Yale School of Nursing DEI Director Resigns in Protest

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Raven Rodriguez, the former Yale University School of Nursing (YSN) director of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), resigned from her position on October 22 in protest of what she alleges is an “oppressive status quo,” according to an email addressed to students. 

“My hope is that each of you included in this message knows that despite how hard [W]hiteness has tried to center itself in anti-racism work, my work at YSN has always been about [B]lack people. I stayed at Yale for [B]lack people, and I am leaving Yale because of the way [B]lack people are treated,” Rodriguez wrote in the email, which was later shared on Medium.com. 

Her resignation was motivated by the decision to prioritize her “physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being,” she wrote.

Rodriguez became YSN’s inaugural DEI director in July 2019. Students reported that while Rodriguez was a passionate advocate, her responsibilities within the school and the administration’s plans for addressing racism were unclear, according to the Yale Daily News (YDN), an independent student newspaper. 

Three months before Rodriguez’s departure, YSN announced that it would be restructuring DEI roles in order to better fulfill the goals of an anti-racist statement released in June. The restructuring gave YSN dean Ann Kurth, who is White, a more prominent role in the school’s DEI efforts, according to the newspaper. 

After Rodriguez’s resignation, Kurth announced in a statement that the school’s associate dean of global affairs and planetary health — who previously oversaw YSN’s DEI office — would “re-incorporate the work of DEI into his portfolio.” Students then promptly created a petition demanding that Rodriguez be replaced by a full-time employee rather than allowing Kurth to hold “the highest position of power related to DEI’s issues,” YDN reported. 

“It’s terrifying,” nursing student Tayisha Saint Vil told YDN in a recent interview. “This feels like a really hostile environment for Black and [B]rown students to learn.”

Kurth held a forum on October 26 to address the students’ demands. More than 220 were in attendance, according to YDN. Among their concerns was a lack of diversity among employees and students, outdated curricula that focuses health care almost solely on White patients, and offensive remarks made by guest lecturers and professors. During the forum, Kurth acknowledged that more needs to be done to combat racism within the school. 

The YSN held another online panel November 20 that focused on administrators and faculty listening to student concerns and demands. At the panel, Kurth announced the creation of a full-time associate dean of equity position for the nursing school, YDN reported. Over the next year, the YSN also plans to hire a full-time ODEI director, review the current curriculum and learning materials, and develop anti-racist and anti-discrimination guidelines for faculty. 

“I have been pained by recent events, by the harms that have happened, and want to state that moving forward I am committed to going beyond rhetoric and bringing about positive change in partnership with the faculty, students, and staff,” Kurth said at the meeting. “I agree that YSN doing a better job [of] supporting Black students is needed.”

Kurth added that she is committed to improving the YSN culture and community through concrete action to address discriminatory attitudes.