Reality Check on Diversity at UCSF

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

“What is the campus climate like?” posed Peter Crougan, the president of UCSF’s Graduate Professional Student Association (GPSA) at a recent GPSA meeting that focused discussion on diversity across campus.

In the past couple of months multiple student groups have encouraged dialogue about sensitive issues like race, culture and diversity at UCSF. At the December meeting of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, a top agenda item centered around recent initiatives to encourage conversations about how race, culture and diversity impact student life.

Student leaders emphasized that their opinions may not be representative of their entire student body. However, realizing that this was an important issue to discuss, they shared their gauge of the situation.

Through the backdrop of a larger national conversation on race, students from the School of Medicine have regular conversations about promoting diversity that stem from the frustration against racial or cultural injustices.

One such initiative called Race Talks is an inter-professional student forum where UCSF students discuss on how race and justice impact student life and career choices. One representative said that even though talks about injustices and a heightened emphasis on cultural sensitivity has been around for years, they have translated into action only over the last couple of years.

Overall, there seems to be a fewer number of organized events to discuss ways to promote diversity within the school.

Students from the School of Pharmacy and Nursing think about these issues, but independently or in smaller groups.

The representative from the School of Dentistry said that the students do not have to many organized conversations within their school, but the administration for the School of Dentistry recognizes the importance and is making efforts to promote diversity at the level of admissions and applications.

Graduate students seem to have conversations about diversity and culture within their lab, but graduate students have not made a focused effort to organize around racial injustice. It’s not a common discussion and is mainly anecdotal. If there is a co-worker shares a personal incident about discrimination, the students may talk about it in their labs, but conversations have not coalesced into organized action.

In contrast, the representative from the School of Sociology said students are frustrated by the injustices at the systemic level, and are constantly looking for ways to make the community more inclusive and accepting.

Having recognized how different schools within UCSF approach cultural change, GPSA next posed the question, “Can we effectively promote diversity at UCSF?”

GPSA student leaders recognized the importance of fostering a more inclusive environment at UCSF. The leaders believe meaningful dialogue is the first step towards change. Moreover, more action and involvement from the student body is encouraged.

GPSA representatives also said certain schools may be organizing fewer talks about race disparities because students are attending events hosted by the medical school. On the other hand, said other graduate student representatives, students may be more motivated to attend events that are organized by their own programs.

Representatives also emphasized the importance of outreach at UCSF and in the community.

“The most effective way to promote diversity is by reaching out to undergraduate and high school students, and making efforts to encourage them to pursue a higher education,” said Micah Ahazie, the Vice President of internal affairs.

“If students from the different schools make efforts to reach out to students, they would be able to inspire students to submit applications to challenging programs, thereby increasing the number of applications from students who come from diverse backgrounds.”

Following this suggestion, GPSA is now talking about organizing some inter-professional volunteering events, not only foster interactions among professional and graduate schools, but to unite in efforts to encourage students in our community to pursue their dreams.

Wondering how you can help shape the efforts to promote conversations about diversity at UCSF? Find out at the next GPSA meeting on Feb. 1.