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The Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Blog

Drawing of African-American children holding a globe

February 15, 2018
Black History Month: Celebrating the Legends of Innovation and Science

When we think about science, we think of innovation, transformation and enrichment.  Today, we benefit from the possibilities that have stemmed from technology, from Uber rides to Facetiming with medical providers, all with a tap of a finger. Who are these originators, the great innovative minds and pioneers of science? We celebrate the legacy of the black men and women who were fundamental in the advancement of science and medicine.

Activist and surgeon Charles R. Drew was recognized for being a forerunner in the field of blood transfusions, a science that is pivotal today in modern blood banks. While at Columbia University, Dr. Drew developed a method for separating red blood cells from plasma, allowing them to be stored separately, a technique that was instrumental during World War II. The racially divisive climate of the time included segregation in the donation of blood; Dr. Drew resigned from the Red Cross as in protest of this policy.

From the preservation of blood cells to refining methods in the science of ophthalmology, black men and women have been at the epicenter. Dr. Patricia Bath is an African-American woman who invented the Laserphaco probe in the mid-1980s.  This innovative device is used to remove cataracts non-invasively, using lasers. Dr. Bath’s state-of-the-art invention has helped reduce inaccuracies in surgeries.

In 1912, Garrett Morgan developed the world’s first mask designed to assist firefighters. Mr. Morgan created a hood that allowed the user to breathe in the absence of oxygen and in the presence of toxins. In 1916, during a catastrophic explosion, a group of Cleveland Water workers were trapped in a 50-foot tunnel below Lake Erie. Morgan’s groundbreaking invention saved their lives, earning him a medal from the International Association of Fire Engineers, and making him an honorary member. Several other people involved in the rescue were honored by Cleveland officials, but Morgan was not included among them. In an effort to remedy this injustice, which he believed was racially motivated, a group of Cleveland citizens gave him a gold medal studded with diamonds in recognition for his part in the rescue. After its early success, Mr. Morgan’s invention was widely adopted by the American forces during World War II.

Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans, WMCP graduates

Drexel University College of Medicine has its own historical gems. One of the College of Medicine’s predecessor institutions is the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), the world’s first medical school for women. The College’s unique place in American history includes support of all women in medical careers, no matter their race or ethnicity. Dr. Rebecca Cole graduated from WMCP in 1867, becoming the second African-American woman to earn an MD degree in the country.  A number of African-American women followed her, including two who graduated 30 years later. Drs. Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans, WMCP’s class of 1897, continued Dr. Cole’s legacy. In the era of Jim Crow laws, Drs. Grier and Evans became the first African-American women to practice medicine in their respective states of Georgia and South Carolina. 

The College of Medicine’s rich practice of inclusivity helped support the legacy of Virginia M. Alexander (1900-1949), who founded and housed the Aspiranto Health Home, a clinic for mothers and babies, and supportive allies such as financier Anthony J. Drexel, who founded the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry in 1891 to offer practical education to men and women without regard to socioeconomic status, race or religion.

Our history is rich, filled with emerging pioneers who overcame obstacles including slavery, segregation and society’s lack compassion. And yet, resilience and hope allowed these remarkable, legendary Black trailblazers to create a long-lasting path for the future of science and medicine today.

Written by:
Lidyvez Sawyer, MPH
Director, Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Drexel University College of Medicine


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Close up of holding hands

October 6, 2017
Physicians as Healers


Physicians are supposed to be good at handling suffering. Building the capacity to witness; to be steadfast in the face of it; to aid during grief and healing. This ability is a unique and challenging skill. No physician would say otherwise. We have to “be there” and endure. (Our private grief and the secondary trauma that we face as a result are important for us to address — with colleagues, family and supportive helpers.)

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Our empathy is our power, but also a huge responsibility. How to carry it and be OK takes practice and authentic discussions with role models.

In a very, very short period of time, we’ve seen a great deal of suffering — from Charlottesville to hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, to earthquakes, and now the largest mass murder in U.S. history. It is overwhelming — even for “experts” who handle suffering on a day-to-day basis.

So what do we do? Yes, that is the usual antidote we as physicians reach for. What is the action to intervene, ameliorate, attenuate? From afar, we may only be able to witness and help mobilize resources and support for people who are suffering. We can generate compassion — not blaming of those who suffer. We can mobilize about ways to address violence from our paid representatives and let them know where we stand. From afar, we can turn to friends, colleagues, students and ask, Are you personally affected? Are you OK? We can be there for one another. To those for whom this is personal, we collectively are here for you — as are counselors, student deans, all of us. Please stop by, chat, email — let us know how you are doing. Let us know how we can help.

Watercolor map of Puerto Rico

Our answers focus on doing. We can also contribute time and energy. Blood drives for areas in need of blood. Fundraisers for money that credible agencies can send to areas of need. We don’t have a handle on how many of our colleagues, friends and students have connections to the areas of devastation like Puerto Rico. But we do know that the Drexel Med community extends to this under-resourced island of stranded Americans.

It has been more than two weeks, and U.S. citizens — about 2 million of them — remain without power and safe drinking water. Soon, cholera, typhoid and other illnesses will run rampant. Many people with diabetes are on their last dose of insulin and have no way to refrigerate what little is left. Those at highest risk are the elderly and infants, as well as those with chronic diseases. Once tallied, the number of dead may be mind boggling. The deadliest aspects of this Category 5 hurricane may occur now. The societal collapse that has ensued is a humanitarian crisis afflicting our fellow Americans. Our attention and action are usually focused on the current media cycle. We need to have a longer look than that.

Here is a listing of sites where you can donate to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

United for Puerto Rico was begun by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, the governor’s wife, Beatriz Rossellό. Visit the United for Puerto Rico website for PayPal or credit card donations.

Global Giving brings emergency supplies like food, water and medicine and also supports longer-term rebuilding and recovery efforts. Cash donations are accepted via the Global Giving website.

UNICEF: In the space of health for children, it is important to note that Congress has not renewed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a much needed program. For children affected by Maria, cash donations are accepted at UNICEF USA.

The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD) accepts individual donations of emergency supplies and construction-related items. VOAD also accepts volunteers who may want to travel to Puerto Rico — later, not now! Remember, after all the media attention drifts elsewhere, the problems and needs remain. Then is more likely a time to go and help.

Here's a link to other organizations that are working to help Caribbean islands impacted by the hurricane.

Airline miles: Those who travel extensively can donate air travel miles to organizations.

Suffering — there is plenty. Consider helping. One by one, our community of caring can help make a difference.

Reach out to us — do you have other ideas about how to help? Want to talk more? Let me know.

Ana Núñez, MD
Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Professor of Medicine

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May 10, 2017
Remembering Maurice Clifford

Thank you for joining us in celebrating one of our very own legends in medicine. We have provided a special compilation of reflections from our attendees.

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My very clear and fond memories of Dr. Maurice Clifford date back to my days as a third-year medical student on my Ob-Gyn clerkship. I happened to be pregnant with my first child at the time, and more than a bit apprehensive! In addition to being a wonderful, kind and attentive teacher, Dr. Clifford was a superb, thoughtful and patient clinician who provided outstanding care to his patients, at all times demonstrating excellent communication skills.

He was uniformly respected by the faculty and staff and his patients loved him. I was sometimes puzzled by his occasional comments about stopping his obstetrical practice when his children graduated from college, as he seemed to enjoy delivering babies so much. Little did I know at the time that major leadership positions were on his agenda.

All those magnificent traits that he demonstrated on the maternity floor and in the classroom were ones that he carried with him into his senior administrative roles, both for the City of Philadelphia and in the medical school. He was one of my very important role models and I would frequently ask myself in tough situations, "What would Maury do?" I feel very blessed to have known and learned so much from him. May his memory be forever a blessing.

Barbara A. Schindler, MD
Vice Dean Emerita, Educational and Academic Affairs
Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics
Department of Psychiatry

Dr. Maurice C. Clifford joined the faculty of the Woman's Medical College in 1955. During his distinguished career as a physician, Dr. Clifford earned the highest respect from his colleagues and students as an educator, leader, role model and as a humane and compassionate caregiver. In 1980, he was elected the 17th president of the Medical College of Pennsylvania. During his presidency, he brought a stabilizing effect to the Medical College of Pennsylvania. At his retirement from the presidency in 1986, his friends and colleagues honored him by establishing the Maurice C. Clifford Leadership Award to be given annually to an outstanding graduating student at Commencement. Following his presidency at MCP, Dr. Clifford became the first African American to serve as commissioner of health for the City of Philadelphia. We mourned his passing in November 2002.

D. Walter Cohen, DDS
Chancellor Emeritus
Drexel University College of Medicine

Remembrances of President Maurice C. Clifford, MD, bring to mind a bright, energetic, compassionate, humanistic individual who was a tremendous leader with forward looking insight and excellence in character. He believed in giving back to one’s community and was very charitable. I recall meeting his beautiful wife, Patricia, at their home, where I purchased several art pieces from them and they even donated a few to me. He knew both sides of the doctor-patient relationship and valued each, as he knew that to treasure it is to facilitate healing.

I missed him when they moved out of the Philadelphia area and much more now that he has gone to his spiritual home. His compassion and leadership qualities should be memorialized and his enduring impact on the University appreciated and cherished. Forever remembered for all the right reasons.

John M. Fontaine MD, MBA, FACC, FHRS
Professor of Medicine
Director Arrhythmia Services
Drexel University College of Medicine

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Dr. Maurice Clifford Portrait Dedication Ceremony - March 2017

April 21, 2017
Celebrating Our Legends: Diversity Kickoff Event – Dr. Maurice Clifford Portrait Dedication Ceremony & Reception

On March 30, Drexel University College of Medicine celebrated one of our very own legends, Dr. Maurice Clifford, who joined the faculty of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1955.

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Dr. Clifford was honored during a portrait dedication ceremony for his contribution and exemplary achievements during his time at the College of Medicine. In 1980, after having served as vice president of clinical affairs, he was elected the 17th president of the Medical College of Pennsylvania. Dr. Clifford’s dedication transcended his tenure position; during his leadership, the College became a nationally recognized center for patient care, research and training. In 1986, Dr. Clifford went on to become the commissioner of public health for the City of Philadelphia.

Dr. Maurice Clifford’s portrait dedication ceremony attracted nearly 100 guests, including family and friends, students, staff and faculty, who reminisced and shared warm memories of his leadership, fervor for patient care, and compassion.

The ceremony began with an intimate yet pivotal message on diversity and inclusivity. Dr. Daniel Schidlow, dean of the College of Medicine, welcomed guests and focused his message on the significance of diversity in medicine: “We are committed to becoming leaders for the next generation of a diverse workforce.” Dr. Schidlow highlighted our historical contribution to inclusivity, which afforded women, African Americans, Italians and others the ability to receive a medical education at a time when most medical institutions practiced exclusion.

Dr. Ana Núñez, associate dean, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, introduced the newly minted office and outlined its current initiatives, which include addressing the prevailing challenges facing black men in medicine and building a culture of diversity, both academically and in the field of medicine. According to the AAMC report Altering the Course: Black Males in Medicine, there are fewer black male applicants and matriculants to medical school now than in 1978. African Americans are the only ethnic group to show this decline.

Dr. Jay Clifford followed with a warm biography describing his father’s dedication to medicine and public health service, and his commitment to the College of Medicine. Dr. Walter Cohen, the College of Medicine’s chancellor emeritus, shared his own memories, recollecting Dr. Clifford’s relationship with fellow colleagues and students, recognizing him as a “humane and compassionate caregiver.” One of the most memorable moments of the ceremony was the unveiling of Dr. Maurice Clifford’s portrait, orchestrated by his sons, Dr. Jay Clifford and Maurice Clifford III, while accompanied by their wives and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Dr. Clifford.

This event underlined the historical and fundamental values of Drexel University College of Medicine; equally significantly, it served to reinvigorate among various departments and affiliates one of the essential components of our mission: our commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

Philadelphia Sun:

Written by:
Lidyvez Sawyer, MPH
Director, Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Drexel University College of Medicine

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Day Without a Woman

March 8, 2017
Day Without a Woman & Why Does It Matter?

Today we celebrate ourselves, women and all gender-oppressed people of every background, race, nationality, immigration status, age or disability, religion, sexual identity, gender expression and economic status.

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On January 21st over 5 million U.S. demonstrators joined the Women's March worldwide (with over 1 million in D.C.) to make our voices heard. But it's not over. We stand united today in solidarity, marking March 8th, A Day Without a Woman, to speak against inequity and injustice, and for the human rights of women.

The first International Women's Day took place in 1911 in Denmark, Switzerland, Germany and Austria (according to the International Women's Day website). On March 8th we reflect on the courageous acts of ordinary women, who have played and continue to play an extraordinary role to eradicate the inequities that continue to plague women today: receiving lower wages, discrimination, sexual harassment and job insecurity (to name a few).

Why does it matter? The Economist's Glass Ceiling Index, a metric that demonstrates where women have the best chance of equal treatment at work, categorized the U.S. as below average in significant areas, when compared to 28 other countries. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) performs an international biannual analysis of the economic trend to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people. The U.S., when compared to other countries, was below the OECD average on wage gap equity, child care cost, paid maternity leave and women employed in parliament and government; and barely above average on gender equality for higher education. Although the OECD has shown improvements in gender equity on an international scale, Finland scoring the highest among 28 countries, the wage gap continues to widen, furthering the notion that there is much work to be done. This is among other women's rights issues that have stemmed from the current administration, further jeopardizing our reproductive rights: the defunding of Planned Parenthood and overturning Roe v. Wade.

Join us today, united in love and in the spirit of liberation by doing one or all of the following:

  • Women take the day off from (un)paid labor
  • Avoid shopping for one day (unless from women- or minority-owned businesses)
  • Wear red in solidarity with A Day Without a Woman

Today, we close the doors to discrimination, gender injustice and all acts of oppression. Women's rights are human rights.

For more information:

Written by:
Lidyvez Sawyer, MPH
Director, Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Drexel University College of Medicine

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Black History Heading

February 24, 2017
Celebrating Our Heritage in Black History Month: Legends of Today and Pioneers of Our Past

February is Black History Month. This year, we welcome Black History Month during a time of divisiveness and for most of us confusion, driven by the shift in political power and differences in societal views. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the long line of historical events that continue to shape us all today: the resilience and determination of our ancestors and the diversity and richness of our culture. Not only who we are, but where we came from. In the midst of our uncertainty, let's take a moment to reflect on the legends of our time and the great pioneers of the past.

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Many would agree that one of the greatest African American legends of our time would be our esteemed former and first African American President of the United States, Barack Obama. Serena Williams, often called the greatest tennis player of all time. Entertainer and musical artist, Beyoncé, known for her massively successful career, winner of 21 Grammy Awards. African American writer and journalist, winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the James Baldwin of our generation. The number of legendary figures is abundant: Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Rep. John Lewis, Marcus Garvey, the list continues.

What about the legends of our past, the pioneers before our time? Some firsts:

Dorothy Dandridge, first African American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award, during the 1950s, a time of great segregation.

Jesse Owens, a four-time Olympic gold medalist at the 1936 Berlin Olympics; today the Jesse Owens Award is regarded as USA Track and Field's highest honor.

Adventurists, such as Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to earn an international pilot's license, in 1921. She was recognized for her daring stunts in air shows performed around the world, while refusing to be slowed down by racism.

Mae Jemison, an American physician and NASA astronaut known for being the first black woman to travel in space.

First African American surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders, MD.

Thomas Creigh Imes, MD, Class of 1884

Vivian Pinn, first African American woman chair of an academic pathology department, at Howard University College of Medicine, and the first full-time director of the Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health.

Novelist, essayist and playwright James Baldwin. A Harlem native who remains the best of his time, capturing with truth and unique articulation the social injustice and inequality that remains tangible today, more than a decade preceding the Civil Rights Act, publishing "Go Tell It on the Mountain" in 1953.

The civil rights activists who refused to accept the cruel act of inhumanity, slavery and injustice: Dred Scott (1795-1858); Nat Turner (1800-1831); Harriet Tubman (1822-1913); Frederick Douglass (1818-1895).

The history of our African American pioneers encompasses great intellects of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, and Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, influential historian, writer and scholar, the first African American to earn a PhD from Harvard, in 1909.

In medicine, we have Drs. James McCune Smith, the first African American to earn a medical degree, and Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African American woman physician. And what about our own pioneers in medicine, graduates of our legacy school Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania: Drs. Rebecca J. Cole (1846 - 1922), the second African American woman to receive an MD; Matilda Arabella Evans (1872 - 1935), the first African American woman licensed to practice in South Carolina; and Virginia M. Alexander (1900 - 1949), who founded a community health clinic in her home.

Always keep in mind: We cannot fully understand who we are, and in its entirety where we are going, unless we understand the richness of our history.

Written by:
Lidyvez Sawyer, MPH
Director, Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Drexel University College of Medicine

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