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The Catalyst

Campus champions recognized with Earl B. Higgins Diversity Awards

By J. Ryne Danielson

2016 Earl B. Higgins Achievement in Diversity Awards faculty winner Dr. DaNine Fleming, second from left, and College of Medicine student winner Robert Williams were presented their awards April 6 by MUSC staff and Higgins family members, Deborah Higgins (sister) and Hazel Higgins (mother).

MUSC has recognized diversity educator DaNine Fleming, Ed.D, and third–year medical student Robert Williams with the 2016 Earl B. Higgins Achievement in Diversity Awards, presented April 6 at the Wickliffe House.

The awards are presented to an MUSC employee and student each April in recognition of his or her exemplary efforts in promoting diversity and inclusion, a key goal of Imagine MUSC 2020, MUSC’s five–year strategic plan.

First presented in April 1996, the award is a tribute to the late Dr. Earl B. Higgins, who served four years as director of Affirmative Action and Minority Affairs at MUSC, until his death in 1992. Higgins’ sister, Deborah Higgins, was at the ceremony to present the awards in her brother’s memory.

“During his tenure, Dr. Higgins was a warrior for recruitment, retention, and enrichment programs that increased the representation of minority students in all programs at MUSC,” said University Chief Diversity Officer Willette Burnham. “He worked diligently to recruit minority faculty members and to ensure equal opportunities for all employees.”

MUSC President David Cole, M.D., FACS, believes the awards named in Earl B. Higgins’ honor represent an important chance to recognize the great work being done to make all members of the community feel welcome at MUSC. “Diversity and inclusion are things we embrace and value as we move forward,” he said. “MUSC’s mission is to lead heath innovation for the lives we touch. I don’t think we can repeat that enough. Leading health innovation for the lives we touch means embracing those that come under our care. And that care is not bounded by borders, ethnicity or anything else.”

DaNine Fleming

Dr. DaNine Fleming is honored for expanding several diversity and inclusion programs at MUSC.

Fleming was nominated for the award by her colleagues Kevin Smuniewski and Brandi M. White, Ph.D., who wrote, “The impact of her work is felt in the pulse of every facet of the MUSC enterprise. Her work has been instrumental in creating a climate of inclusion and improving the culture of excellence and diversity at MUSC.”

The first to hold the director of Training and Intercultural Education position at MUSC, Fleming has had the opportunity to create a diversity and inclusion training program for students, faculty and staff. One of the training programs of which Fleming is most proud is the Safe Zone initiative. Safe Zone trainings are half–day workshops designed to reduce homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism on campus by ensuring all members of the sexual minority community are treated inclusively and respectfully at MUSC.

Fleming expressed her gratitude and honor at being chosen for the award and told a story about her late grandfather. “When I received this position, my grandfather, who has since passed away from cancer, asked me, ‘Are you sure you want to go to that place?’ He remembered MUSC as a 91–year–old. He remembered the MUSC where he could not walk through campus. He remembered the MUSC where people he knew and loved could not come for service, and people who looked like us were not welcome,” she said. “Today shows me how far we’ve come, and that we are truly changing what’s possible at MUSC.”

Third-year medical student Robert Williams was honored for his leadership and volunteerism with the CARES Clinic, Charleston Miracle League, work with the Gold Humanism Honor Society and other Lowcountry organizations.

Robert Williams
Williams was nominated by fellow medical student LaVern Keitt. Serving on many recruitment and retention panels, including the Ernest E. Just Symposium, he is known for going above and beyond in his commitment to patients, families, visitors and fellow students at MUSC.

Williams serves with the Student Mentor for Minorities program and is a member of Junior Doctors of Health, an initiative that uses a comprehensive strategy to prevent childhood obesity in underserved populations. He has mentored many first–year medical students who are underrepresented in medicine, as well as many local high school and college students with an interest in pursuing a career in medicine.

Volunteering at the student–run CARES clinic and with the Charleston Miracle League, Williams has demonstrated unwavering commitment and empathy for patients, his colleagues say, as evidenced by his acceptance to the Gold Humanism Honor Society, which recognizes individuals who are exemplars of patient care and can serve as role models, mentors and leaders in medicine.

One faculty member wrote, “Robert is an intelligent and humble individual who cares about his fellow man. He not only seeks, but follows advice. He is one of those students that just gets it.”

Williams said he was humbled by the award. “I’m from Alberta, Alabama. It’s about 30 minutes from Selma, a very small town. I attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, the same college Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended, and I too have a dream.

“I’m a first–generation college student, and for a long time in my life, I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I kept comparing myself to others, but I remember my mom saying, ‘Just be yourself; you’re special.’ She’s celebrating her 63rd birthday today, so it couldn’t be a better occasion.

“I want to thank my mentor, Dr. Bradshaw. He was my first mentor ever. I’m 30 years old, but I’d never had someone to take me under their wing. When I interviewed at MUSC, I was welcomed with love, and I knew this was the place for me. I’ve truly grown here. Subconsciously, we all still have racism, bigotry, self–hate, whatever it may be, to unravel, but I know that we are moving forward, and as Dr. Fleming said, ‘We are changing what’s possible here at MUSC.’”

April 14, 2016



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