A group of students, faculty and alumni from the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (CPHS) began meeting last semester to discuss what changes they wanted to see to create an “inclusive environment” in the CPHS. With a sound vision statement and list of initiatives—or charges, as the committee calls them—in place, the committee is preparing to take action on their goals.
“The vision of the College of Pharmacy and Health Science is to be the model of an inclusive community in which faculty, staff and students are accepted, respected and valued—an environment in which everyone feels belonged in,” said Esmeralda Flores, committee member and P1 student.
The committee is composed of four students, one staff member, one alum and six faculty representatives. It’s headed by Anisa Hansen, the recently appointed director of CPHS’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts.
“I think our biggest win has really been that syllabus statement [vision statement] and showing that faculty support students,” Hansen said. “We want those discussions in class.”
Flores and Hansen said some of the committee’s goals for the semester are to create educational materials for faculty related to DEI, identify ways to admit more underrepresented students and decrease any barriers that could be causing underrepresented students or faculty to leave the college. Overall, they said the committee will strive to make CPHS an inclusive environment for all students and faculty.
“I think we’re really going to focus on creating that training material and then presenting it and possibly making it mandatory for faculty and staff to attend because I know they do something similar to that but regarding mental health,” Flores said.
Even though the CPHS standing committee has only been in place since the beginning of this school year, during the previous school year, the college’s DEI efforts were headed by an ad hoc committee based on the voluntary participation of students. The standing committee met twice a month this past semester.
“I think the purpose of the standing committee and having this newly appointed director is to make sure we can really move initiatives forward instead of having these little ideas that get lost in the shuffle every year,” Hansen said.
Hansen said that the committee would like to focus on retaining faculty members and students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. Associate provost for campus equity and inclusion Jennifer Harvey has been coordinating with the CPHS committee during the past few months to help establish an inclusive environment that supports retention.
“In a scenario where you’ve got a climate where some students are not thriving, not because they’re not ready to thrive [but] because things are happening institutionally to them, you need to do things like work on creating more inclusive robustly-equipped faculty learning spaces where students—especially who are underrepresented—experience being seen, being valued [and] experience belonging,” Harvey said. “You need to… reduce the need [for students] to constantly code switch and constantly explain themselves.”
The committee plans to look at ways to admit more students with underrepresented backgrounds, whether that involves ensuring that campus tours are welcoming or other measures, Hansen said.
“I’d like to see underrepresented backgrounds understand more about pharmacy, and that we create an environment where they would feel welcome to apply … whether that’s, like, really looking at our admissions process and how we reach more individuals or how we might retain those individuals once they’ve started,” Hansen said.
Students in CPHS must learn to serve a diverse variety of patients in the healthcare system, Hansen said, so the college strives to create a classroom environment—as well as educational resources—that prepare students for interactions in their professional lives.
“I hear from students that having faculty who look like them is really important and having that acknowledgment in certain types of classroom environments is important,” Hansen said.
The committee’s focus during the upcoming year is primarily educational, according to Hansen. In addition to educating faculty, Flores said that the committee is considering creating social media accounts and a blog.
“We’re hoping to get more involved in social media and possibly a blog, like a diversity, equity and inclusion blog where we can address those topics and concepts and educate through social media,” Flores said.
Regarding whether she would encourage individual colleges to establish committees of their own, Harvey said she wants colleges to do what is best for their student body. She said that the CPHS committee is effective because it is “built into the structure” of the college’s decision making.
“I would never tell a college you have to have a committee because sometimes that makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t,” Harvey said. “But you do need to formalize the work and know who’s where it’s happening and know who’s accountable for it.”