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The Catalyst

Equity, inclusion, diversity: part of everyday campus life

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

MUSC employees sign a banner committing to maintain a workplace and environment that respects employees, students, patients and their families by embracing different cultures, beliefs, values, nationalities and lifestyles. photos by Tim Roylance, Digital Imaging

Emblazoned across the top of the MUSC Facebook page, the word “INCLUSION” expresses the Medical University’s strong commitment to diversity, one of President David J. Cole’s top priorities.

In his inauguration speech, Cole referred to MUSC as a close–knit and supportive family that values diversity, inclusion and equity. He further stated that as a forward–thinking institution, MUSC is committed to continued development of a culture that draws its strength from a rich tapestry of cultures, ideas and talent.

Under the leadership of Willette Burnham, Ph.D., and Joan Herbert, R.N., co–chairs of the university’s planning committee, MUSC recently completed its first strategic plan for diversity and inclusion. Considered a significant milestone for the organization, the plan provides a framework for implementing enterprisewide goals and strategies that address these issues across five specific domains. These include:

  • recruitment and pipeline development
  • education and training
  • metrics and outcomes
  • engagement and inclusion
  • communication, community relations and outreach

While introducing the new strategic plan, Cole said, “This document expresses MUSC’s commitment to providing greater opportunities to the MUSC family. It also allows us to respectfully acknowledge our past while actively engaging a more fully diverse and inclusive community.”

The purpose of the plan is to create an academic health care community where every member is respected and valued. By leveraging differences in ways that allow people to understand and be understood, leadership ensures diversity and inclusion are integral to the fabric of MUSC. Through this process, leadership believes that awareness, understanding and mutual respect will have a foundation to flourish.

Members of the Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council held their first meeting with MUSC President David Cole on Oct. 17. The council is composed of civic, professional and business leaders who serve on an external community team that will assist in equity and inclusion efforts. photo provided

One particular priority of Cole’s that was quickly set into motion was the creation of the Advisory Council for Diversity and Inclusion, a community group that, along with MUSC representatives, comprises three distinct groups: elected officials, faith–based community leaders and leaders who are valuable resources for other diverse groups such as the black, LGBT,

Spanish–speaking, and historically underserved communities throughout the Tri–county area.

The advisory council is intended to provide MUSC leadership with insight into efforts that may successfully improve relationships within MUSC over time. According to Burnham, it became apparent that members of the greater Charleston community could provide support and consultation to strengthen the strategic plan efforts.

Sabra Slaughter, Ph.D., senior advisor to the president for diversity and community relations, serves on the council and feels the group’s input will assist MUSC in its efforts immeasurably.

He said, “The advisory council fosters communication with local civic, business, professional and elected leaders, provides a structure to champion diversity and inclusion and celebrate our accomplishments, and promotes opportunities for continuous improvement. These contributions will greatly aid the institution in meeting its goals and building stronger bonds with community constituents.”   

The advisory council functions in a purely advisory and consultative capacity to support the efforts of the strategic plan. Members of the council will serve as allies and ambassadors and in those roles they will: advise MUSC leadership on matters related to creating an organizational culture and climate of inclusion for students, faculty, staff, patients, and their families; improve recruitment, engagement and retention of underrepresented minorities; increase access to resources for underrepresented minorities; improve external and internal communication with key stakeholders; and improve existing relationships while building new partnerships, which can enhance MUSC’s diversity and inclusion values and goals.

The council has a very significant advisory role, though no programmatic, administrative or legislative authority.  Members serve as a resource for accountability for organizational change.

After two initial meetings that included first community leaders and then elected officials, the volunteer body of nearly 40 people met for the first time as a team on Oct. 17. They will continue to meet once a quarter. During upcoming meetings, the strategic plan implementation team will provide updates to the council so members remain fully informed of the progress that has been made between meetings.

Burnham, who works closely with the council, explained the original conception of the group. “The Advisory Council came together as a result of Dr. Cole’s desire to ensure an external community team was part of the process and engaged in the plan. He thought it was important that we receive direct recommendations from an engaged constituency who represented the Charleston community, patients, families, as well as others with whom they were in partnership.”

“The council will essentially help us stay in touch with how we’re doing and how we’re perceived,” she continued. “They will serve as a second set of eyes and ears as we move forward. We are hoping they offer advice along the lines of ‘you may want to consider this’ or ‘here is a place we think you need to course–correct.’ Advisors such as these can do a great job informing us of where we might be missing opportunities for enhancement.”

Meaningful partnerships

The council aims to build strong relationships that will remain sustainable for decades. While the council has members who are ambassadors of MUSC, the decision was made, while forming the council, to include those in the community who have been critical of the Medical University’s diversity efforts over the years.

Burnham said, “We didn’t shy away from that voice. We want to have conversations with advisors who represent a diversity of voices — the advocates and the critics — as that’s where you continue to be challenged. We have partners we haven’t always agreed with and sometimes we are able to educate one another and share a diversity of perspective, which sometimes means we have to agree to disagree. But that is the beauty of this work and one of the outcomes we seek from the advisory council. We can be advised about where we can do a better job and what we are doing well if we respectfully listen to all voices. To that end, we made an intentional effort to improve communication and create a council representative of our diverse communities and voices.”

There exists in the community a perception that MUSC never fully acknowledged or took responsibility for the March 1969 hospital workers’ strike. The walkout, which was organized by Mary Moultrie, an MUSC nurse’s aide, was an opportunity for the workers to express their strong conviction that MUSC wasn’t addressing their concerns about discrimination, harassment, unequal pay, and widespread racial discord. Many in the black community still feel MUSC has not made as much progress since that time as it could have which is a legacy MUSC  would like to change, according to Burnham.

The strategic plan is a monumental first step in making necessary progress. Burnham said of working with the community advisory council toward this end: “This is a great way to own our legacy of exclusion outright and still embrace the possibilities of what lies ahead for the future.”

The overarching message at the October 2014 meeting was there is no better place in Charleston for care, but there is still work to be done under the rubric of Diversity and Inclusion. Burnham explained, “Elected officials at their meeting shared personal stories of how well a loved one had been taken care of at MUSC. The care and advances here are never the issue. One attendee said, ‘Everyone has an MUSC love story because we’ve all had experiences where we brought a loved one here that was treated well. That’s not what this is about — we know MUSC is a great academic health care center. We bring families here because it’s the best. And we love MUSC for that. But we need to address the other issues at hand and find solutions for the future.”

The planning team knows that changing perceptions may be slow and progress won’t happen overnight. A few members of the council may understandably take a “wait and see” attitude. Burnham said, “They’re agreeing to serve as advisors, but they may be thinking to themselves, ‘OK, let’s see what you really do.’  MUSC will prove through our actions that we are committed to making substantive changes.”

Initial priorities

Of the ideas that have been submitted to date, training stands out as a good first step in terms of ways to make an important enterprisewide change. Burnham said, “We can begin to make sure that every new member of the organization is educated and trained in the expectations surrounding diversity and inclusion. Moving forward, we want everyone to have the same orientation on Diversity and Inclusion values: things that everyone will be expected to do to help the culture change. And also, we propose to implement continual training for long-term employees and ongoing leadership development training. It’s important that we are training the MUSC family in what it means to be sensitive to creating a more inclusive environment.”

Burnham feels there will be greater opportunities for representation of underrepresented minorities in middle and upper management once implementation goals for creating programs that help the institution develop leaders internally are identified. She refers to that as “our grow–your–own–leader model.” Her message to MUSC employees? “Please give the implementation phase time to work and keep us informed; we want you to thrive in this organization.”

Already the new council is making strides. One community leader said, “I can’t ever remember a time when we’ve been invited to participate in something like this with MUSC.” According to Burnham, people are feeling heard, included, relevant. “Most importantly,” she said, “They feel encouraged and optimistic. This isn’t going to be just talk. The council recognized there was going to be something different about this particular effort.”

The implementation team looks forward to what’s ahead — especially how MUSC will look and function as an organization in three to five years.

Patrick Cawley, M.D., CEO of the MUSC Medical Center, said, “Our most important asset in improving patient care across MUSC are our team members who are also part of the community. It is vital that we engage patients, families, and the community in our efforts to ensure our team is best prepared.”

Overwhelmingly, members of the council and the MUSC team agree, they want to ensure that every employee and community member feels they are a welcomed member of the MUSC community.

South Carolina Representative Wendell Gilliard, one of the elected officials serving on the council, shared, “At the end of the day, people just want to be respected and valued for the jobs they do in the organization regardless of where they fall in the continuum.”

For more information, a list of resources and diversity best practices, visit MUSC's Diversity and Inclusion Webpage,

December 7, 2014



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