Speaking out in the face of hate

Alliance for Visible Diversity

Faculty, students and residents activate in support of diversity and inclusion

November 16, 2017

By Erin Hoover Barnett, first published in Bridges magazine

When a white nationalist protest on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville erupted into violence, second-year OHSU M.D. student Ibrahim Ainab felt sick to his stomach.

But it was an OHSU faculty member who helped Ainab find his voice. Equally horrified by the events of that August weekend, Esther Choo, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of emergency medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, got on Twitter. She shared her experiences of patients refusing her care because she is Asian. Her tweets went viral. Hundreds of people responded in support, including many health care providers sharing similar experiences.

Ibrahaim and Dr. ChooDr. Choo's bravery emboldened Ainab and became one of many examples of how faculty, students and leaders are supporting and inspiring each other to deepen efforts to improve diversity and inclusion at OHSU.

Ainab enlisted the OHSU chapter of the Student National Medical Association, of which he is president, and invited Allison Empey, M.D., chief resident of pediatrics, to help moderate a panel discussion Sept. 6 with Dr. Choo, George Mejicano, M.D., the school's senior associate dean for education, and Brian Gibbs, Ph.D., OHSU vice president for equity and inclusion.

Called "In the Face of Hate," the panel became a forum for students, residents and faculty to continue the conversation and wrestle with the challenge of addressing racism when it occurs in clinical encounters. More than 250 people attended.

Among the takeaways: OHSU has a clear protocol that patient requests for providers based on race, ethnicity or creed will not be honored.

In the school's graduate programs, faculty and students are teaming up to not only enroll but retain diverse students and faculty in biomedical research Ph.D. programs that, across the country, tend to lack diversity.

Neuroscience Graduate Program Director Gary Westbrook, M.D., and senior scientist in the Vollum Institute, made a point of connecting OHSU Library Assistant Professor Letisha Wyatt, Ph.D., with Ph.D. student Antoinette Foster. Together with neuroscience classmates Kathleen Beeson and Lucille Moore, they founded the Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science.

The alliance – with additional mentorship from Damien Fair, P.A.-C., Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral neuroscience and psychiatry, OHSU School of Medicine – is an affinity and ally group that engages students at recruitment events and beyond to let them know they won't be alone.

"If we let students know that there is an identifiable group here for them, it already seems less intimidating to come into this space," Foster said.

Drs. Joe Robertson and Nina LambleIn all of these efforts, leadership with a big and a small "l" is a key factor, as an example last spring illustrated.

Nina Lamble, M.D., fellow of hematology and medical oncology, confronted a group of construction workers at the Center for Health &Healing after observing them deride a transgender individual who was walking by outside. Dr.Lamble relayed the experience to OHSU leadership. The interaction resulted in the worker being fired.

In June, President Robertson presented Dr. Lamble with the President's Distinction Award at the OHSU Diversity and Inclusion Awards Ceremony.

Dr. Lamble accepted her plaque amid a standing ovation: "I had the courage to say what I said because I knew that OHSU leadership would stand behind me," she said. "You have been very vocal; it's important and it's appreciated."


Top photo, from right to left: Letisha Wyatt, Antoinette Foster, Kathleen Beeson, Lucille Moore. Middle photo, from left to right:  Ibrahim Ainab and Dr. Esther Choo. Bottom photo, from left to right: OHSU President Joe Robertson and Dr. Nina Lamble. They are among those working to ensure all are welcome at OHSU.