The Medical University of South Carolina launched a "historic" campaign this week to improve diversity on campus. Leaders called the new initiative an institutional priority.

"It has taken MUSC more than a century to reach this point in time," said Herman Blake, the university's humanities scholar-in-residence. "We have a history and that history is often like a shadow over what we do."

Blake delivered the keynote address to 140 faculty and staff on Wednesday who volunteered to help develop a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion at MUSC. The final draft of that plan is due by September.

"Others, 50 years from now, will look at what you have done and what I have done," Blake said.

MUSC already tracks some diversity metrics, including gender and race. Nearly 70 percent of MUSC's 12,000 faculty and staff are female. Seventy-two percent are white and 19 percent are black.

The strategic plan will focus on improving other areas of diversity as well, including language, nationality, religion, disability and sexual orientation.

"We're very intentionally broad in our definition of diversity," said Joan Herbert, an MUSC faculty member and co-chairwoman of the diversity initiative. "There are lots of differences for each of us. Each of us are members of many different groups."

Herbert said the university, the hospital and the physicians' group are already compliant with federal diversity regulations, but the institution has not maximized its potential to be a leader in this field.

"We're bringing together aspects of the institution that haven't often communicated with each other and certainly haven't necessarily planned with one another," said interim President Mark Sothmann.

Civic leaders and community members recently marked the 45th anniversary of the March 1969 employee strike at Medical University Hospital. The 113-day walkout was staged by workers who protested unequal pay, discrimination and racial strife in the workplace.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.