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A Conspicuous Absence Of Diversity

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200 community members attend historic opening of UCR medical school building

By Chris Levister –

It was a historic moment in UC Riverside’s quest to establish the first California public medical school in more than 40 years. More than 200 invited members of the community and campus officials gathered March 18 to celebrate the opening of the School of Medicine Research Building.

The three-story 58,000 square-foot structure houses four large shared-lab rooms and faculty offices. The state-ofthe- art energy efficient building is designed to meet the LEED Silver sustainability standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.

“It’s a monument to your collaboration, persistence and your passion,” Chancellor Timothy P. White told the crowd gathered for the dedication. “This is a powerful thing.”

“Your presence here is emblematic of the partnership between the community and the university to expand the physician workforce and, especially, to improve health care access to our underserved communities,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, founding dean of the medical school.

Herb K. Schultz, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called the medical school a beacon for homegrown education and training.

“Keeping these medical providers in the community they grew up in is what I think the UCR School of Medicine will be able to show the rest of the country,” Schultz said.

Schultz, Dean Olds, Chancellor White and other speakers thanked members of the greater Inland Southern California region from government, the philanthropic community, medical, non-profit and business communities for support of the School of Medicine. But some in the audience questioned the leadership’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.

Noting the predominately white audience and those participating in the ribbon cutting, Sylvia N. Martin-James, a long time advocate for the university and ardent supporter of the medical school asked, “Is this the image we want to show the rest of the country?”

“UCR is one of the most diverse universities in the nation. Unfortunately I don’t see that rich diversity and inclusiveness reflected here today,” she said. Martin-James is a former president of the UCR Alumni Association, vice-president of the Citizens University Committee and chairperson of the Dr. Barnett Grier and Eleanor Jean Grier Concerned Citizens Advisory Group of the University of California, Riverside.

“Our concern is not directed at the huge importance of this historic unveiling,” said Martin- James. “Chancellor White, Dr. Olds and the many organizations and individuals who have worked hard to bring this medical school to fruition are to be commended.

However, I urge all involved going forward not to dismiss the efforts of organizations and individuals of color throughout the Inland region who helped make this day possible,” she said. “Let us not lose sight of the university’s less than stellar history of excluding African Americans and other ethnic minorities from its medical education programs.”

She said much of that history is sprinkled with some unfortunate responses to calls for meaningful policy on diversity.

“The hope that will never die in the African American community is that there will be a continuing improvement in what has not always been the visibility and substance desired.”

UCR Librarian Dr. Ruth M. Jackson called the opening of the medical research facility a monumental accomplishment particularly in light of an expected $50 million budget reduction next year, even as the university mulls cutting library hours, cutting or merging academic programs, slashing pension costs and energy bills.

“My great hope is that the medical school will be able to pursue its promise that it will work to get more diverse populations to enter the medical field,” said Jackson. “That is a critical need not only in the Inland Empire but across the nation because of the population shifts.

UCR has an opportunity to play a tremendous role in preparing the next generation of physicians.”

Riverside County leaders, private foundations and the federal government each have pledged millions of dollars for the school. But until late last year one key source of money had been conspicuously lacking: the state of California.

Olds thanked Assembly Member Wilmer Amina Carter (D-Rialto) who chaired a Democrat-controlled budget committee’s adoption of the Budget Act of 2010 which gave the medical school $10 million to support start up costs. Carter was unable to attend the opening because of on-going 2011-12 budget negotiations.

“As we move to overcome the most daunting economic challenges we have faced in decades, these funds will move the medical school forward with the promise of a broad and beneficial impact on health care, higher education, and the overall quality of life for the Inland Empire,” Carter said of the October, 2010 legislation.

Olds, an expert in international health, infectious disease and parasitology, renowned for his expertise in prevention and cultural competency, said the UCR School of Medicine is on track to enroll its first class of 50 students in fall 2012. He said the Inland region already has a shortage of 3,000 physicians. That number is expected to grow to 5,000 by 2020. When it reaches full capacity, the medical school is expected to turn out as many as 250 physicians and health specialists per year.

Black Americans currently comprise 13.4% of the U.S. population. However, Black physicians are only 2.3% of the entire physician workforce; and only 3.2% of all physicians are Latino. This is consistent with the definition of “underrepresented in medicine” as defined by the American Association of Medical Colleges.

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