October 2020 Dean's Letter

Now seven months into the pandemic, we continue to adjust to the altered rhythms and routines of our daily lives.  Many of our medical and graduate students are learning remotely, while others are engaging in a hybrid curriculum.  Lab research is progressing smoothly, with staggered schedules to keep staff occupancy at half their previous levels.  Clinical care and research remain central to our efforts, and we are finding that our patients are appreciating our heightened focus on safety as well as the convenience of video visits.

As New York City progresses on its path of recovery, slowly but surely, Weill Cornell Medicine is also moving forward in its mission to care, discover, and teach.  One area that we are emphasizing to an even greater extent now is anti-racism and social justice.  At the end of June, as the country once again confronted its legacy of systemic racism, I announced a set of actions that were taken immediately to ensure greater equity, fairness, and belonging within our community.  Since then, I am pleased to report that progress has been made on a number of fronts.

Office of Institutional Equity. As previously announced, a new Office of Institutional Equity has been established. Led by Jamal Lopez, JD, Senior Director of Institutional Equity, its charge is to investigate reports of discrimination and harassment, lead our institution’s disability accommodation process, advance equity in employment practices, and promote a culture of inclusion and belonging for faculty, staff and students.  In August, the office launched a mandatory Unconscious Bias training course and updated WCM’s web-based Sexual Harassment training.  Working with the Office of University Counsel, it has also amended policies related to the investigation of all reported claims of discrimination and harassment, and is currently cultivating relationships with institutional stakeholders to develop a robust staff diversity agenda and resources for our community.

Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Dr. Said Ibrahim, Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, and the Executive Committee on Diversity and Inclusion are working with WCM’s diversity champions, now resident in each academic department, to develop and implement an action plan for the 2020-21 academic year.  Diversity Town Hall meetings are being held monthly for all members of the community as a continuation of the forums that began this past spring with the pandemic.  I participated in the September Town Hall on the “Status of Women in Medicine at WCM” and provided an overview of institutional activities related to gender diversity and equity.  A new administrative director, Heather Johnson, is now in place to help consolidate and expand the various activities of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Medical Education. Medical Education has launched an “Equity and Inclusion Initiative” in collaboration with a 23-student Anti-Racism Task Force.  As part of the initiative, there will be working groups with students, staff, medical education leadership, and faculty, and each will be charged with generating short- and long-term recommendations for thoughtful and sustainable change.  The first three groups to be formed are focusing on: an anti-racism curriculum, including greater inclusion of content related to social determinants of health; the learning environment, including investigations of student reports of mistreatment through the medical college’s Teacher-Learner Committee in partnership with the Office of Institutional Equity; and financial equity and literacy, including analysis of WCM’s program to eliminate medical education debt for students with financial need, which is celebrating its first anniversary.  Additional groups will be convened in the coming weeks.

Weill Cornell Graduate School. A Social Justice and Anti-Racism Taskforce consisting of more than 30 faculty, staff, postdocs, and students was formed in July and meets weekly.  Its five working groups are developing recommendations for meaningful change in: combating racism and social injustice, increasing the recruitment and promoting the success of underrepresented researchers and clinicians, creating open discussion and safe spaces for all community members, and increasing educational outreach to underrepresented local students.  The Graduate School also launched a Prep to Train module that will be required for all students and faculty and includes policies, unconscious bias training, and resources for engaging in productive, culturally responsive interactions.  A new Trainer-Learner Committee has been set up to respond to student reports of mistreatment. It includes faculty from all graduate programs as well as student representatives.

Office of Faculty. Working with stakeholders throughout the institution, the Office of Faculty has developed a statement of diversity to be included in all faculty job ads and a set of standard procedures for search committees.

Dean’s Office. I have been actively engaging with national leaders in academic medicine through the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Associated Medical Schools of New York.  As medical school deans, we are collectively committed to building a stronger culture of anti-racism, diversity, and belonging at our institutions and within medicine and biomedical science more broadly, and we are exploring a variety of strategies to achieve these goals.  In addition, Weill Cornell Medicine is working with the leadership of Hunter College to identify ways that we can deepen connections between our two organizations and strengthen the pipeline of underrepresented physicians and scientists.

There are many other ongoing initiatives and programs in diversity and inclusion at Weill Cornell Medicine, as well as additional plans still in the works.  Recent accomplishments are highlighted in our Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report.  I look forward to providing more information on new developments in the coming months.

Although this fall semester is unlike any that we have experienced before, Weill Cornell Medicine is moving steadily forward.  The contributions of every single member of our community have never been so deeply appreciated as they are now, as we collectively look to the future and seek to create a better world for us all.  I also encourage you to exercise your civic right to vote and, if you have not yet done so, to register before the October 9 deadline.  Thank you for everything you do for Weill Cornell Medicine.


Augustine M.K. Choi, MD

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