The University Record, April 30, 1996
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Actions, not words, are key
I recently received a copy of the "University of Michigan Medical School Cultural Diversity Assessment, Final Report" along with a memorandum from A. Lorris Betz, M.D., Ph.D., executive associate dean. Skipping the memo, I read the report and was quite surprised to find a very frank assessment of the UMMS experience from the perspectives of its Asian, Black, Hispanic, white, male and female Faculty, House Officers, and students. The pervasive, and in the case of the Black experience, the absolutely overwhelming feeling of being marginalized, disempowered, devalued and just plain alone expressed by minority and women members of the UMMS did not come as a great surprise. Nor did the ignorance of and disbelief of these experiences by most of the white male faculty, house officers and students come as any great shock. What one does not experience personally is easily dismissed or disbelieved. In the model of cultural diversity, however, one must actively take a role in learning about and believing in the experiences of other people, to understand that the "world" they experience is just as, if not at times much more, real than one's own.
I did not expect, however, to find any of the white male paranoia regarding affirmative action practices in the accompanying memo itself. I believe that A. Lorris Betz, M.D., Ph.D., either did not read or did not fully comprehend the implications of the report. I find it astounding that after asserting, "It is absolutely vital that we, as a medical school and as an academic community, begin to address some of the issues raised by our own faculty," that Dr. Betz could follow with his own, basically non sequitur opinion that, "It is clear that there are many ways in which our culture is also making it difficult for majority individuals to achieve all of their goals." The experience of the Medical School by minorities and women seemed to s how pretty clearly that if you want to be promoted, included in research grant work, have a professional working relationship with the faculty, have your opinions and intelligence valued, feel a part of the University community, etc., that you basically have to be a white male at the Medical School. While the report suggests many committee-oriented solutions to the systemic problems, I would think that individual, affirming actions by majority individuals would go a long way towards changing the experience of the minority and women members of the University of Michigan Medical School.
Joseph E. Russo, Research Assistant I UMMC, Division of Nuclear Medicine