Medical Students Petition Faust to Increase School’s Diversity

Harvard Medical School does not have a diverse enough student and faculty body, a group of Medical School students is charging in a petition they plan to deliver to University President Drew G. Faust.

Around 300 people have signed the petition, which calls on Faust to select a new Medical School dean committed to increasing the school’s diversity. The petition comes during the search for a dean to replace Jeffrey S. Flier, who announced in December he would step down from his position at the helm of the Medical School this summer.

Harvard Medical School
Harvard Medical School, pictured here in October.

A group called the “Racial Justice Coalition”—composed of Medical School and Dental School affiliates—sponsored the petition, which they began circulating last Thursday, according to Nelson Malone, a Medical School student and one of the group’s leaders. The group plans to deliver the petition to Faust next week.

One of their demands is that at least a quarter of candidates interviewed for the position “come from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine.” The group also requests that the new dean “has demonstrated a commitment to social justice, as exemplified through actions and/or scholarship furthering health equity.”

“To truly dismantle systemic inequalities across our nation and world, we must also dismantle them at home,” the petition reads. “We need a leader committed to social justice both inside and outside our community.”

Provost Alan M. Garber ’76— who, along with Faust and 15 professors across Harvard, is leading the dean search—wrote in an emailed statement that he has met with some of the petition’s organizers and will consider their demands when selecting the dean. Garber wrote that Harvard considers a number of factors when choosing new deans.

Referring to the Medical School dean search, Garber wrote: “In this case, among the most important [qualities] are excellence in fostering medical education and biomedical research, and also ensuring that the HMS community both reflects and serves the needs of underrepresented minorities and others in our society who face inequalities and differential access to healthcare.”

Medical School student Helen H. Shang, who signed the petition, said the group’s efforts could raise awareness about minority representation at the school.

“The petition would be a really great starting point on increasing diversity in our class and the school overall, which I feel like would benefit not only us as physicians but just as people in general,” Shang said.

The movement at the Medical School comes as discussions of race and diversity dominate discourse across Harvard. At the end of last semester, students at Harvard Law School issued a series of demands to their dean, Martha L. Minow, to improve the school’s treatment of minority students. And at the College, House masters unanimously decided in December to change their title, in part citing the racial implications of the term “Master.” They have yet to decide on a new title.

The petition is not the first step the Racial Justice Coalition has taken towards addressing diversity on Harvard’s Longwood campus. In November, students held meetings and demonstrations about the underrepresentation of minorities in medicine, Malone said.

In addition to increasing diversity at the school, the coalition is calling for more course offerings about socioeconomic status and race in health and medicine.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

—Staff writer Sruthi L. Muluk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SruthiMuluk.


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