Two Newest ERGs Aim to Foster Inclusion

Faculty and staff at Columbia University Irving Medical Center have launched two new employee resource groups, the Islamic Cultural ERG and the Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) ERG. The two groups have kicked off with several events designed to celebrate and uplift the unique perspectives and cultural backgrounds of these identity groups and foster open dialogue across the entire community. Last month, the Islamic Cultural ERG hosted an Iftar dinner in celebration of Ramadan and also hosted a vigil honoring victims in Gaza. Coming up, the groups will jointly host an Eid celebration on April 17, celebrating the end of Ramadan with food, music, and live performances. Learn more about the Eid celebration.

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are groups of employees who share characteristics or life experiences and help foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational goals. CUIMC has 12 ERGs, including the Jewish Cultural ERG; CUIMC Women in Technology ERG; Working Parents ERG; African, Black, and Caribbean ERG; and the Veterans ERG. Learn more about ERGs at CUIMC.

“ERGs, to me as a Columbia community member and employee, are one of the most beneficial resources we offer,” says Rudi Odeh-Ramadan, PharmD, VP&S vice dean for finance and administration, who is an executive sponsor for the Islamic Cultural ERG and the leader of SWANA. “Everyone needs a community of folks that they identify with. People in the Islamic Cultural ERG understand where I’m coming from and how I feel, so we can speak freely and have an open and comfortable dialogue.”

The Islamic Cultural ERG hosted an Iftar dinner March 27 in celebration of Ramadan.

Before these groups were formed, CUIMC lacked a way for Muslim colleagues and those from Southwest Asian and North African backgrounds to connect and support one another.

“We felt a strong need to have a voice and a sense of community and have a safe space for networking, given recent events in the world and on campus,” says Hanna Siddiqui, assistant director of CUIMC Budget and Finance and a co-leader of the Islamic Cultural ERG. “I think the ERG was much needed and people are really jumping to it. Early on, some folks in our meetings were a little hesitant to speak openly because this is so new, and we’re a minority group that has been targeted, but I think folks are really starting to open up.”

The Islamic Cultural ERG has grown quickly; the group has about 70 members including many faculty and a seven-member advisory board.

“So many people have told us how excited they are that this exists and so thankful this community is being built,” says Yasmeen Majoka, executive director of finance and business operations in the VP&S Department of Pathology & Cell Biology and a co-leader of the Islamic Cultural ERG. “We all felt very alone, and now we have new members who join every meeting and bring different ideas.”

In addition to hosting community celebrations, the two groups also aim to educate and foster dialogue through outreach, community service projects, educational programming, and more. The two ERGs developed a toolkit for members to distribute to their departments about Ramadan and plan to host events addressing Islamophobia and media bias against Muslims. In the long term, they also plan to host professional development events and create a guide for best practices when interacting with Muslim patients.

“We feel Islamophobia is an issue that has not been truly addressed in the Columbia community, so a lot of our future programming will be about educating people, especially non-Muslim people and allies, around some of these issues,” says Majoka. “In the past couple months we’ve seen egregious anti-Muslim bias in the mainstream media, even from well-respected sources, and instances of anti-Muslim discrimination skyrocket. We want to educate people that this is happening and spread awareness of what it looks like. It would be a success to me if more non-Muslim people attended these events than Muslim people, who have probably already experienced Islamophobia and know it exists.”

In the spirit of unity, SWANA plans to host joint events with other ERGs and groups at the medical center, including the Asian Pacific Islander ERG, the Jewish Cultural ERG, and student organizations at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"Our events will be active, educational, and also serve as a social platform for the community," Odeh-Ramadan says. "We want to host events that draw others in and offer a platform for bringing people together."

With the launch of these ERGs, the leaders of both groups hope to bridge differences across the community, bringing together people from diverse experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives to foster dialogue and understanding.

“We have more similarities than differences,” says Siddiqui. “We welcome anyone to join our events both to learn and to reinforce that we're all really one big community.”