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Immediate actions to combat racism and ensure greater fairness, equity, and belonging at WCM

I am writing to share with you how we are moving Weill Cornell Medicine forward in our work to address issues of diversity and racism within our institution.  Over the past month, my leadership team and I have spoken to many of you in Town Halls, department forums, smaller meetings, and one-on-one conversations.  We have received many thoughtful suggestions from student groups, faculty, staff, and academic leadership about steps we can take to further improve our culture of inclusion, belonging, and anti-racism.  This process has been an invaluable learning experience, and we are taking a series of concrete steps now to spur meaningful change at Weill Cornell Medicine and, by extension, our wider society.

We will continue to listen and learn from each other throughout the summer and beyond, and we recognize that there is still much more work to be done.  One of my top priorities since I became dean of Weill Cornell Medicine has been to advance initiatives related to diversity and inclusion.  What the past weeks have shown us is that additional efforts are needed urgently, that they must be both targeted and comprehensive, and that our leadership must be held accountable for implementing and following through on them.  

I assure you that, going forward, our institution’s commitment to social justice and anti-racism will extend to all aspects of our mission and, to an even greater extent, to our daily activities.  We will engage in an ongoing and continuous process of examining how we can move the needle and better confront racism and inequality.  With guidance from Dr. Said Ibrahim, Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, and the Executive Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, we will continue to develop intermediate- and long-term plans, in addition to the immediate actions described below.

Here are some of the steps that Weill Cornell Medicine is taking immediately:

Police reform

Weill Cornell Medicine unequivocally condemns police brutality and race-related violence.  Through the Cornell Center for Health Equity, and with assistance from NewYork-Presbyterian, we have a program in place to provide water, masks, and information on protesting safely to individuals participating in protests for racial justice near our campus on the Upper East Side.  In addition, our partner NewYork-Presbyterian is no longer hiring New York Police Department paid detail officers at our medical center.  It has made alternative arrangements with the 19th Precinct in case a rapid response is necessary.

Mandatory anti-bias training

All faculty and staff will be required to complete anti-bias training within the next 90 days and on an annual basis.  This 30-minute, web-based program will be released within the next few weeks.  The training will provide all of us with the tools to recognize biases within ourselves and identify how they may affect our actions.  It is an important step that will enable us to better understand each other’s perspectives and work toward combatting prejudice within our community.

In addition, I strongly encourage all department chairs and administrative department leaders to host in-person workshops focused on anti-racism, diversity, and creating a sense of belonging.  The Human Resources Office of Staff Equity and Inclusion is available to help our chairs and leaders create customized sessions for their faculty, staff, and trainees.  One such workshop, entitled Departmental Conversations: Racism, Injustice and Driving Meaningful Change, was just announced and is available upon request.

Strengthening the Office of Diversity and Inclusion

We are in the process of appointing an administrative director for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, who will help to coordinate, consolidate, and oversee its many programs and functions.  This new position will enable the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to enhance communication about the numerous initiatives, events, and resources it offers and to play an even more active role in the daily life of our community.

Advances in medical education

As future physicians, our medical students must have the knowledge and skills to produce optimal health outcomes for all patients and to address disparities.  Under the leadership of Dr. Yoon Kang, Senior Associate Dean for Education, medical education is actively engaging the Anti-Racism Student Task Force, student body, teaching faculty, and staff in moving forward on multiple initiatives.  We will introduce additional educational content related to racism, social injustice, and social determinants of health into the medical curriculum, and enhance academic support services for all students this coming academic year.  We are also planning new and expanded opportunities for students to support and advocate for communities and patients who are vulnerable to social inequities.

As part of our ongoing commitment to financial well-being and equity, we are now supporting the cost of USMLE Step 1 study materials (UWorld) and registration for Step 1 and Step 2 tests for all students.  We are increasing opportunities for students to attend conferences for medical and scientific education, networking, mentorship, and professional development.  In order to further strengthen the pipeline of physicians of color, we will intensify our outreach to URiM students who apply and are accepted to Weill Cornell Medicine, and are increasing our support to the Black and Latino Men in Medicine organization at WCM.

New initiatives in the Graduate School

The Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, led by Dean Barbara Hempstead in partnership with the Sloan Kettering Institute, is actively working to eradicate racism in academia and STEM.  As a crucial step, we are launching a new Trainer-Learner Committee to investigate, track, and document issues of student mistreatment, including incidents of racial microaggressions.  The work of this committee will ensure that the graduate learning environment is one of mutual respect, fairness, and equal treatment, while creating a mechanism for anonymous reporting and faculty accountability.  

More broadly, we are forming a task force of students, faculty, staff, and program leaders that will be charged with developing a strategy and action items related to social justice and anti-racism in the Graduate School.  This task force will provide members of our community with the opportunity to be thought leaders and to play an active role in driving effective and significant change.  Other immediate steps include expansion of outreach and pipeline programs and required mentor training for all graduate school faculty.

Diversity champions for all academic departments

At my request, all academic departments have now appointed diversity champions.  These individuals will serve as members of the Weill Cornell Diversity Council and will act as liaisons between academic departments, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Human Resources.  They will work with department chairs to organize Diversity Week events, Grand Rounds, periodic Town Hall meetings, and other gatherings and initiatives, and they will help each department to develop and implement plans to support the recruitment, promotion, career development, and retention of URiM faculty and trainees.  While many departments have already had diversity champions in place, this role will be strengthened as we accelerate and intensify our efforts in this area.  I will hold regular meetings with our institution’s diversity champions, starting next week.

Reporting on diversity efforts by academic departments

Going forward, all academic departments will be required to report annually to me on their efforts in diversity and anti-racism.  Department chairs and diversity champions should consider educational efforts, the climate of the department, community engagement, and the recruitment, retention, and advancement of URiM trainees, staff, and faculty.  This information will be considered in my regular reviews of academic departments and will help make our institution more inclusive and more accountable.

Practices and opportunities for hiring, promotion, and leadership of faculty 

Under the leadership of Dr. Katherine Hajjar, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty, we are reinvigorating and reinforcing a related set of internal policies and practices to promote greater diversity and equity among our faculty.  When recruiting for a position, we are now taking a closer look to ensure balance in the composition of search committees and the identification of potential candidates.  To support the career advancement of our faculty, we are strengthening our Mentoring Academy, which was established two years ago, and forming a new Mentoring Academy Council in July that will increase access to personalized mentoring programs.  Over the coming academic year, we will boost communication about the mechanics of academic promotion and require department chairs to conduct annual reviews with all faculty members.  Mentorship and faculty development of URiM individuals will be a priority.  We will also review our compensation practices to make sure they are fair and equitable with respect to race/ethnicity, as we recently did for gender.  

In addition, I have charged our administration with increasing the diversity of our academic leadership, when possible.  Our senior leadership, department chairs, division chiefs, and the members of the Committee of Review, Executive Faculty Council, General Faculty Council, and department committees are representatives of Weill Cornell Medicine and important role models both within and outside our institution.  Although it will take time, we commit to greater inclusion of people of color and women in these leadership and governing bodies, as well as in our board.

Recruitment of URiM physicians and scientists

Increased recruitment of URiM faculty and trainees is a top priority at Weill Cornell Medicine.  In recent years, we have provided ad hoc support for the recruitment of URiM faculty and are now in the process of developing a formal program to advance these efforts.  We are exploring a variety of ways to structure this program and look forward to sharing more details in the coming months.

Actions to support staff diversity

Angela Lent, Senior Director of Human Resources, has been charged with reviewing our affirmative action plan and goals to proactively seek opportunities to promote diversity in our hiring and promotional efforts.  As with our academic leadership, it is critical that we look for opportunities to increase the representation of people of color within the highest levels of administrative leadership and be more representative of the communities we serve.

Human Resources has also created the Office of Staff Equity and Inclusion that will work very closely with the Executive Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in our efforts to make Weill Cornell Medicine a place of diversity, inclusion, and belonging.  Their initial work has focused on the creation of a Staff Diversity Steering Committee, and their next step in the coming weeks will be the creation of Inclusion Councils that will help promote and expand diversity and inclusion programming at the department level.

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These actions, on an institutional level, are only a sampling of the many initiatives taking place within academic and administrative departments throughout Weill Cornell Medicine.  Units are stepping up in countless ways to fight for social justice for people of every race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and background.  Already departments have committed to regular Town Hall meetings to bring about tangible change and created task forces to examine existing models of clinical care and improve access for underserved patient populations.  They’re launching new programs to reach out to URiM high school and college students and strengthen the pipeline of physicians and scientists.  Throughout the institution, discussion groups on racism are being formed, resources are being developed, and change is happening, step by step.

I encourage all of these efforts—and many more—to continue.  Combating racism and achieving social justice will require contributions from all of us, at all levels, working together.  I look forward to partnering with you on this challenge facing us, and I will continue to update you as our intermediate- and long-term plans develop.

Sincerely,

Augustine M.K. Choi, M.D.

Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean
Weill Cornell Medicine
Provost for Medical Affairs
Cornell University