Emory Report
March 30, 2009
Volume 61, Number 25



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March 30
, 2009
Know our resources for cultural diversity

James Forrest Scott III is assistant professor of anesthesiology at Emory University Hospital Midtown.

President-emeritus Jim Laney and the other distinguished guests spoke eloquently during the Founder’s Week panel discussion celebrating the 30th anniversary of the President`s Commission On Race and Ethnicity (PCORE). Their comments and insights gave me pause to ponder my own experience at Emory University.

I came to Emory originally as a visiting senior medical student from the University of Cincinnati in 1985. I was interested in seeing and learning from the Grady experience, which is legendary among minority medical student members of the Student National Medical Association. I was drawn to Atlanta by the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and by an exceptional young man by the name of Andre Churchwell.

At the time, Andre Churchwell was the chief resident of internal medicine at Grady Memorial Hospital. He was young, smart, polished and black. I’m a Yankee who grew up on a farm in a small, liberal college town right down the road from the hometown of William Tecumseh Sherman. I had never seen a black chief resident before and I was proud!

Young Dr. Churchwell represented to me the highest professional ideals to which a resident could aspire and what I had imagined was the best you could hope for in an institution: that you could advance professionally based upon your merit and your ability regardless of your race. Just as Dr. King stated so eloquently, “…where you are judged by the content of your character, not by the color of your skin.”

I felt that Atlanta and Emory were indeed a very special place, with the availability of excellent medical education and richly influenced by the remarkable pioneers of the civil rights movement. So I applied to Emory University School of Medicine and was accepted into the medicine residency program.

I subsequently joined the faculty and have been working at Emory University Hospital Midtown for the past several years. I have received excellent training here at Emory University School of Medicine and I have had incredibly rich professional and personal experiences.

Unfortunately I have also found that, just like in American society as a whole, there is an undercurrent of racism and intolerance. Throughout residency and subsequently as a faculty member, I witnessed the ugliness of racism, harassment and discrimination. As I searched within and outside the University to remedy this problem, I discovered there are many people on the University campus who shared the same aspiration and hope that drew me to Emory as an idealistic intern; advocates and organizations who share the same vision that Emory can be a culturally diverse and welcoming institution which endeavors to advance all people through its corridors of power.

There are a lot of wonderful people leading the charge to make Emory a destination university for cultural diversity: Senior Vice Provost for Community and Diversity Ozzie Harris; the good people on PCORE chaired by Blanche Burch; the Transforming Community Project (TCP) under the leadership of Jody Usher; and Sylvester Hopewell in the Department of Equal Opportunity (EO), just to name a few.

I think it is extremely important that students, staff and faculty be aware of these programs and resources. It is very likely that we all will unfortunately encounter an unpleasant cultural incident which may range from racism, discrimination or harassment, to perhaps merely a joke gone wrong or that dreaded politically incorrect social faux pas. When it happens, it may be critical to know that we have a place to go for assistance.

Despite the progress we are making, it is clear that there is a lot of work to be done. We must continue to be vigilant and challenge our superiors by asking the tough questions regarding whether or not we are embracing the philosophy of cultural diversity in our hiring, promotion and retention programs.

We must self-monitor to ensure that our departments are annually discussing harassment and discrimination policies, whistle-blower protection laws, implementing cultural diversity policies and informing our students, staff and faculty on how to contact and utilize the resources of EO and Human Resources, both inside and outside our departments.

Each member of every department should ask themselves, “Does our department need help in dealing with these complex issues of race and culture and perhaps need a TCP workshop?” I salute the work that TCP is doing in addressing Emory’s legacy of slavery and racism. By understanding the dynamics of our past, TCP provides a template for dealing with the new challenges and opportunities of other racial, ethnic and cultural groups coming together on our campus. Soon, TCP programs will be coming to Grady hospital and EUHM.

I am proud that Emory University is confronting its tarnished history of slavery an racism. It is exciting to be a member of this institution and I never cease to be amazed at the many wonderful cultural resources available here. This university has enriched my life and has given me so much.

We should all endeavor to make Emory a better place for us all by asking the tough questions and even speaking up when we might fear to do so. We all need to be fully invested in this wonderful institution’s future — invested to the extent that we care enough about our colleagues that we choose to mentor rather than condemn each other when inevitable misunderstandings and conflicts occur between us.

By embracing this philosophy, we can indeed say we are an institution of scholarly learning: a special place where education, cultural diversity and the dreams of so many civil rights pioneers converge to create a center of enlightenment.

I predict that these ideals will continue to evolve and Emory University will be renowned internationally as the destination university for cultural diversity, a unique place where people of all cultural backgrounds are welcomed and flourish in an atmosphere of openness, transparency, respect and appreciation.