Addressing racial inequities through critical conversations

Beth Khan
July 09, 2021
Stronger Together

During the summer of 2020, COVID-19 created a dual crisis: a pandemic within a pandemic. The country witnessed the connection between the coronavirus crisis and growing racial disparities, leading to civil protests in cities including Minneapolis, Minnesota; Washington, D.C.; Portland, Oregon; and Charleston, South Carolina. The horrific and unnecessary deaths of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and several other Black individuals sent shockwaves to countless Americans, including our students, faculty and staff, who were understandably disturbed by these tragedies and the events that followed throughout the United States. 

Many minority students and co-workers could relate to the discriminatory treatment experienced by minority groups, while others felt a sense of hopelessness. Difficult and complicated conversations resulted and gave pause to institutions that required an in-depth examination of racial inequity.

Feeling the call to address the outcry of social injustice in South Carolina as well as across the country, college of nursing deans from MUSC, the University of South Carolina and Clemson University came together to discuss what they could do for their students, faculty members and staff.

Dean Linda S. Weglicki, Ph.D., R.N., Jeannette Andrews, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, dean of the University of South Carolina College of Nursing, and Kathleen Valentine, Ph.D., MSN, director of nursing at Clemson University, took a hard look at their institution's values and commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity. They listened to employees' and students' concerns, and one common theme emerged – more needed to be done.

"As nurse leaders, we must lead critical conversations that help each of us understand the forces of racial inequality and plan, intervene and evaluate our progress," Valentine said.

From these necessary discussions and reflections, the deans developed a series titled “Nursing Leadership Forum for Racial Equity: Critical Conversations” that focused on nursing leadership and racial inclusiveness.

"The message of the series is that we can do better and should do better to address the systemic challenges and social injustices of our faculty, staff and students of color face regularly," Andrews said.

Last November, the first panel session kicked off, with hundreds of faculty and staff members from all three institutions gathering virtually to discuss the topic of essential considerations for recruiting faculty of color. The session featured Gayenell Magwood, Ph.D., R.N. FAHA, FAAN, a professor in the MUSC College of Nursing, as a panelist. The following month, Dean Weglicki moderated a session titled, “Enhancing Career Success: Addressing the Burdens of Microaggressions.” The third live panel discussion was held in February 2021 and focused on genomics, race and health disparities.

"As we embrace new opportunities in 2021, we will undoubtedly continue to face evolving challenges," Weglicki said. "Still, we must commit to promoting equity and engaging in more in-depth reflection and conversation, to find new ways to understand, honor and strengthen respect with and for one another. Only then will we begin to overcome structural obstacles, eliminate disparities and remove barriers to health equity. And that promotes the health of everyone."