with President Mangelsdorf and the University Office of Equity and Inclusion to begin a review of our institutional structures for overseeing issues of racism and diversity at the Medical Center, and to advocate for increased anti-racism training in the Department of Public Safety. I convened Steve Dewhurst and the associate deans to engage them in mapping concrete strategies for increasing diversity among medical students, residents, and the research enterprise; strengthen social and academic supports for learners who are Black, indigenous, and people of color; and integrate anti-racism education into our curricula. I directed the Medical Center’s HR team to review our structures for enhancing diversity in the workforce, and to develop a plan for strengthening it despite our current financial challenges. All of these will be key components of the URMC anti-racism plan being developed under my personal leadership.
You have a right to be skeptical about my promise to “get it right this time.” Your email quotes back to me words from 2015, when I said that creating a culture of inclusion is a very high priority, and supported the list of recommended actions we received then from you and other students. I meant those words sincerely. That is why it pains me to agree with your statement that, as of June 1, 2020, not much had changed. As difficult as it is to admit failure, this is a fact I have felt a need to acknowledge—in my May 30 and June 5 emails to the entire URMC community, my remarks at the Black Physicians Network protest last Saturday, and my response Monday to our medical and graduate students.
Science teaches us that failed experiments are opportunities to learn. I have spent time analyzing what went wrong with our previous well-intended plans, and come up with a concise list of factors.
- The 2015 corrective actions were not widely shared across the institution, and our commitment to remediation as an institutional priority was not well communicated
- Our plans lacked specific assignments, timelines, metrics, and accountability
- We created a central office to lead the work, but financial resources remained local within existing program and department budgets
- People of color were not sufficiently involved and empowered at all stages
The first of these shortcomings is being addressed already, in the actions and communications you have seen this month. I intend to address the other three by producing a workable, action-oriented anti-racism plan over the next two months. As a next step, I will compile all the recommendations, demands, and ideas from individuals that have come to me in the past few weeks—along with the unfulfilled past promises from your email. I will organize them by the objectives each is designed to support, and summarize to create a manageable working document—a framework that will help us to set priorities, identify opportunities for quick wins, and agree on metrics that will demonstrate real progress against racism.
I will close with a simple request: Work with me.
As difficult as most of your email and supporting documents were to read, I was heartened by your closing line: It is on you to engage, demonstrate your allyship, and reinvigorate the ailing black community that works alongside you as we strive to be “Ever Better,” together.
As Dean and CEO, I have a unique responsibility to lead change, and I accept accountability for achieving results. But I cannot succeed alone, even with the full support of the URMC and University leadership teams. We need input from the Black, indigenous, and people of color our plan must serve.
Guylda, your email details long experience as an anti-racism leader among medical students, residents, and graduate students. In my mind, you are positioned to play a key role in making positive change happen, now, at the Medical Center we both love. I would like to move forward in a spirit of professional collaboration and respectful, constructive dialogue as allies in the fight against racism.
Mark B. Taubman, M.D.
CEO, University of Rochester Medical Center
Dean, School of Medicine and Dentistry