Several weeks ago I was given the opportunity (med school speak for “required attendance”) to sit through a lecture and small group activity on diversity. Many companies and schools do training like this, so you know about how this went. We listened to about an hour of lecture on how ought to be diverse, and then completed a few worksheets on what we learned. It was a total joke.
Medical schools are artificially diverse. The admissions committee selects each class that way on purpose. Exactly half of the class is male, and there is a fairly even distribution of race and ethnicity among each gender. What they later noticed, thankfully, is that the class doesn’t usually function that way. By the second week of lecture, most of the students were sitting next to people much like them. I did it too. I sit in the white guy section. Many of your daily interactions are with people much like you (except for small group activities, where they pick the group members for us).
Unfortunately, this is the exact opposite of diversity. Simply making sure all of the ingredients are present doesn’t equal a magical diversity cookie (pictured below, if you’re curious). In fact, I think this process is the very opposite of diversity. So I now present the Basically Useless Road Map to Diversity.
Step One: The admissions process goes blind. Ideally, this would mean that a medical school could admit their best 100 applicants, and then look around in August and be surprised that every single student is from India. Fine by me. The very act of sorting through categories of students to make sure we are balanced out is, by definition, discrimination.
How does this happen? Fairly easily, actually. Incoming students will no longer indicate their race/ethnicity/socioeconomic status on their AMCAS, for starters. This places more emphasis on your achievements and abilities, effectively eliminating race as a determining factor. Next, the interview process could be blinded as well. Instead of seeing your whole application, your interviewer is given a sheet containing pertinent facts (MCAT, GPA, EC’s) and instead of your name, he sees a number. He will obviously see what color his applicants skin is, but he will submit his evaluation of this random person along with other interviewers for a composite score.
This probably sounds like a step backward to the members of MSHRIG (Medical Students for Human Rights Interest Group, co-sponsors of diversity day), but it’s not. If your goal is to treat each person equally, how can you possible support a scenario where admissions committee members are turning down qualified applicants of ________ race to increase the amount of _______ race.
Step 2: Teach students to get over themselves.
A main activity from Diversity Day was filling in a worksheet to describe our identities. We got to choose from categories like religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, political stances, etc. Their lesson was that we first understand ourselves, so that we can then understand others. By understanding our identities, we can better understand others. Did you catch the implied message there? By better understanding ourselves, we can better understand how others are different than us. I had a few problems with this exercise. First, we only attached labels to ourselves. People are more than 12 adjectives in a column (11 for me, I put white for race and ethnicity). Second, why not focus on the reasons why we are the same? Despite all of our differences, most people have the same desires, hopes, fears, and dreams. That’s the fabric of what makes us human. Let’s focus on that stuff and not on the small stuff that we can describe in one word adjectives.
Step 3: Don’t Make it a Big Deal
Diversity training was a big, hairy ordeal. We have to know it to work in today’s culture. We have to understand diversity to be a medical professional. This city is a melting pot with lots of racial polarization. Etc Etc. Bla bla bla. Guess what? You just made diversity a problem. You got a bunch of really different people here, showed them all of the ways they differ from each other, and then stressed repeatedly that they pay lots of attention to these differences in the name of diversity. One extra twist is that as medical students, we are more alike than we even realize. We can bond over our OCD tendancies, lack of social life, and fascination with disgusting diseases.
The ironic part is that we may not even need diversity training. My generation (20’s and below) has the potential to finally beat racism. In 7th grade I had an amazing English teacher. She was fun, loved her students, and even managed to teach us at the same time. I told my parents for weeks and weeks how much I liked her, all of the funny things she did in class, and the way that the class responded. Years later they told me the rest of the story. In November they went to parent-teacher conferences and were a little surprised that this teacher was black. This was highly unusual for my suburban white junior high school. But never once in months of class did I describe her to my parents as black. Why? It wasn’t worth describing. I don’t describe people as white for the same reason. I think enough people in my generation share my view to beat racism, I just hope we can do it after we do all of our diversity training.
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