Nearly 100 attend kickoff of OUWB Diversity Week
An image of Dr. Bailey, Dr. Carpenter, and Joey Solomon
From left, Tonya Bailey, Ph.D., associate dean, Diversity & Inclusion and Community Engagement, Chris Carpenter, M.D., Stephan Sharf Interim Dean, and Joey Solomon, M2, president, OUWB Medical Student Government.

Nearly 100 students, staff, and faculty attended the Monday kickoff of OUWB’s second Diversity Week — five days packed with events aimed at celebrating the various identities, backgrounds, and ethnicities represented at the school.

A reception was held in OUWB’s O’Dowd Hall, right outside of the student lounge.

Attendees took part in a strolling lunch and heard from several speakers.

Tonya Bailey, Ph.D., associate dean, Diversity & Inclusion and Community Engagement, welcomed everyone and provided context for the event and all of those to follow throughout the week.

“OUWB’s Diversity Week is designed to promote everyone’s identity, everyone’s background, and everyone’s ethnicity,” she said.

“Our overall goal for the week is for students, faculty, and staff to immerse themselves in each other’s experiences. I know that we’re going to do that so well because we are a fantastic community.”

The first Diversity Week at OUWB was a student-led initiative. It was held in April.

Bailey says school officials supported the effort and set out to expand the event for the new academic year. It was moved to October to allow students to settle into a routine after the beginning of the year, but before the December break and well before the end-of-the-year activities held in spring.

A committee of students, faculty, and staff was formed to plan and organize the week. Bailey says committee members were tasked with building a week of events around the theme of this year’s Diversity Week: “U Matter.”

An image of Dr. Carpenter speakingChris Carpenter, M.D., Stephan Sharf Interim Dean, OUWB, also spoke at the kick-off reception.

Chris Carpenter, M.D., Stephan Sharf Interim Dean, OUWB, also spoke at the kick-off reception.

For the medical students, he stressed the importance of understanding differences, especially as future physicians.

“When you’re taking care of somebody, it is so important to recognize where they’re coming from,” he said. “If you’re not recognizing where patients are coming from…you’re not elevating them to getting the best health care they can get.”

Carpenter added that he’s happy to see how medical school has evolved throughout the years to include so many diversity, equity, and inclusion-related initiatives, such as OUWB’s Diversity Week.

Joey Solomon, M2, president of OUWB Medical Student Government, also spoke at the kickoff. He urged everyone to take off their “masks” and be themselves – and view the special week as a time to celebrate and continue learning.

“Because when you are yourself, you’re able to cultivate within you that ability to feel confident, to feel like your background is important…and though what you’re going through may be difficult, you are the sum of your experiences,” he said.

“When you’re able to be your authentic self – whether that’s your race, ethnicity, sports, hobbies, crafts, gender – all of these things are important when you’re looking at who you’re going to become as a physician and a person,” he added.

‘Makes the students feel heard’

Payal Shah, M.D., assistant dean, Diversity and Inclusion, said that, whenever possible, it’s important for students to take time to immerse themselves in diversity, equity, and inclusion-related components of their medical education.

“Sometimes students get so wrapped up in the traditional needs of being M1s and M2s that they don’t realize how important it is to embrace that diversity — it’ll be important for their patient care,” said Shah.

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“I was very interested to hear (Joey Solomon) say that this is a different aspect of being in medical school," she added. “This is a softer side of medicine that will be brought forth when (the students) embrace diversity.”

Max Kuang, M2, attended the event because he said diversity “is important, especially in the medical world and especially as an aspiring physician.”

“We really need to take time to celebrate all the beautiful differences amongst us and how that makes each of us special and each of us more unique,” he said. “We’re all together…but you know each of us have something special.”

Nidhi Navaratna, M2, said she feels it’s important to see diversity acknowledged in such a way by the OUWB administration.

“It makes the students feel heard,” she said. “It was affirming to see everyone come out for it.”

Navaratna also talked about what it means to her as a future physician.

“We’re going to be working with people from all different kinds of backgrounds, and you can’t just be blind to backgrounds — that’s just not going to be effective,” she said.

“Things like Diversity Week, like reaffirming my identity are important,” said Navaratna.

“I want to channel that into improving health care for people from similar backgrounds or different backgrounds.”

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