History is not history in Mississippi. That’s what Dr. Katie McClendon said as she welcomed nearly 400 attendees to the inaugural Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Institute hosted by AACP and the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy. She told the story of James Meredith, the first Black student to enroll at Ole Miss. Two people died in a riot following his arrival on campus. “He was not made to feel welcome. Unfortunately, he was not the last student to feel that way,” said McClendon, clinical associate professor, assistant dean for student services and director of student affairs at UM’s School of Pharmacy. She believes you must reckon with history while looking forward, which is why Ole Miss wanted to co-host this event: to show the school’s commitment to fundamentally changing its culture to make its campus more diverse and inclusive.
Inclusiveness is one of AACP’s core values and starting the institute was another way of following through on its aim to support members and provide insights and resources for institutions at any stage of the EDI process. Some schools in attendance were just getting started, some had policies in place but more work to do, while others had been working within their strategic plans for years. What emerged from the institute was a unified voice, pharmacy as a voice for EDI.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion is a collective process. You can’t do it on your own, and that was the beauty of the institute, seeing the different schools and their teams all there collaboratively working toward this cause from the different stages of their efforts,” said Rosie Walker, AACP’s director of recruitment and diversity. The virtual meeting drew 365 registrants, 60 teams from different schools of pharmacy, 250 participants connected at any given time over three days in January. EDI work can feel overwhelming, as it’s an ongoing endeavor, but the institute carved out time for teams to engage in implicit bias awareness, assess culture and climate on campus, and develop and tailor EDI plans to put into practice at their institutions. Even greater than the time the institute gave participants to do the work was the appreciation for how meaningful the work can be.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion is very personal to me,” Walker said. “As schools move forward with implementing their EDI plans, I want to remind them to be bold in their implementation. I want schools to develop a better understanding of how these issues affect the individuals on their campuses, whether it’s their students, faculty or staff, because sometimes it isn’t an agenda item for these individuals, it’s part of their daily work and personal life. That’s the thing I really want to see. I want diversity and inclusion to become ingrained in every aspect of our policies and all the things we do on our campuses, as opposed to a separate initiative.”
Weaving in Inclusion
Carla White, associate dean of organizational diversity and inclusion (ODI) and a clinical assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, built a comprehensive, organizational EDI strategy to direct and align with the school’s educational mission. A pragmatic disruptor in the EDI space, she spoke at the institute about her passion: strategy development. “Whenever you have a centralized strategy, meaning one office that’s responsible for executing everything in the EDI space, it’s just not sustainable and it’s not productive,” White said. “Cultural transformation cannot take place with one office and a few individuals. The school community needs to be engaged to create the shift needed for change.”
White’s office guides the strategy development and shared ownership of inclusive initiatives, while sometimes serving as a catalyst. Everyone within the school can collaborate with ODI but are also encouraged and empowered to lead programmatic efforts in alignment with their roles and interests.