Overcoming Systemic Racism in US Nursing Schools Requires Reflection, Commitment, and Action

Overcoming Systemic Racism in US Nursing Schools Requires Reflection, Commitment, and Action

The events of 2020 highlighted the inequities in health and the injustices faced by Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) in Minnesota. Many across the state have been awakened to the realities of racism and injustice. On a national level, we witnessed the devastation of COVID-19 and its disproportionate effects on Black and African-American communities.

On a local level, we witnessed the public murder of George Floyd in our city of Minneapolis. At the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, our faculty, students, and staff engaged and reflected with open eyes, ears and hearts the subsequent call to action. There is an unjust dual system that has been carefully woven into the very fabric of our society, including academia and yes, nursing. We acknowledge that white privilege and white supremacy has been institutionalized in academic settings. White supremacy is an insidious, toxic, and expansive system that must be renounced, including within our own schools of nursing.

Many schools of nursing in the United States have renewed their commitment to the courageous work of dismantling systemic racism in their schools and curriculum.   The University of Minnesota School of Nursing is, likewise on a courageous transformational journey toward becoming more inclusive, equitable and diverse. As a place dedicated to educating nurses and transforming the healthcare system, our school has committed to unapologetic and unequivocal advocacy to address injustice and create sustainable change.

We, as the School’s Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity Director and Co-Director, recognized that leading a school toward anti-racism requires a combination of reflection, commitment and action. Paulo Frieree, Brazilian educator and philosopher, best known for his text Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said “Reflection and action must never be undertaken independently”.  Reactive changes rarely provide the depth of understanding necessary to deal with deep issues of racism in healthcare, nor are they sustainable. We started by analyzing our school’s policies for student recruitment and admission,our systems of faculty hiring and promotion, and our fundraising and communication strategies.

U Minnesota school of nursing is dedicated to eliminating inequities and racism.
U of M School of Nursing students practicing clinical skills in the Bentson Healthy Communities Innovation Center.

In our experience, faculty needed time to reflect, learn about historical and systematic inequities, and the space to unpack the complex baggage of white supremacy and privilege that persists in our nation. As a school community, we created opportunities for safe and honest sharing and learning through listening sessions and discussion groups. Faculty were provided with resources to unlearn unconscious bias and deepen understanding about institutional racism in healthcare. Similar opportunities were offered to students across programs, from classroom learning, deep day activities, to monthly affinity group forums.  Reflection is necessary, yet reflection without action is essentially the same as inaction. Without action, reflection can become a passive, self-absorbed pastime and is not helpful in creating substantial and sustained systemic change. Reflective and intentional planning, coupled with committed action is needed to bring about the changes in nursing education and dismantle places in our school where inequities persist.   We are empowering faculty to recognize and interrupt microaggressions in the classroom. We are providing them with resources to make curriculum changes so social justice and antiracism content can be purposefully woven throughout nursing education.

The courageous and transformational journey is not a sprint, rather it’s a marathon that requires long-term commitment. At the center of this change is community because the commitment is ours to share.  There is room for each person in the school community to work for equity and inclusion – from book clubs to policy writing; from recruitment and support of students to search, selection, and faculty development; from teaching antiracism curriculum to highlighting antiracism research.  Reflection, coupled with commitment and action will lead to transformational change in nursing education and healthcare systems.​​ ​

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