It has been a difficult year for the Los Angeles community and the nation as a whole as gun violence continues to disproportionately affect the African American community. To help the community heal and bring about change, the dean’s office at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA is hosting a series of open dialogue forums.
“The forums provide faculty, staff and students with a safe place to discuss issues of national and local importance, including violence, equality, equity, race, gender and all forms of social justice,” says Kelsey Martin, MD, PhD, dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “We leave it up to the attendees to choose what they want to talk about.”
About 50 people attended the first two forums held in July and September. The topic was “Moving Beyond Despair or Words to Solidarity and Action.” The third forum took place in November and will continue every other month throughout the academic year.
“Over the course of this year, we began to realize how many of us at the medical school were feeling deeply affected by the many tragic events happening nationwide, particularly in the African American community,” says Clarence Braddock III, MD, vice dean of education. “We started the forums to proactively encourage dialogue and address how we might go about healing as a community. One of the key issues is how do we turn this despair into action?”
The forums have no set agenda or speakers. No one person leads the discussion. Instead, attendees sit in a circular formation and take turns speaking by passing a “talking stick.” “Our goal is to create an inclusive environment where we celebrate differences and value opinions,” says Lynn Gordon, MD, PhD, senior associate dean of diversity affairs. “The focus is on having civil discourse that allows us to listen, learn and grow.”
These free-flowing, open-style forums complement other diversity affairs programs that are more formally structured with speakers, lectures and question-and-answer sessions. “There are multiple ways to increase awareness and promote inclusion and respect,” says Dr. Gordon. “These open dialogue forums are just one piece of the puzzle. They offer an opportunity to discuss and counteract some of the rhetoric we’re exposed to on a daily basis by the news and social media.”
Dr. Martin notes that other medical schools around the country are trying something similar. “It’s easy to become insulated in our own groups,” says Dr. Martin. “We hope the forums enable everyone — faculty, staff, medical students, residents, nursing students, graduate students, dental students, trainees — to share in each other’s experiences and increase awareness, respect and tolerance.”
For information about upcoming forums or to read summaries of past forums, visit medschool.ucla.edu/diversityaffairs.