Recognizing that lasting change can come only from the concerted efforts of a group of people, the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Nursing, led by Dean Greer Glazer, has taken deliberate steps to create an inclusive culture and address differences head on, rather than shy away from them.
[Above: UC Medical Center nurse Terri Tripp (L) mentors UC College of Nursing student Christine Chege.]
In July, for example, when a UC police officer was involved in a fatal shooting just off campus and the story made national headlines, the College of Nursing came together to talk about racial inequality in the community.
“Rather than ignore the shooting, we embraced it as a problem that affects our college too,” says Gordon Gillespie, assistant professor and co-chair of the college’s Diversity Advisory Council. “We held a discussion with the parameters that everyone is allowed to have a bias and a point of view, and we talked about what that means, without holding grudges. It was important to have a safe space for discussion.”
The Diversity Advisory Council was established in 2013 as part of the college’s strategic plan, which Karen Bankston — associate dean for clinical practice, partnership, and community engagement in the College of Nursing.— says is an intentional linkage with the wider UC campus’s strategic vision to create a more diverse campus community. The council’s mission is “to be a change catalyst for a culture of inclusive excellence,” with a vision “to inspire, influence, recommend, and challenge” the College of Nursing and the UC community to embrace and reflect the diversity of Cincinnati.
But Gillespie says there are a number of other activities that the council organizes to encourage examinations of difference, such as movie nights and book clubs that involve all faculty, staff, and students in the College of Nursing. These culminate in group discussions.
Films screened have included Dallas Buyers Club and A Place at the Table, and readings have included The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Rolling Back: Through a Life Disabled by Mike Shirk. This year, the college is reading Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore, the true-life account of two young African American men of the same name whose lives followed different paths.
“What’s notable is that we [have] used leaders and experts from different departments outside the College of Nursing [in the discussion sessions],” says Glazer. “It has definitely led to better conversations by having these different, outside perspectives.”
“I’ve seen more and more engagement,” she adds. “At first, the people who were attending these movies and book clubs were members of the council, but more and more, there is wider engagement and different people are showing up.”
This increased participation is evidence of the college’s progress in bringing about a cultural shift among its faculty, staff, and students. Glazer says this is the first, and most crucial, step to implementing successful diversity strategies.
“It starts with the cultural transformation,” she says. “You can’t make all the other stuff work if the campus culture doesn’t celebrate diverse perspectives.”
One hallmark of the College of Nursing’s diversity initiatives is its Leadership 2.0 pipeline program, which works with first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented high school students — mainly from urban settings. Beginning in the 11th grade, students in each cohort receive pre-college advising and academic support and take part in weekend academies. Then they participate in a summer bridge program, and when they arrive on campus in the fall, they continue to receive intensive advising and support, both social and academic.
Bankston says students who have participated in Leadership 2.0 have higher GPAs than other underrepresented nursing students, and some have higher GPAs than the general nursing student population. Because of its success, the college received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health this year. This money will be used to expand the program to ninth graders at one of the six area high schools the college partners with in an effort to diversify the healthcare workforce and reduce health disparities.
“We found out it’s not good enough to focus on incoming students, but that we had to work on filling the pipeline earlier. … Students in ninth grade need exposure to health careers and math and science support in high school,” Glazer says.
The college has been able to assess its progress through what Glazer calls a “laser focus on metrics” and by garnering feedback from student, faculty, and staff surveys.
For example, to address concerns that some were leaving the UC College of Nursing because of discrimination, they conducted interviews with 60 faculty members and students in the college to learn how microaggressions were affecting their daily experiences.
“One international student said her work group isolated her because they assumed she couldn’t do the work as well,” Gillespie says. “The faculty member told the student to join the group, but that faculty member didn’t understand the situation. So we made a purposeful effort to meet with the faculty and explain how to deal with that.”
Gillespie says these interviews have allowed the college to create a model for inclusive policies — one that is built on openness and teamwork.●
Rebecca Prinster is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. The University of Cincinnati College of Nursing is a 2015 INSIGHT Into Diversity HEED Award recipient.