Last year, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Student Task Force (DEI) emerged from open-forum diversity discussions among students. DEI pledged to create a safe space for students to address various issues related to diversity and inclusion; help to break down barriers alongside faculty and administration and increase retention of diverse students; and bring some culturally specific teachings to light that could reflect positively in nursing practice.
Despite the challenges brought about by COVID-19, DEI is still meeting virtually and hosting guest speakers to discuss various topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
The task force’s goals, especially creating a safe space for students experiencing exclusion in any form or those who have concerns about D&I issues, is an ongoing effort that DEI is “constantly and actively working on,” says DEI President Brittany Gorman, a sophomore II in the Traditional BSN program.
“A major step in the right direction has been to have DEI approved as an official student organization on the School of Nursing’s campus and putting our bylaws in place,” Gorman says. “Currently, we are working on having our entire student board certified as peer mentors with the School of Nursing’s mentorship program. We’ve partnered with Dr. Benita Chatmon to help streamline the success of this initiative and to bring awareness to the mentorship program so that students know there are resources available to them.”
“Being an African-American single mom, I know what challenges and adversity look like, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no place for someone like me to succeed and pursue my passion.”
Brittany Gorman, DEI President
Gorman says that DEI, as a young organization, can’t yet report measurable outcomes, but the student board is actively pursuing new members and collaborations with other student organizations at the School of Nursing. DEI is also seeking to collaborate with student organizations across the Health Sciences Center and community programs.
Personally, Gorman wanted to get involved with DEI because it aligned with her goals to enhance health care by educating others, promoting awareness of diversity and inclusion issues, and cultivating an environment that encourages those from diverse backgrounds to make their mark on the profession.
“Being an African-American single mom, I know what challenges and adversity look like, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no place for someone like me to succeed and pursue my passion,” Gorman says. “Becoming a mom also forced me to open my eyes to the many disparities in the health care system, disparities I think we have the power to change.”
By creating and implementing diversity, equity and inclusion programs that promote professional development and being one of the faces at the forefront of leadership within the School of Nursing, Gorman believes she – and her fellow DEI members – can change the narrative for current, new and future students.
“I want to help grow that new narrative – to create the conversation and do the work necessary to attain true diversity, equity and inclusion at the School of Nursing,” she says.
Selecting the Right DEI Administrator and Advocate
The School of Nursing is also in the last phase of its search for an Associate Dean for DEI, which includes another round of interviews with the administrative team, faculty, staff, students and the search committee. The search officially launched in October 2020, drawing more than 20 applicants, and the committee hopes to bring on the new Associate Dean in May or June 2021.
At the start of the search, Demetrius Porche, DNS, PhD, ANEF, FACHE, FAANP, FAAN, Dean of the School of Nursing, and Benita Chatmon, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, Assistant Dean for Clinical Nursing Education and Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing, invited people to serve on the search committee. The committee was diverse in many ways, representing the university, the School of Nursing, DEI, the Student Government Association and two local hospitals.
The Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will be responsible for the administration and promotion of all diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and programs that cultivate an environment of diversity, equity and inclusion for all students, faculty, staff and community partners. This person will also work very closely with the Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans.
“We want someone who demonstrates experience in diversity, equity and inclusion, as they pertain to student recruitment and retention, faculty diversity and development, learner diversity, access and equity, community service and outreach, and creating DEI assessment and measurement tools,” Dr. Chatmon says. “We preferred individuals who’ve had five years or more of leadership experience building and evaluating diversity and inclusion programs within an academic or health care institution, and/or a record of research and scholarship related to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education practices.”
Importantly, the search committee was also looking for candidates who were “self-aware, mindful gatekeepers, comfortable with communicating about diversity, equity, and inclusion and encouraging people to speak up,” Dr. Chatmon says. The committee also wanted a candidate who “intentionally seeks the ‘missing perspective.’”
She says the concept of “frozen in the middle” has been used to describe organizations where there is support and buy-in for diversity and inclusion at the highest levels of an organization, but the response to implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives from colleagues on a day-to-day basis ranges from complete disregard to passive opposition.
“The Associate Dean for DEI will help to implement strategic initiatives to thread DEI throughout the School of Nursing,” she says.