The George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) will work to make anti-racism part of the fabric of its culture through the creation of the Anti-Racism Coalition.
Anti-racism, or work that expresses the idea that all racial groups are equal and supports policies that decrease racial inequity, was announced in a recent town hall for SMHS and The GW Medical Faculty Associates communities.
“While the Anti-Racism Coalition will be housed within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, this work does not belong to any one person or any one group,” said Yolanda Haywood, MD, interim senior associate dean for diversity and faculty affairs and associate professor of emergency medicine at SMHS, who will co-lead this effort. “All of us will be included in this fight, and each of us should take responsibility for anti-racist work.”
Haywood will co-lead the Anti-Racism Coalition with Karen Williams, MD, former chief of anesthesiology at the National Institutes of Health and retired associate professor of anesthesiology at SMHS. Grace E. Henry, EdD, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at SMHS, and Taylor Smith, diversity officer in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at SMHS, will also be working to bring the Anti-Racism coalition to life. The coalition will focus on four pillars of anti-racism work:
- Individual: Understanding what racism is and what part we play as individuals when it comes to racist behaviors;
- Interpersonal: 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;
- Institutional: Supporting policies and procedures that foster anti-racism in our community;
- Structural: Influencing national and local policies through voting and advocacy.
Discussed during the town hall was the importance of storytelling to anti-racism work. Williams grew up in the Washington, D.C. area during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. A few years later, she lost her father, who was one of six black victims of a racially motivated shooting by a white man. Reliving her childhood trauma and revisiting the racism she has experienced in her life is painful, but has led to important self-discoveries and conversations. Racism hurts, she said.
“Racism not only demeans and degrades the person upon whom the indignities are being perpetrated, but it also limits the experiences and emotional/mental development of the perpetrator. It occurs to unjustly elevate the insecure status of one group at the expense of another,” said Williams. “Racism hurts physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Because it hurts individuals, it subsequently negatively impacts institutions, organizations, and financial and political systems. Racism hurts us all, significantly hindering the advancement of our nation.”
The idea for the Anti-Racism Coalition was conceived from a grassroots discussion after the death of George Floyd. As Haywood was writing an email to Barbara Bass, MD, RESD ’86, vice president for health affairs, dean of SMHS, and CEO of The GW Medical Faculty Associates, to suggest they create the Anti-Racism Coalition, Bass was writing an email to Haywood to suggest forming a group.
“Through this new initiative, we are going to do something real at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, with all of our partners starting on this valuable corner of the GW campus – something that will expand beyond our borders — something durable and sustainable,” said Bass. “It is my hope that we use this genuine moment in our history to utilize all of our tools to craft a new normal relative to race, equity, integrity and opportunity. A new normal that fights for true equality for all. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it is our responsibility to take advantage of this moment and create something that will make a difference.”
“Mr. Floyd’s daughter said that her daddy had ‘changed the world,’ ” said Haywood. “And he has changed the world. We cannot let his death be in vain. ... Either you are an anti-racist or you are not. And if you’re not, then you need to start educating yourself. If you are, then you need to further educate yourself. We are all in this together.”