BY GAIL W. STUART
I want to acknowledge The Post and Courier for tackling the complex topic of diversity in its recent series of articles. On February 1, (a notable day that kicks off Black History Month) you highlighted specific challenges with respect to the business climate in the Lowcountry.
Many of the issues MUSC faces were discussed in that piece, and yet there was some context missing that would benefit a broader community conversation. As an educator and dean of the College of Nursing, I wish to add my perspectives.
The MUSC College of Nursing has put the critical issues of diversity in action in every phase of our mission, striving to create a safe and supportive climate that promotes diverse points of view and in which every person is treated with respect and dignity. We have incorporated a Cultural Competence Model of Care in all of our nursing courses, and we strive to combat unconscious bias in all our work. We see focusing on diversity as a journey and not a destination, as we engage in a process of continual growth towards a culture of inclusion and respect.
This is reflected in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of our College of Nursing magazine, Lifelines, where our focus was on “Valuing Diversity: The Importance of Words, Thoughts and Actions.” Sixteen pages of this magazine detailed many ways in which we in the MUSC College of Nursing have made enhancing diversity and inclusion a priority in the values, strategic plan and activities we engage in each and every day. We are proud of our various efforts and that 28 percent of our full-time faculty, 42 percent of our staff and 35 percent of our nursing students across all programs are from diverse backgrounds. I invite you to take a closer look at what we are doing by accessing the magazine at: www.issuu.com/musc_con/docs/lifelines_fw14.
I also appreciate the need for difficult, yet important, conversations about this topic, and support all forums that assist us in that work. No doubt, we all have much more that can be done to reach our goals. And so it was concerning to those in our College to see that our publication was cited in the article and yet no one had talked to anyone in our College about what we were actually doing.
So why can talking about diversity be a “difficult conversation”?
I think there are a number of reasons. To quote the Feb. 1 article, “Diversity means more than a mix of races. It can refer to gender, sexual orientation, economic status, cultural experience, age and more.”
We couldn’t agree more. In fact, by focusing on just one aspect of diversity or one of these many groups, you run the risk of offending others. No one “owns” diversity — we all are diverse in some way and we all need to “own” this issue with respect and appreciation.
Second, too often talking about diversity is not an open, reciprocal conversation. It is someone talking “at” or “about” someone else. But true conversations are really about talking “with” each other — openly, honestly, receptively and with a focus on the present and on how we can make the future better by learning from the past.
Conversations also mean listening and not just talking. In the words of Calvin Coolidge “No man has ever listened himself out of a job.” I am delighted to both listen and to talk with anyone about what we are doing here in the College of Nursing, and my hope is that in the days ahead, The Post and Courier and the community at large will want to learn more about what is being done to make our culture more inclusive.
Yes, conversations may be difficult, but if we don’t have these conversations then we will not be able to move this agenda forward. Nothing in this world is either all positive or all negative. Like diversity itself, it is a blend, an integration, a richness of differences. For it is in the coming together that we grow and evolve, as we consider what we have learned from the past, evaluate what we are doing at present, and design how we can make our future better.
As we said in our Lifelines magazine, “If we had to select one word that best captures the values of the MUSC College of Nursing, it would be ‘respect.’ At the end of the day, respect allows us to make ‘valuing diversity’ a reality.”
Respect also can make difficult conversations far less difficult.
Gail W. Stuart, Ph.D., is dean of the College of Nursing at MUSC.