Embracing Diversity

Current Views on Women's and Minorities Issues:

COMMITTEE ON ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN AND MINORITIES(CAWM)

(What is it, and where did it come from?)

There is within journalistic circles an entity referred to as the ìOp-Edî discussion. This generally represents a statement that reflects the opinion of the writer. Such writings should not be viewed as a representative statement of any group of which that person is a part. In that regard, the brief discussion that is to follow represents an ìOp-Edî statement. It derives from the writerís participation with the Committee on the Advancement of Women and Minorities within The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA). It also derives from over thirty (30) years of observation of and participation in the multiple activities of this Health Science Center. Those observations and that participation causes this writer, at the outset, to wonder aloud as to whether the committee referred to above ought be the Committee for the Advancement of Minority Populations and Women (CAMPW).

Within the community of San Antonio, there has recently been considerable debate over a bond election that occurred under the auspices of the Alamo Community College District. There were those persons who were actively suggesting that the Health Education facilities that would be supported by those bonds ought to be located in the midst of the greatest student need ñ the Eastside, Southside and Downtown areas of the city. On the other hand, there were those who advocated for the placement of such educational facilities within the Medical Center area. One of the core issues was that of equity of access which, for some, equated with an equal opportunity for all citizens of this Metropolitan area to gain admission, enroll and ìget toî these facilities in a reasonable manner.

The issue of equity was not new to the Health Science Center. The 100 acres upon which it is situated was a point of much controversy at the outset. Many persons wanted to see the facilities located in downtown San Antonio. Again, the issue was access for persons from throughout the Metropolitan area, many of whom relied on public transportation, friends, neighbors and/or walking to reach any given destination. That it appeared that the most vocal advocates for downtown placement were persons from underrepresented minority groups fed the ìperceptionî and ìallegationî that the decision to locate the medical center in Northwest San Antonio was reflective both of non-consideration of and disdain for the need for equity within the community of San Antonio.

Concerns about equity issues are not and have never been limited to geographic considerations. Rather, within this Health Science Center, such concerns parallel its existence. The first President of the Center in the early 70ís established an Office of Special Programs. That office, when first established, was to serve the needs and interests of all parties, to specifically include minority populations. That office was to serve staff, faculty and students. Eventually however its activities were restricted to service to student populations. Staff and faculty were left to fend for themselves through whatever means they might be able to identify through their own endeavors.

In the late 1970ís, some members the Texas Legislature became concerned about the inequities being experienced by minority students in both the Medical School and the Dental School of this Health Science Center. A formal investigation through the Office of the Chancellor of The University of Texas System resulted in some staffing changes within the Deanís office in both of those schools, but that move only began to scratch the surface of addressing some of the issues faced by minority students. And still, little attention was directed toward faculty and staff, both groups of which also faced issues of inequity within the Health Science Center.

The Hopwood decision in 1996, while viewed by some as having a negative impact on minority student matriculation, may, in the long term, be seen as a catalyst for some positive new directions within the State and within The University of Texas System, especially as far as staff and faculty are concerned. That decision which was based on the manner in which minority admissions were handled by he University of Texas at Austin Law School resulted in the halting of most Affirmative Action-type activities within public educational facilities in this state. There resulted a dramatic and immediate decrease in minority admissions to those facilities.

Concerns about the impact of the decision were raised both by the Texas Legislature and by the Regents of The University of Texas System. In 1997 all units of the System were mandated to form entities that would look at factors affecting the progress of minority populations and of women within the various components of the System. Each component was given the option of establishing a single entity that would review issues relative to minority populations and to women. They could also establish separate vehicles to review these two matters as separate entities. A presidential decision within this Health Science Center resulted in the establishing of a single committee to review both of these important areas. The reasoning behind such a decision is not known. Also unknown is the degree, quantity, quality and knowledge-base of minority participation, both racial and ethnic, in that decision-making process.

This latter statement is necessitated by the focus of the Committee on the Advancement of Women and Minorities during its first few years of operation. A review of committee deliberations and areas of focus from those early years indicates that a major focus was on issues of importance to women faculty. It appears that the significant inequities experienced within this Center by racial and ethnic minorities were not of primary concern for the committee during those early years. It is difficult to determine if the initial committee directions were part of the original presidential charge. Fortunately, however, ìTimes, they are aíchanginí.î

Within the past several months the committee has made significant strides in developing and implementing plans and processes for addressing issues related to minority populations. A series of quite meaningful focus groups has begun t shed much needed light on the frustrations of minority populations within this system. Some committee members have been surprised to discover the sense of intimidation experienced by some of our staff and the accompanying fear of reprisal and/or retaliation. There is now being discussed within the committee the concept of an Ombudsman for our staff, to include the role such a person might serve within our Health Science Center. ìTimes, they are indeed aíchanginí!!î

This brief discussion began with the statement that it is the opinion of only one person. And clearly each of us ought be able to publicly state our opinion. Hopefully, the Committee on the Advancement of Women and Minorities will continue to provide a vehicle for presentation of diverse perspectives that are inherent within our diverse population of staff, students and faculty.

Leonard E. Lawrence, M.D.
Associate Dean for Student Affairs
Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Family and Community Medicine

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Last Updated Wednesday August 11, 2010