A sign at a rally reading "Stop Asian Hate"

Employee Resource Group Increases Support for AAPI Community at CUIMC

Since early 2020, an employee resource group organized by Human Resources at Columbia University Irving Medical Center has provided support for the campus’s Asian American Pacific Islander community. In response to the recent spate of local and national hate crimes, the AAPI ERG has played a critical role in creating spaces for AAPI employees to share their stories and find support, including conversations on combating hate and fostering inclusivity.

Courtney Sinn, manager of academic affairs in the Department of Pathology & Cell Biology in the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Saleha Ahmed, director of human resources & academic affairs in the VP&S Department of Surgery, serve as employee leaders of the AAPI ERG. In recent months, the pair have helped schedule and facilitate talks, town halls, and other events to address the current climate for members of the AAPI community.

“We plan on not only educating but creating opportunities for people to share their thoughts and feelings. We want to bring a human touch and empathy to the community that's been facing these issues for the past few months,” Sinn says.

Recent activities have included a conversation on combating AAPI hate and fostering solidarity in the community with Lillian A. Tsai, principal owner of Tsaicomms, and Steven M. Yip, director of operations for the Chinese American Planning Council. The group also met with faculty at CopeColumbia for a session on coping and building resilience in the face of adversity. These sessions have brought together employees from across CUIMC and provided an outlet for discussion and support.

“What I love about this program is that it goes into so many different areas of the AAPI group. Everybody is represented in a very positive and meaningful way,” Ahmed says. “We had a very cathartic meeting with CopeColumbia, which I thought really resonated with everyone. It really brought tears to many people's eyes, including my own.”

“What sticks out to me is the shared experience, not just within AAPI-identifying communities, but with any marginalized community that has a way of relating to being targeted for who you are or for something you can't change about yourself,” Sinn adds. “It’s helped me to hear from allies to our community, who reach out and empathize. I think that's really powerful.”

Alongside Tonya Richards, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for staff and senior human resources business partner (who serves as the employer leader of all ERGs) the group met with Anil K. Rustgi, MD, interim executive vice president and dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine. Together, they discussed ways to better support the AAPI community at CUIMC.

“In my experience with the AAPI group, leadership has acted with conviction and with immediate effect,” Ahmed says.

The group worked together to address the community’s most pressing and immediate needs. Rustgi has attended other ERG meetings previously, and committed to attending future ERG meetings and participating in an upcoming tripartite town hall for a conversation about anti-Asian rhetoric, bias, and violence, along with leadership of NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine. The town hall will take place on Tuesday, April 13, at 10 a.m.

“There was immediate action, and to see that in real time—especially as a person of color—was just phenomenal,” Ahmed says.

Employee resource groups, which are voluntary groups of employees who join together in their workplace based on shared characteristics or life experiences and serve as a resource for fellow members and the organization, were launched at CUIMC in late 2019 under Richards’ leadership. The 10 groups, which range from a group for working parents to a group for employees who identify as LGBTQ+ , have remained active throughout the pandemic. The groups support the medical center’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion through their efforts in the workplace and community. All staff at CUIMC are invited to join or create an employee resource group.

“What I really love about these groups and the events they sponsor is that they attract many people who don’t identify with that particular group. There are many people throughout our medical center who are coming to learn and offer support,” Richards says.

To support the AAPI community, the AAPI ERG advocates for more advocacy, visibility, and participation from the broader CUIMC community.

“We've made a lot of progress, but we need to keep the forward momentum going,” Sinn says. “I can't tell you how many people have reached out after our events. They are grateful that there is a group like this on campus, that there are peers who they can relate to, and that they can share their stories, whether they be good or bad.”