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Save the Office for Diversity and Community Outreach

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The letter in which you are signing in support of, may be viewed in the second tab "Petition Letter". The letter was submitted to the administration on June 25th

This is a summary of what has happened:

The Perelman School of Medicine administration has eliminated the Office for Diversity and Community Outreach. Dr. Karen Hamilton and Mrs. Hilda Luiggi’s positions have been terminated as of June 29th. The administration released an official statement on June 26th citing a "reorganization" of diversity and inclusion efforts (which may be viewed below).

The Office for Diversity and Community Outreach at Penn was the first office of its kind in the country, founded in 1968. The functions of the office are many, including: recruitment and retention of minority medical students, implementation and management of mentoring programs for college and medical students, and overseeing the Educational Pipeline Program and the Summer Mentorship Program, the latter which allows 10th and 11th graders from Philadelphia Public and Charter High Schools to spend time at Penn. Hilda and Karen are also responsible for advising a number of student groups including LMSA and SNMA, with Hilda also being an Administrative Advisor to ALL student groups.

A plan for diversity has been proposed and presented to SOM faculty. One of its main points states that a search has recently been instituted to appoint a Vice Dean of Diversity, but this position will not likely be filled in the near future. Transitional support has not been outlined for the interim period. It’s important to note that the Under-Represented in Medicine Committee and other student groups were involved in discussions of implementing an Associate Dean of Diversity, but were not involved in the decision to eliminate the current Office for Diversity and Community Outreach. Therefore, we do not know what the future plans are for resuming the efforts of the Office for Diversity.

We, the students are very concerned about the future of diversity and community outreach efforts at the Perelman School of Medicine. We are demanding answers and pushing for a concrete plan for the future. Considering the broad definition of diversity, the issues handled by that office affect the entire student body and many different student groups.


We received the following Memo on June 26th. This was the first official communication from the administration regarding the elimination of the ODCO

Reorganization of Diversity and Inclusion Activities in the Academic Programs Office - a memo to students from Gail Morrison, MD

I am writing to let you know of significant new efforts to further strengthen the Perelman School of Medicine’s commitment to the recruitment and educational success of a diverse student body. Building on actions in this regard first begun in 1998, I am pleased to share with you plans to create a renewed focus and the expansion of diversity and inclusion efforts to better meet the needs of current students as well as those applicants who may be considering applying to our school. The changes described below are the result of a year-long process which included advice from the Association American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in-depth input from the leaders of our major student diversity groups; SNMA, LMSA, LGBT, APAMSA, the Blackwell Society and the Southeast Asian group as well as a review of best practices across the nation. This process also benefited significantly from informative conversations with staff within the Academic Programs Office (APO), and I want to thank everyone who shared their time and thoughts with me.

Based on reviewing all of the input, it was evident that there were two overarching opportunities for improvement that were identified: first, to achieve the highest level of success, diversity and inclusion efforts need to be led by active faculty; and second, programs in this area need to be more closely aligned with overall recruitment and student support activities. With this backdrop in mind, I am pleased to announce the following.

Dr. Horace Delisser, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, has been appointed to a new position as the Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion within the APO. Dr. Delisser is well suited for this new job having served for several years in a similar role in his department.

Dr. Iris Reyes, Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, has been appointed as the Associate Dean for Student Community Outreach in the APO. In this role Dr. Reyes will work to expand community-based training sites for students as well as develop additional opportunities for student outreach to underserved populations.

In addition to these new senior appointments, which will bring additional expertise, experience and visibility to these important efforts, starting July 1st, we also will have a new faculty Council on Diversity and Inclusion as part of the APO to work closely with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid and the Office of Student Affairs to further diversity and inclusion efforts. Joining Drs. Delisser and Reyes on the Council will be Dr. Roy Hamilton, Associate Professor of Neurology, who serves as the Director of the Pipeline Programs and who works closely with the Associate Dean for Admissions to support diversity recruitment, and Dr. Benoit Dube, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Clerkship Director, who will bring to the Council his special expertise in supporting LGBT students.

During the months of July and August, Council members and I will be holding open meetings to discuss how best to strengthen current successful programs, design and implement new activities in diversity and inclusion, and to gain additional advice on enriching our mentoring programs for students. I want to assure you that while these additional plans are being developed, ongoing efforts will be fully supported and you should feel free to call the APO staff if you need any assistance.

While this reorganization aligns us with national models for diversity and inclusion activities, it will result in staffing changes. Karen Hamilton and Hilda Luiggi, who worked in the Office of Diversity and Community Outreach, and supported literally generations of students for many years will be stepping down from their current roles. We are all grateful for their years of dedication and commitment to students helping them no matter what the circumstances or problem might have been. Please take a moment to thank each of them for the impact they have made on your Penn Med education.

This reorganization not only re-invigorates our commitment to diversity and inclusion, but also provides new resources to make that commitment a reality. Again, my thanks to everyone who has worked hard to complete this reorganization, and I look forward to your ongoing advice as we move ahead with specific diversity and inclusion activities to the benefit of everyone at our school.

Gail Morrison, MD Senior Vice Dean for Education

The following letter was sent on June 29th, in response to the Memo from Dr Morrison

June 29, 2012 

J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD

Perelman School of Medicine
University of Pennsylvania
295 John Morgan Building
3620 Hamilton Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6055

Dear Dean Jameson, 

On June 26, 2012, the students of the Perelman School of Medicine received a letter and memo from the Senior Vice Dean of Education, Dr. Gail Morrison, announcing the reorganization of the School of Medicine’s diversity and inclusion efforts.  While we appreciate the proposed diversity initiatives, many of the concerns expressed in our letter were not addressed in this memo.  

Firstly, Dr. Morrison’s memo does not address our primary objection, which is the elimination of the Office for Diversity and Community Outreach (ODCO). The proposed plan lacks an office with full time administrative staff fully and uniquely devoted to the diversity and inclusion concerns of the student body. The memo also announced two newly appointed Associate Deans who are well-respected members of the under-represented in medicine (URM) community. Their current and longstanding professional obligations, however, preclude them from devoting an amount of time to diversity and inclusion issues comparable to the eliminated ODCO.  Dr. Hamilton and Mrs. Luiggi were full time staff members whose primary focus was supporting student groups and promoting diversity at Perelman. Additionally the very nature of the Associate Deans’ “appointment” by definition contradicts our request for student involvement and transparency. The positions were assigned and announced without student input while the responsibilities and function of the Associate Deans in relation to the student body remain unclear.

Secondly, although we are encouraged by the proposal for active faculty involvement, it is also worrisome that Dr. Morrison’s memo implied only active faculty (i.e. only physicians) are capable of understanding and promoting the future diversity of other physicians, “to achieve the highest level of success, diversity and inclusion efforts need to be led by active faculty.” This statement is not only paternalistic but belittles the efforts of Mrs. Luiggi, Dr. Hamilton as well as those of the Chief Diversity Officer of the AAMC: Marc Nivet Ed. D, the very individual who championed the AAMC’s new paradigm in diversity policies and programs.

Furthermore, Dr. Morrison’s proposal falls short of the progressive commitments our peer institutions are making to encourage diversity and inclusion.  Dr. Morrison’s memo explaining the reorganization of diversity efforts, states that this “reorganization aligns us with national models of diversity and inclusion.”  However, most if not all, top tier medical schools have established offices for diversity with full time administrative staff, in addition to faculty leadership. So, it is unclear with which national models we are attempting to align ourselves.  We are concerned that Dr. Morrison’s proposal describes an inadequate version of an office that should have been expanded, not eliminated, in light of the AAMC’s new paradigm in diversity policy and programs.

Lastly, we are also concerned that Dr. Morrison’s memo insinuated student group involvement in the decision to eliminate the ODCO.

“The changes described below are the result of a year-long process which included advice from the Association American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in-depth input from the leaders of our major student diversity groups; SNMA, LMSA, LGBT, APAMSA, the Blackwell Society and the Southeast Asian group as well as a review of best practices across the nation.”

The named student organizations, including the incorrectly listed LGBTPM+ and Penn Med South Asia Society, were involved exclusively in the proposal for an Associate Dean for Diversity (attached).  The proposal does not suggest nor address the elimination of the ODCO.  Please clarify this statement since, to our knowledge, there was no student involvement in this decision.

In light of our concerns, we request a meeting beyond the assembly organized for July 3 2012 with you, Dean Jameson, to discuss the recent changes regarding the ODCO and the necessity of its reinstatement.  These recent events are very concerning to us because we have not been involved in these major decisions. As Gaye Sheffler has stated, regarding the needs of diverse students “When students talk we listen”. Therefore, we are collectively voicing our concerns and hope you are listening and are willing to work with us to rectify this situation. 


Students of the Perelman School of Medicine

7/7/12 Helen O Dicken's Daughter signed in support

I am the daughter of Dr. Helen O. Dickens who was the first Dean of the Office of Minority Affairs created in 1968. My mother's vision was that the university would play a significant role in reducing the shortage of minority physicians in this country. How greatly disappointed and saddened she would be to know how all of her hard work is being cast aside. The current actions of the university regarding the Office of Diversity raises my concern that it no longer shares my mother's vision and is abandoning its commitment to the medical education of minority students capable of serving their communities as well as others. I urge all of the students and alumni to continue to be tenacious and make sure that the abandonment of my mother's vision does not happen.

-Jayne H. Brown

7-9AM IN BRB 253

Medical Student Government Members, Current Students and Alumni of the Perelman School of Medicine, and the following Faculty and Staff: Dean Larry Jameson, Dr. Gail Morrison, Anna Delaney, Stan Goldfarb, Barb Wagner, Dr. Horace DeLisser, Dr. Roy Hamilton, Dr. Steve Galetta, Dr. Benoit Dube, Dr. Iris Reyes, and Joann Mitchell, Vice President for Institutional Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania

Nina Zhao calls the meeting to order at 7AM, thanks everyone for attending this open meeting between MSG and the Academic Programs Office, and turns the meeting over to Dr. Morrison. Dr. Gail Morrison welcomes the room turned the floor over to Dean Jameson.

Dean Larry Jameson provides an overview of diversity activities at the university level, noting that yesterday was anniversary of Civil Rights Act of 1964. This year the university has been very focused on diversity and inclusion, deans of all the different schools have put out diversity plans. The Perelman SOM itself has had six different working groups since November working on a strategic plan. One of these subgroups focused on faculty life and included a subgroup on diversity and inclusion. There is also another working group on community and global health. These groups have all drafted plans which contained the following recommendations:
1) diversity advisors that support every search that we do in the school, ensuring that we look broadly for candidates, and 2) a recommendation for a Dean of Diversity. Dean Jameson discusses the recruitment of diverse faculty. The school has been successful in actively recruiting 3 new faculty members, which is not an easy task, and mentions their names, the institutions from which they came, as well as their research and community interests. Dean Jameson expressed the importance of diversity to SOM. Dean Jameson mentions the search for the new Vice Dean of Diversity. A committee has already been identified to help with the search, and final approval is expected in October/November of this year.
Dean Jameson acknowledges that while the administration wants to keep these processes moving forward, there have been missteps in communication to all stakeholder groups and sincerely regrets these errors.

Dr. Gail Morrison provides background to the recent changes to the Office of Diversity and
Community Outreach at the Perelman School of Medicine, addressing the following questions:

Why does the office need to change?
Dr. Morrison states that the office was originally set up as a minorities affairs office in 1968 by Helen O. Dickens and was taken over by Karen Hamilton 30 years ago, and 10 yrs ago, Hilda Luiggi joined. This office has been a model for diversity. However, recent shifts have occurred in the field of medicine. The AAMC has decided to discontinue its minorities group and now has a new diversity and inclusion group encouraging a broader definition of diversity to include not only under represented minorites but also students of different geographic, socioeconomic, and sexual orientation..

In 2007 the SOM changed the name of the office to the “Office of Diversity and Community
Outreach” as an attempt to reflect these changes. Still, the office has been successful in helping two main groups of students: African-American students and Hispanic/Latino students. In conversations with diversity groups at large and in smaller groups, it was evident that the school needed broader diversity work. The current state of the office could not figure out a way to best include these additional groups. The changes in this office was not a reflection of the success of the work that was previously done, but rather a need for additional diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Why was this not discussed with students?
Dr. Morrison states that it was difficult to talk to students without talking to the two individuals[Karen and Hilda] first. So that they could deal with what was happening and support the next steps moving forward.

What is the interim plan?
All individuals on the new council have been involved in the old office, and they have agreed to spend more time next year working with students in the next year to develop a new model for diversity programming for students in the School of Medicine.

Will programming decrease?
Dr. Morrison emphasizes that nothing will get dropped. Dorothy in Suite 100 will be taking on the programming in the interim.

Dr. Morrison turns the floor over to other members of the new Council for comments.

Dr. Horace Delisser says that this is the beginning of a process, if in any way missteps were made and the wrong message was received, they apologize. He encourages students to take this energy and put it to moving forward and making improvements. He asks students to talk to the faculty about how they can make the school better and to give them the chance to meet the students’ goals for the office.

Dr. Roy Hamilton notes that he has worked with Karen Hamilton for a number of years. He acknowledges the difficulty of losing Karen and Hilda and the legitimacy of being upset. He also regrets the miscommunication, missteps, and lack of communication. He states that he has seen the petition and is encouraged that the student body is engaged in diversity and encourages the students to work with the administration to come up with a plan.

Joann Mitchell speaks on behalf of the university. She emphasizes that diversity is a high priority for the university and is interested in hearing from the students.

Dr. Iris Reyes states that she would like to turn her time to speak over to the students, as they have not had a chance to ask questions.


Student Question: Who will be in the office working on diversity? Will they be compensated for the extra work and time?
Dr. Morrison replies that Dorothy will the the liaison in the office for diversity and will be compensated for the extra work.

Q: Since there is a Vice Dean for Diversity being recruited, will there be students on the committee? And will those students keep the student body informed and solicit feedback?
Dr. Morrison replies that yes, Nina was asked by the administration to sit on the committee and more students can probably be involved.
Nina states that she will most certainly be in touch with the student body once the committee meetings begin, which, to date, have not been scheduled.
Dr. Delisser states that he is also sitting on the committee and welcomes students to go through him with comments and concerns.

Q: Two issues are present 1) student vs. faculty - students feel like there's a loss for them, but the response has been about faculty recruitment, and 2) past vs. present: the diversity changes are on 3-5 year timeline, but many students will be gone before the final plan, so what is being done in the present to ensure that the needs of the current students are met?
Dr. Morrison states that she desires to have meeting, including students, to discuss the interim plan.

A student proposes to extend the meeting as it is nearly 8AM and while the faculty have spoken, students have yet to have the opportunity to voice their concerns. Anna Delaney states that the room is reserved until 9am. The room agrees to extend the meeting until that time.

Q: A student states that sometimes there's something you can say to a staff member that you cannot say to a physician. Physicians are very busy and have clinical, research, and administrative responsibilities. Personally, a crucial part of his experience was having dedicated staff to help him throughout his time at Penn. He feels has has lost a sense of permanency and availability. Medicine is still a very conservative field and students may not always feel comfortable approaching faculty members with certain concerns due to fear of jeopardizing their careers. He expresses severe doubts that these well meaning faculty members will be able to provide the same support to students.
Dr. Morrison replies that she recognizes and understands these concerns. She asks for a little bit of time to see what happens. She hopes to do better than what the student is saying. She would not have gone into this expecting anything to be worse than it was and wants to improve things not only for the students, but for the school as a whole.

Q: Why eliminate the entire office before a plan was officially in place? Also, with the expansion of the AAMC definition of diversity, why not expand the office rather than dismantle it? Also, Hilda and Karen have helped multiple other students/student groups and the depiction of their influence to only the minority groups is inaccurate.
Dr. M states that the office needed to change its structure. In conversations with the office currently, it was going to be difficult to shift their goals and visions to integrate diversity and inclusion into the current model. The current office did not feel comfortable expanding in this direction. There was much thought about expanding the office and adding people, but Dr. Morrison expresses the concern that if you only add people and leave the core, you don't get real change. As a result, a new model was needed.

Q: A Penn Med alum reminds everyone that there are many alumni who are interested in this issue. Agrees with students that a lot of the conversation has been focused on faculty. Asks what has to happen now for the students that are coming in 2 months and for student recruitment in the next year?
Dr. Morrison says that there will be mentors for the new students that are coming in on Aug 6. There will be a mentoring event with housestaff on Aug 5. She then poses a question: is this the best way to do this, are there new ways to better support the students?

Q: Who is running diversity events?
Dr. Morrison states that implementation itself is not a problem. The events will happen. Rather, the key is coming up with programs to implement. Should they be the same, or are there other programs that we have not yet considered.

Q: A student wants to make sure that the current student activities will continue. For example, the intro with housestaff in the beginning of the year, the monthly ED clerkship talks, residency panels, help with residency apps, monthly emails to incoming students, help going to national conference, buddy system, interview breakfasts, phone-a-thons to reach out to accepted students, a day in a life of medical students, etc. Who is going to oversee all these activities?
Dr. Reyes clarifies that the students is trying to say that there is a large core of minority community, and now the core is gone. Dr. Reyes acknowledges that she cannot plan all these events herself.
Dr. Morrison reiterates that these activities will not end, but they will have to be done by
different people.

Q: There are student concerns regarding the support and emphasis of these discussions on underrepresented students. People have taken that the elimination of the office as a signal that means other definitions of diversity cannot coexist with underrepresented minorities (URMs).
Dr. Morrison replies that she does not have all the answers, or a solution to this problem.

Q: Who will serve as the contact for being involved in the community? Karen and Hilda were very engaged in the community and had a lot of contacts and provided support that a new faculty member might be unable to do.
Dr. Morrison wants to do better in reaching out into the community and wants to identify more people for students to work with and additional sites. Right now, Dr. Reyes will be involved in the community outreach and will be sitting down and meeting with students to discuss what is needed.

Q: Why was this decision communicated the way that it was? Students received official memo 3 days before they left. As a result there was no time to say goodbye.
Dr. Morrison replies that the decision had to be told to Hilda and Karen before the students, and they needed to be told at the same time and lots of personal issues (vacations, death in family, illness) occurred that delayed the discussion much more than anticipated. There needed to be time to ask questions. In addition, they thought that a celebration for the number of years Hilda and Karen had been there would be an appropriate send-off. Hilda and Karen did not feel that was something they wanted at this moment. She encourages the students to express to Hilda and Karen that this is something the students want to do for them. The fall semester when everyone is
back would be a good time for the celebration. She agrees entirely that the timing was terrible.

Q: What specific functions of the diversity office will continue, and how will the new faculty
appointments be involved?
Dr. Morrison states that they will start with working groups. Will work with MSG to identify students to work on this issue and figure out what is important to students.

Q: What discussions are there regarding how to expand this office to the other groups?
Dr. Morrison reiterates that there will be student working groups focusing on these issues.
Dr. Delisser adds that not only should there be working groups but there also should be various stakeholder groups meeting to come up with ideas of what they want diversity programming at Penn should look like.

Q: Had you heard all the opinions of all the people in this room, would you have made the same decision?
Dr. Morrison emphasizes the need for a new vision for diversity. She states that she is worried that putting diversity in an office boxes in the definition of diversity. Diversity should be part of all aspects of the school, from admissions to student life to curriculum. Ultimately, yes, she would have made the same decision.

Q: The goals of multiple definitions of diversity is not mutually exclusive. Hard time understanding why Hilda and Karen could not serve in this capacity.
Dr. Morrison restates that in her conversations with the current office, they were not comfortable going in this direction.

Q: A student summarizes a big concern: Overall, students agree that Office of Diversity activities often targeted only certain groups of students. These were similar challenges she faced while trying to establish the Elizabeth Blackwell Society [for women medical students]. Many men were against starting the group, but Dr. Morrison helped them do it. However, she questions why this is not the same for minority students. The office and all the activities were things that these students depended on. Who will now target the needs of these specific groups? There are benefits to having these types of programs.
Dr. Morrison acknowledges this concern and emphasizes that the supports that have been there in the past will still be there for students.
Dr. Delisser answers that the goal is diversity and inclusion without exclusion. He acknowledges that it is going to be a challenge. He proposes the challenge to somehow be inclusive without losing the historical notion and understanding of diversity. He asks how we can maintain the individual communities and support and continue what is being done. We must adapt and improve, and, in a sense, shelve some individual concerns but come together for a solution. He recognizes upfront that this is going to be an effort, but he believes that there is enough talent and good will in the room to move this issue forward.

Q: Salad bowl analogy of diversity: there are many different groups that make up one larger community. All the components are important in making up the whole.
Dr. Morrison replies that the goal is to decide how to take the goals of the communities and put it into a functional administrative structure.

Q: A question of having an office vs. individuals: there is an institutional history that is embodied an office, can transient individuals truly provide the same permanence?
Dr. Morrison remarks that having an office centered on diversity silos off diversity from the the rest of the school. Diversity has been and will be an extremely important focus of this school and the university and this will not disappear. Diversity should be integrated. Defining what we are trying to accomplish will take time, but will never go away. These goals are part of the institutional culture of the entire university.

Q: These changes are like taking away our "standard of care" without a better model. There is no assurance that this new system will work. Students think the old way could have been adapted, and it has not been made clear to us why that would not work. It is hard to understand that Hilda and Karen could not have served other communities.
Dr. Morrison expresses that there are things that she cannot completely discuss with students. She states that her goal is to help not harm and make the school the best ever, and if she had other ways that this could have been done that was more in tune with what students wanted, she would have done so. She continues to say that she is sorry that she cannot be totally transparent.

Q: Why was the office itself eliminated? Not a question about the individuals themselves, but the office as a structure. We are still in a time in which our country is divided on these issues, and dismantling the office itself represents a gray area. Is there support for this type of decision?
Dr. Morrision references an article by Marc Nivet, published by the AAMC, of paradigm shift in diversity and inclusion*. The article describes how the world is shifting in diversity definition, and questions whether diversity "offices" are the right structure. The article recommends programmatic integration rather than isolated offices.
Dr. Delisser notes that he is in support of this.

Q: A policy from AAMC should not directly inform the decisions made in our microenvironment.
Dr. Morrison requests that students engage in the present activities, help the school work through these changes, and make recommendations as to what diversity and inclusion should look like at Penn.

Q: What assurances do we have that the working groups of students will inform the decisions in the future?
Dr. Morrison notes that the way the office was structured in the past was a minority affairs office, and moving forward, the people who are there to support you will still be there. She states that she would like to start with speaking to students and identifying the goals of what we want to achieve and to build the new structure around those goals. Ultimately, if that means another office, then an office can be set up. Or, if there’s another model to ensure our goals, then that can be considered.
Joann Mitchell states her assurances that the opinions, advice, and council of students will be taken in consideration.

Dr. Morrison notes that it is now 9AM and that the meeting must be adjourned. She thanks everyone for their time and coming to this meeting.


June 27th The Daily Pennsylvanian posted this story

June 30th The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education posted

July 5th The Daily Pennsylvanian printed the story 


Note:  The original letter may be review in the "Petition Letter" tab. That is the letter you are signing.


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