University of Virginia School of Nursing
BSN grad Nicole Jefferson and Kools pose as part of the School's annual HoosInclusive photo campaign in 2018, for which participants declared how they'd build an inclusive and equitable community.

The efforts of three members of the University of Virginia community – a student, a faculty member and an administrator – have gone a long way in changing the culture to reflect diversity, offer equity and promote inclusion in sustainable ways.

Darius Carter, a Ph.D. candidate in UVA Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Susan Kools, associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the School of Nursing; and Tabitha Smith, the Title IX coordinator who also became director of compliance and inclusion at UVA-Wise, were recently selected to receive John T. Casteen III Diversity-Equity-Inclusion Leadership Awards.

These recipients are role models who take ideas and conversations and turn them into action, their nominators wrote. Their efforts to create and enhance a sense of community that promotes and supports diversity, equity and inclusion have led to the formation of new groups and programs in their respective schools to make lasting change – from the Grounds to Southwest Virginia.

The award recipients also acknowledged, as Kools put it, “so many colleagues and students [who] have been deeply engaged in the work to dismantle racism and its devastating impact on health, well-being, education and even life itself.”

The University’s Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion established the Casteen Award in 2010 – with President Emeritus Casteen being the first recipient – to recognize people making a significant impact on transforming the climate on Grounds.

Last year was the first time three people were awarded, and this year, the selection of a UVA-Wise employee is a first.

With her track record of 25 years of sustained diversity, equity and inclusion leadership, at the University of California San Francisco before UVA, Kools’ efforts as associate dean for diversity and inclusion at the UVA School of Nursing have had a significant impact on the school, the University and the broader community, wrote nominator Pamela Cipriano, dean of the Nursing School.

After she arrived in 2014, Kools instituted the school’s Inclusion, Diversity and Excellence Achievement initiative, known as IDEA, which “continues to provide both a philosophy and a structure for not only making significant and sustainable gains in the School of Nursing, but also offering a model of change across UVA,” Cipriano wrote.

Through the initiative, Kools has led change in faculty and student recruitment; faculty development around implicit bias and classroom dynamics; through student training sessions, including during orientation; by cultivating diverse teams, from her office’s staff to a faculty and staff volunteer ally group; and in many other efforts to dismantle racism in nursing and on Grounds.

She and her team have assisted students as they developed affinity support groups, such as Diversity in Nursing for a Better Community, qRN (an LGBTQ+ organization for nursing students), UVA Nursing International Student Network, Graduate Students of Color and Advocates for Medical Equality.

Victoria “Tori” Tucker, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from UVA in 2012, said when she returned to the Nursing School for graduate school in 2015, “It was striking to see the intentional evolution of syllabus content, community programming and increased levels of faculty and staff engagement” in the areas of diversity and inclusion.

Tucker, a Ph.D. student who said she considers Kools an important mentor, worked with her and Barbra Mann Wall, former director of the Eleanor Crowder Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, with support from the School of Nursing Alumni Association, in the mission to uncover and visibly tell a more inclusive history of nursing. For example, with the support of a Jefferson Grant, they developed the Hidden Nurses project to bring to light the experiences of African American licensed practical nurses who were trained in a collaboration between UVA Hospital and Jackson P. Burley High School, but were not allowed to attend the UVA School of Nursing during segregation. Kools, with Wall, Tucker and former dean Dorrie Fontaine, offered a formal apology to LPN graduates and moved to ensure they became full members of the Nursing School and University alumni communities.

Across Grounds, Kools serves on the UVA Diversity Council, the LGBTQ Committee and the Diversity Consortium in the School of Medicine, and is one of the faculty directors of the UVA Equity Center.

She has been an invaluable member of the Equity Center’s faculty leadership team, said Nancy L. Deutsch, professor in the School of Education and Human Development, who also serves on the group.

“Her heartfelt commitment to making UVA a more diverse, more equitable, and more inclusive community is lived in all of her work and relationships and comes across in both her big actions and her day-to-day activities and conversations,” Deutsch wrote. “One cannot have an interaction with Dr. Kools without experiencing that passion and walking away thinking in a deeper way about one’s own role and place in doing the work of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Kools credits her staff, students and colleagues. “So many have worked in the trenches without recognition, generously sharing their time, talent and wisdom to change structures, minds and behaviors,” she wrote in an email, “so that we can hope for a future where all in our University and surrounding communities can feel support, affirmation and can thrive.”

When a difficult situation arises, Kools responds and knows how to facilitate difficult dialogues, her supporters said. After the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rallies brought violence to the community, she organized a program with Shaun Harper from the University of Southern California’s Center for Race and Equity, and has since organized more than three-dozen nursing faculty and staff members’ participation in annual training cohorts. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and other Black deaths at the hands of police, Kools compiled an antiracist resource guide for faculty and staff and partnered with Theresa Carroll, senior assistant dean for academic and student services, to mobilize an antiracism working group comprised of students, faculty and staff.

“Her efforts and their effects throughout the school, University and community cannot be measured in hours or dollars, but rather, by the creation of brave spaces in which we collectively acknowledge injustices, recognize privilege, remedy harms inflicted, and live up to our commitments to inclusive excellence in all that we do,” Cipriano wrote.