Celebrating 50 Years of Diversity and Inclusion at HMS and HSDM
Marking the anniversary of the 1969 diversity initiative that paved the way for a culture of diversity and inclusion at HMS and beyond. Celebrate with alumni, faculty, trainees, students and staff for a day of reflection and looking forward.
"On Thursday, April 4, 1968, upon hearing the news that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, a small but passionate group of nine Harvard Medical School (HMS) faculty felt they had to do something to change the way the world worked. The world they knew and could influence was Harvard Medical School. By Monday of the following week, these nine faculty met with Robert Ebert, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at HMS, insisting that HMS improve its relations with the black community (Eisenberg, 1968)."
Excerpt from Thirty Years of Affirmative Action at Harvard Medical School: A Mixed Method Program Evalution by Alane K. Shanks
Presented April 12, 2004
American Educational Research Association
"It has been 50 years since HMS increased its enrollment to accommodate unrepresented minority students. Fourteen URM students were enrolled that first year. Leon Eisenberg was a prime leader and mover in that hallmark event that has resulted in a culture of diversity and inclusion not only at HMS and its affiliated hospitals, but influenced many other medical schools and academic medical centers across the country to self-examine and accept a more diversified student body and faculty."
Ronald A. Arky
Daniel D. Federman, M.D. Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Medical Education
Today we celebrate 50 years of diversity and inclusion at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. 1968-1969 marks an enormous shift in the School’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, a tradition that began when two black students, Edwin C.J.T. Howard and Thomas Dorsey, graduated from HMS in 1869. Prior to 1968, there was no formal plan to recruit minority students, and only 64 African American students had graduated from HMS and HSDM prior to the Class of 1973.
Influenced by the civil rights movement, and spurred by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, a group of HMS faculty (including Harold Amos, Jonathan Beckwith, Robert Buxbaum, Leon Eisenberg, Edwin Furshpan, Warren Gold, Luigi Gorini, Edward Kravitz, David Potter and Torsten Wiesel) engaged directly with Dean Robert Ebert about the role HMS should play in the context of the civil rights movement. This group then drafted a document, “A Program to Establish Scholarships at Harvard Medical School for the Support of Fifteen Negro Medical Students per Year.” Dean Ebert advised the group to garner the support of each department chair ahead of the April 1968 faculty meeting. Their efforts were also supported by a petition signed by more than half of the students at HMS.
The story of the faculty meeting is well-known. Elkan Blout and Jonathan Beckwith proposed on behalf of the petitioners that the School should increase minority enrollment by at least 15 students; the pro-posal was met with both strong support and opposition. Many faculty supported increasing minority enrollment, but there was debate over how many minority students to accept, where to find those students and how to support them both financially and emotionally.
Dean Ebert ended the debate by appointing an ad hoc committee for disadvantaged students, chaired by David Potter, to create guidelines for a resolution. The School committed to recruit, prepare and retain minority students, with a parallel effort focused on the relationship between HMS and the black community, especially in the neighborhoods surrounding the School. Quotas were explicitly eschewed, and faculty members pledged over $50,000 to fund scholarships as part of a fund for disadvantaged students. In support of this affirmative action plan, Dean Ebert increased the incoming class size by 15 students. Sixteen minority applicants were accepted in the Class of 1973.
Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist known for his work as the Southern Field Director of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in Jackson, Mississippi, and in community medicine at Tufts University, joined the faculty in 1969 to support the incoming students and foster diversity and inclusion at HMS. He was the first director of the HMS Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs, which focused on increasing representation of black, Puerto Rican, Mexican American and Native American students and continues to support all underrepresented students today.
Since 1969, HMS has graduated over 1,350 physicians from minority backgrounds. The expansion of programs to recruit, retain and support minority students and faculty, headed by monumental leaders like Alvin Poussaint, William Silen, Harold Amos, Joseph L. Henry, Nancy Oriol, Joan Reede, and many others, has not only changed HMS and HSDM, but medicine in America.
Then to Now: Reflections by leadership on the evolution of diversity and inclusion at HMS
Kevin Churchwell, MD
President and Chief Operating Officer, Boston Children’s Hospital
Robert and Dana Smith Associate Professor of Anesthesia, Harvard Medical School
Nawal Nour, MD, MPH
Faculty Council Vice Chair, Associate Professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology, Harvard Medical School
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Faculty and Students, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Scott Podolsky, MD
Director, Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Joan Reede, MD, MPH, MS, MBA
Dean for Diversity and Community Partnership, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Professor of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
Fidencio Saldaña, MD, MPH
Dean for Students, Interim Director for the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Symposium: Better Together
Celebrating our progress, recognizing our heroes and looking to our future
We will also honor the leaders of the 1969 movement to increase racial diversity at HMS.
Prologue: A commemorative poem
Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
George Q. Daley
Dean, Harvard Medical School
Honoring the leaders and the history of the 1969 diversity movement at HMS
Edgar L. Milford (HMS student 1967-71)
Advisory Dean and Director, William Bosworth Castle Society, Harvard Medical School
Dean for Medical Education, Harvard Medical School
HMS student 1969-73
Honoring Alvin Poussaint
Presented by Mary Tate
Resident Physician in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern and Cook County Hospital
Commemorative stained glass by Jason Outlaw, DMD, DMSc, Founder of Vitraux Stained Glass
Reflections by Alvin Poussaint's former students
Matthew Plummer, HSDM ’73
Emilio Carrillo, HMS ’76
Woodrow Myers, HMS ’77
Nancy Oriol, HMS ’79
Thomas Sequist, HMS ’99
Fidencio Saldaña, HMS ’01
Uché Blackstock, HMS ’05
Where are they now?
An update on the 1,350 URM students admitted since 1969
Faculty Assistant Dean for Student Affairs
Assistant Director of the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs, Harvard Medical School
LaShyra "Lash" Nolen, Class President, HMS ’23
Jalen Benson, Student National Medical Association President, HMS ’23
Where are we now and where are we going?
Interim Director for the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs
Dean for Students, Harvard Medical School
Dean for Diversity and Community Partnership, Harvard Medical School
Town Meeting on Diversity
George Q. Daley
Dean, Harvard Medical School
Clinical Fellow in Anaesthesia, Brigham and Women's Hospital
Historical Documents from the 1968 Diversity Initiative
Documents provided courtesy of the Center for the History of Medicine at the Countway Library.
Diversity and Inclusion Connections at HMS and HSDM
In the News