On Monday, students at the Yale School of Medicine presented a list of demands to the school’s administration regarding issues of inclusion and diversity at the school. The letter requests a response from Dean of the School of Medicine Robert Alpern as well as the creation of a joint faculty-student committee to implement the demands by this Friday.
The letter, addressed to both Alpern and the administration at large, acknowledged, as an inspiration, the recent efforts of Next Yale — the undergraduate coalition which last Thursday presented a separate list of demands to University President Peter Salovey — as well as the work of other student activists across the country. According to the letter, which had been signed by 92 medical school students, 91 other Yale affiliates and 17 others as of Wednesday night, the signatories’ concerns arise from discrimination in the medical school’s intellectual, social and physical environments. The six demands and 35 subdemands, cover a wide range of issues, including curricular reform that is “anti-oppressive,” diversification of the faculty and student bodies, financial aid advising and mental health services for minority students and a new means of reporting biases to the school’s administration.
“Inspired by the brave examples of Next Yale, other students at Yale and campuses across the country, we, students of color and partners in solidarity, write to demand sustainable reforms to foster a YSM in which all identities are valued,” read the letter’s opening lines. “We respect President Salovey’s response to the work of Yale undergraduates and his commitment to better serving all students at Yale University.”
Alpern could not be reached for comment, but according to Deputy Press Secretary Karen Peart, the dean intends to share a plan shortly with the medical school community to address the issues identified in the letter’s demands.
In the letter, students described ways in which the “formal curriculum” of the medical school misrepresents and underrepresents people of color while remaining silent on the way in which medicine is complicit in propagating health disparities. Students added that the “hidden curriculum” — learning done outside the classroom — forces students of color to bear microaggressions perpetrated by peers and instructors and to work within a community where women and people of color are underrepresented within the faculty and student body.
Curtis Perry MED ’18, who signed the letter, acknowledged Next Yale’s role in motivating medical school students to strive for a more inclusive community.
“Next Yale has definitely encouraged YSM students to try to push Dean Alpern to improve YSM faster and further,” Perry said in a Wednesday email to the News. “I am confident that the demands he received will help guide these reforms.”
Among the measures demanded were the creation and maintenance of a “genuinely inclusive” learning environment. To achieve this end, students called for an online bias reporting system through which they could report incidents of inappropriate behavior. The results of this system would be monitored in real time and used to hold offending parties accountable and inform retraining and curricula for the school’s community.
The letter also demanded increased diversity among the school’s faculty. It called for the creation of a joint initiative between the medical school and Yale-New Haven Hospital aimed at increasing the recruitment and retention of female, minority and LGBTQ residents and faculty, as well as the creation of a visiting rotation clerkship program for students from underrepresented groups.
In addition, the letter called for increased support for the wellbeing of minority students through a series of measures, including increasing the funding and staffing of the medical school’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, hiring additional mental health and financial aid professionals dedicated to working with students from minority backgrounds, as well as the expansion of the Yale Basic Health Plan to include dental and optometry service for students.
In a Wednesday afternoon email to alumni and friends of the medical school, Alpern described the efforts currently underway at the School to address diversity and inclusion, but did not directly address the students’ letter.
Ben Artin SPH ’18 MED ’18, who signed the document, said that the particular importance of the demands lay in the way in which they connected the wellbeing of various members of the medical school community.
“I am firmly of the opinion that the way health care workers treat each other is deeply connected to how they interact with patients,” Artin said. “As a result, what I find particularly important is not any demand in isolation, but the fact that these demands connect [the] wellbeing of students, educators, providers, researchers, patients and patient populations.”
Artin said that because structural inequities perpetuate denial and silence, facilitating safe ways to acknowledge and discuss inequities is crucial to addressing them, and a bias reporting system would help accomplish this.
“While I have overall found the Yale [Physician Associate] program and [the Yale School of Public Health] to be a welcoming and accepting environment, I have also experienced and witnessed behavior that I find objectionable,” Artin said. “My impression is that no such behavior was maliciously intended, but it takes more than lack of malice to create and sustain an environment of equality and respect.”