Building Community and Fighting for Equality

If your first thought is that this section should actually be the whole book, and/or that your medical education should somehow enable you to help radically restructure our society toward social and economic justice, there is a place for you here, and we need you.
Last year, this section was called “On Ferguson.” Activism in St. Louis has transformed dramatically since our community — the community you’ll be joining, too — has responded to the shooting of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014. Organizers, panelists and protesters have built, and are continuously building, an elaborate network of support and accountability, centered around raising the voices of those who are most disenfranchised. We are seeing and making changes, and there are myriad ways for you to get involved. Activism can take many forms, and we want to validate however you choose to get politically involved. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to older students whom you trust for help on navigating medical school through this lens, on reading material, on staying safe and taking care of yourself.
– Jordan S., M1

Medical Student Advocacy Organizations

WUSM students are passionate about local and global advocacy.

The Medical Student Section (MSS) of the American Medical Association (AMA) is a great vehicle for learning how to advocate for issues within the government and policy spheres. Our AMA chapter organizes regular meetings with local legislators and even arranges lobbying trips to the State Capitol in Jefferson City. In addition, the national MSS organizes an Advocacy Day event, where med students from across the nation gather in Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators and discuss the important issues. Finally, the AMA provides a great opportunity to learn how to work within political organizations, from building relationships to writing resolutions to utilizing parliamentary procedure. In addition, other organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights, Medical Students for Choice, the LGBTQ Health Interest Group, Students for a National Health Program and the Public Health Interest Group serve a central role in advocating for issues that affect the medical community. If none of these groups fit your own political views, then WUSM is very supportive of students forming new groups.
– Craig Y., M1

Advocacy Organizations Outside Medical School

It’s important to advocate for safer and more inclusive communities where we actually go to school, but, too often, our visions for our immediate on-campus communities lack the context of the broader struggle. Branching out since college has helped me inform and improve my own critical analysis, and I’m happy that I have opportunities to respond to the immediate needs of other marginalized folks in St. Louis. So, beyond WUSM, check out Socialist Alternative, St. Louis Jobs for Justice, Missourians Organizing for Rights and Equality, Millennial Activists United, and many more growing organizations. The Danforth Campus also hosts some really radical people fighting for change in the Student-Worker Alliance.
– Jordan S., M1


August 2014 was a volatile time in St. Louis county and city. This area has had many racial tensions, including a racially divided past, and the events in Ferguson truly only highlighted these issues. Rather than dwell on what has happened, I would rather focus on the positive things that can come from the events. Since then, peaceful protests have continued to push for police and general government accountability. Many municipalities have had to take a good look at how their city is governed. I would be lying if I said Ferguson did not change the city and the surrounding area. It did create tension, but I think that if you choose, you can make a difference in these communities as a part of the difference you will make in medicine.
– Owen H., M1

Washington University Medical Plunge (WUMP)

Medicine is ideally about empathizing with and caring for the people in our community. But each of us has only a limited perspective and is often largely unaware of the challenges faced by others. And worse, we usually don’t have the slightest idea how much we don’t know. WUSM devotes an entire week at the very beginning of the M1 year to lectures, discussions, tours and service projects around St. Louis designed to broaden the perspectives of incoming med students. The idea is to give us a glimpse into some of the particular situations faced by individuals marginalized in various ways because of economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or mental health, and to get us talking and thinking about how to best serve and advocate for those individuals as med students and physicians. The week concludes with an overnight retreat full of bonding, physical challenges, object lessons, confrontation of heavy issues, and a healthy dose of late-night partying.
– Weston M., M1

Regarding the University of Missouri-Columbia

Recent racially motivated incidents at the University of Missouri-Columbia are not unique to that institution and could happen on any campus in the country. For Washington University School of Medicine, they are a stark reminder of the importance of continuing our longstanding and sincere commitment to building a culturally diverse community of faculty, students and staff, and to maintaining the supportive, welcoming atmosphere for which we are so well known.
Diversity and inclusion are core values of the School; we state them clearly in our mission statement, committing to conduct all our endeavors “in a culture that supports diversity, inclusion, critical thinking and creativity” and to “cultivate excellence and collegiality within an inclusive community.”
For decades, a cornerstone of our diversity efforts has been to improve recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority faculty, residents, students and staff. We recognize that, in our missions of education, patient care and research, bringing together people from varied places, backgrounds and training is essential for success; diversity of thought and perspective provides richer solutions to the complex challenges of academic medicine. Today, the percentages of people of color among medical students is 16 percent, 11 percent among medical residents and fellows, and 5.5 percent within the faculty. We are equally pleased with the progress made in our Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Audiology. All of these numbers represent progress, but we continually strive to do better.
In addition, we actively seek to avoid racial isolation on our campus and to provide effective opportunities for culturally appropriate mentoring and networking.
Toward that end, within the MD program, the Office of Minority Affairs was created in 1972 to promote diversity within medical education and to provide support for students throughout their tenure at the School of Medicine. In 1996 the Office of Diversity Programs was formed with the goal of recruiting underrepresented minorities and economically disadvantaged students and providing opportunities for all our students to develop the skills needed to attend to an ethnically and racially diverse patient population. In addition, for many years, a diversity retreat has been part of orientation for all medical students, and more recently, diversity has become one of several key topics addressed longitudinally throughout all four years of the MD curriculum. Beyond the MD program, the Human Resources’ Office of Diversity and Inclusion, established in fall 2013, has provided diversity and inclusion training to more than 7,500 people and spearheaded a school-wide survey that has provided valuable insight into attitudes and challenges on campus.
Although St. Louis has its share of racial segregation and social disparities, Washington University benefits from its proximity to the Central West End neighborhood and the city of Clayton — both bastions of progressive thought and inclusion of those from diverse backgrounds. The university also has a healthy track record of engagement, mutual respect and partnership with the broader St. Louis region. Our students, residents and faculty are deeply involved in community service and community-based participatory research. We “know” each other well.
The tragic death of teenager Michael Brown in August 2014 and the subsequent regional unrest was painful and challenging for the entire St. Louis region, including the Washington University community. Responding to widespread shock, anger and turmoil, university leaders encouraged institution-wide dialogue. At the Danforth Campus and the School of Medicine, the chancellor, provost, dean and administrative deans actively participated in numerous open forums and town hall sessions to discuss race and cultural awareness. Those meetings were well attended and structured to allow respectful, meaningful conversations. The work continues through ongoing forums and the work of several committees.
None of the factors above can fully inoculate us from an adverse event of racial or cultural intolerance that could stir campus unrest. But we do have a long, sincere tradition of acknowledging challenges and responding with empathy, open dialogue, and proactive leadership. All of that makes us strong.
We remain dedicated to ensuring that everyone feel welcome and celebrated as part of our campus community. Together, we all make a contribution to one of the best medical schools in the world.
– Will Ross, MD, MPH

Associate Dean for Diversity

Professor of Medicine, Renal Division