VP&S Anti-Racism Coalition Holds Kickoff Meeting

The Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons' Anti-Racism Coalition held its kickoff meeting in late January. More than 80 students, staff, and faculty members attended the meeting, which introduced the goals of the coalition and the three sub-committees that will work to transform Columbia University Irving Medical Center’s serving and learning environment toward racial justice. The kickoff event also included remarks by CUIMC leaders Monica Lypson, MD, vice dean for education at VP&S; Anne Taylor, MD, vice dean for academic affairs at VP&S; and Sandra Harris, associate vice president of government and community affairs at CUIMC.

The VP&S Anti-Racism Coalition was established in 2021 on the recommendation of the VP&S Anti-Racism Task Force. The coalition’s work will focus on three primary goals: promote and retain diverse staff and faculty; address segregated care; and enhance anti-racist curricula. Through the three sub-committees dedicated to these impact areas, the Anti-Racism Coalition will develop strategies and initiatives to achieve these goals.

The Anti-Racism Coalition differs from previous anti-racist efforts at CUIMC in its systemic approach to change. While many departments and centers across CUIMC have instituted anti-racist and health equity-focused programs and initiatives, the Anti-Racism Coalition focuses on larger structural change that can be difficult to achieve at a department level.

 “A lot of times when we’re doing this work, it can be frustrating because we want to see immediate results,” says Ashley Boyce, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging staff engagement manager, who serves on the coalition’s staff and faculty sub-committee. “The overarching mission for the anti-racism coalition is long term and focused on sustainable, transformational anti-racism change. Departments are doing some of the more immediate work that’s needed, to make sure that we can sustain the long-term work.”

More than 120 people are involved in the Anti-Racism Coalition, which has started with a focus on VP&S but has members from across the medical center. Bringing together this large and diverse group helps ensure that existing efforts aren’t being unnecessarily replicated and also serves to pool existing resources, tools, and best practices that have been vetted at the department and school level. Marie Garcon, DNP, assistant professor of nursing at the School of Nursing, has been involved with numerous anti-racist and health equity efforts in her 32 years at CUIMC and hopes that the Anti-Racism Coalition can help bring greater unity to this work.

“Between NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia, we have so much that we can do to make things better, but we don’t communicate,” says Garcon, who serves on the segregated care sub-committee. “Everyone is working in silos. We have so many resources, but we need to break those barriers and change our mentality. We are all serving the same community; why can’t we make it so that everyone can benefit from these different resources?”

VP&S students have helped drive much of the work and conversation around anti-racism at CUIMC since 2020. Participating in the Anti-Racism Coalition is way to ensure that their work will continue after they graduate.

“As students, we come and we’re only here for a short time,” says Veronica Kane, VP&S Class of 2023, who serves on the anti-racist curricula subcommittee. “I’m proud to be a part of creating this structure that can be sustainable and will continue to create change after we’re gone. We as a community can be held accountable because we have this structure in place and people who are dedicating their time to these issues and making sure that these efforts don’t get lost when there’s turnover.”

Anti-racism is a priority area of focus for CUIMC leaders, who have been actively involved in guiding and nurturing these efforts.

“We are all well aware, at this point, of the structures that created and perpetuate division and inequity,” says Katrina Armstrong, MD, dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and VP&S. “Throughout the medical school, there is real clarity about the shared responsibility to quickly and thoroughly dismantle remaining impediments to equity and diversity. This journey toward creating a community where everyone is supported, especially those who previously have been vastly underrepresented in medicine, is central to building our future and very exciting.”

The Anti-Racism Coalition will continue to meet in sub-committees for the next several months and organizers hope to invite more faculty, staff, and students to join the coalition later this year. Click here for more information on anti-racism resources at VP&S.