Commitment to Diversity
In 1968, the Black American enrollment at Harvard Medical School (HMS) was less than one percent. HMS was not alone in being a predominantly white institution: at that time, only four percent of all first year medical students nationwide were from minority groups (2.8 percent were Black). Until the early 1970’s, most Black American doctors were educated at Howard and Meharry medical schools.
However, the social climate of the late 1960’s sparked the first nationwide efforts to bring minority students into medical schools. After the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., close to 300 HMS students signed a petition urging the school to comprehensively review its ability to train Black physicians and to assess its relationship to the Black community in Boston. That same year, HMS Dean Robert H. Ebert created the Committee for Disadvantaged Students, charging it with increasing the number of disadvantaged students at HMS and Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM). The new committee recommended to the faculty that 15 slots be created for disadvantaged students.
In 1969, the school began an active affirmative action recruiting program. Sixteen Black students matriculated at HMS and Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D. was appointed Associate Dean of Students during that year. Unofficially, the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs was established with Dr. Poussaint as the administrator. Though the medical school initially focused on increasing Black representation, it soon broadened its efforts to include applicants from other underrepresented groups (Puerto Rican, Mexican American, and Native American). The school officially committed itself to admitting a diverse student body, with a significant percentage of students to come from underrepresented groups. However, one of the initial problems in attracting minority applicants was the relatively small pool of applicants from which to draw.
In 1968, the first challenge facing those who wished to increase HMS’s minority population was convincing prospective candidates that their applications would receive serious consideration. Minority students already enrolled at HMS and HSDM were recruited to help meet this challenge. The Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs currently contacts 60 to 75 undergraduate institutions each year to share information. Current HMS and HSDM minority students also meet with interviewees, conduct tours, and address questions from prospective candidates over lunch.
In 1970, HMS implemented its Pre-Matriculation Summer Program for minority students. Participants were exposed to major basic science courses at the Cambridge campus. This eight–to-ten-week bridge between college and medical school was designed to ease minority students’ transition into HMS/HSDM and to enhance the likelihood of their academic success.
In 1983, the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs broadened the scope of the Pre-Matriculation Summer Program. The program currently provides underrepresented acceptees the chance to do full-time research in the laboratories of medical area faculty during the summer preceding their matriculation. Students in this program attend a series of seminars on current research issues given largely by HMS and HSDM faculty, and MD/PhD candidates. These seminars allow students to interact with scientists, have meaningful contact with role models, and gain a keener understanding of the application of basic science to clinical medicine.
The other areas in which the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs have been actively involved include the Revisit Weekend and other quality of life programs that affect underrepresented students. Members within the Black, Latino, and Native American student organizations have traditionally worked very closely with the office in these areas.
Older minority students have also helped ease the assimilation of new students by serving as peer advisers. While social, cultural, and recreational events help bring upperclass students and new students together, the older students also provide a support network and share tips on preparing for the major clinical rotations and the National Residency Match. Students also serve on the various Admissions sub-committees.
These efforts by HMS have produced impressive results. In 1969, HMS accepted 16 Black students for the class of 1973. Since that time, HMS has graduated over 1,200 minority physicians. Many of our alumni have assumed leadership roles in different fields of medicine. The Medical School currently has 164 (20%) students from underrepresented groups (75 African Americans, 33 Mexican Americans, 9 Native Americans, 11 Puerto Ricans, and 36 other Hispanics).
We would like to salute all of the HMS and HSDM alumni, students, staff, and faculty who have contributed to the many years of success of the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs.
To create and nurture a diverse community of the best people committed to leadership in alleviating human suffering caused by disease