For the third time since 2018, UVA School of Nursing earned the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, an acknowledgement of the continued strength, focus, and progress of its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
The HEED Award remains the only national honor to recognize diversity and inclusion efforts among American colleges and universities with health professions majors.
In particular, the latest HEED Award celebrated three specific diversity “points of light” from across the 2021-22 academic year: the unveiling of a new nursing student pledge that deepened nursing students’ explicit commitment to equity, respect, and diversity; theSchool’s citation as an exemplar for its public response to George Floyd’s murder to students, faculty, staff, and its broader community of constituents; and the arrival of a new cohort of exceptionally diverse Accelerated BSN students, a new transfer pathway established as an avenue for students with diverse educational needs who are critical to the development of a more diverse healthcare workforce, a key national initiative.
“This recognition sets us apart,” said Melissa Gomes, associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the School, “and demonstrates what it is like to work, learn, and live in an environment that holds inclusivity, humility, and equity as core principles. While we are proud of our impact, we also know that there is so much more to do. This recognition pushes us to keep going because anti-racism and inclusivity is hard, important, and will never end.”
[VIDEO] Becoming An Anti-Racist School
The HEED Award celebrated nursing students’ overhaul of the “Next Generation Nurse” pledge, which is read each year at the annual White Coat, pinning, and awards ceremony. Reimagined by Milania Harris and Zahra Alisa (BSN ’22), founders of the UVA student group Advocates for Medical Equality, the new pledge includes statements that reflect determined commitment to equity for specifically marginalized groups, including patients of color, transgender patients, and patients living with disabilities. Developed in the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the new pledge’s revision strives to make real nursing students’ commitment to equity and to create conversations about privilege, justice, class, social determinants of health, and healthcare access as well. That it is read publicly, and before family, friends, faculty, peers, and loved ones, gives the pledge additional heft and meaning.
“I will not tolerate racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or discrimination of any kind,” it reads in part, and “I will continue to work hard to build an environment of true inclusivity and cultural humility.”
“Inclusivity is the foundation upon which everything—our teaching, research, mentoring, outreach, and planning for the future—is built. We’re thrilled to be recognized for this work, but acknowledge, too, that our journey of becoming an anti-racist school will never be over.”Marianne Baernholdt, dean and Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor of Nursing
In addition to the revised pledge, the HEED Award also noted the School’s robust public response to Floyd’s murder in May 2020 to its various constituent groups. Published in the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, the study’s authors looked for the presence of six key themes in communications distributed after several high-profile killings of Black Americans, noting UVA School of Nursing as one of just 10 schools in the U.S. that addressed all six themes in its full and robust response.
The article—"A review of nursing position statements on racism following the murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans”—pointed to two particular communications, including “A Message to our Beloved Students” and an essay in the School’s summer digital magazine titled, “Our Tipping Point” as exemplars. The digital magazine—distributed to 12,000 peer institution leaders, alumni, legislators, members of the media, faculty, staff, and students—also included a piece by assistant dean of students Theresa Carroll (“The Journey I’m On”), which was about students’ need to hear from their faculty and peers on hard topics, like police brutality, the murder of Black bodies, and hard facts about American and UVA history that continue to drive health inquity. These communications noted the School’s continued journey to be an anti-racist, and its determination to continue the dialogue and urge their students to do so, too.
Finally, the HEED Award noted the School’s actualization of a program developed for students with diverse educational needs who are key to diversifying the nursing workforce in Virginia, the Mid-Atlantic, and across the country. Begun in 2020, UVA’s new Accelerated BSN program was designed for students interested in transferring into the undergraduate nursing program on a fast track. The first cohort of 24 students were exceptionally diverse: 2/5 were from minority and underrepresented groups, and one-third were first-generation college attendees—a figure that hints at results driven by holistic admissions, advising, mentoring, and curricular changes put into place since IDEA’s founding in 2014.
“Inclusivity is the foundation upon which everything—our teaching, research, mentoring, outreach, and planning for the future—is built,” said Marianne Baernholdt, dean and Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor of Nursing. “We’re thrilled to be recognized for this work, but acknowledge, too, that our journey of becoming an anti-racist school will never be over.”
In previous years, the School was recognized with HEED Awards for its efforts to diversify its alumni ranks and physical spaces; its commitment to anti-racism training of its faculty through the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Institute; an exemplar video—"Becoming An Anti-Racist School”—permanently posted to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s web site; and the reimagining of its recruitment, admissions, advising, and curricular methodologies to ensure processes are based on principles of holism, equity, and inclusion.
Each year, INSIGHT Into Diversity receives nominations from colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada that seek to illustrate their commitment to broadening diversity through teaching, mentoring, hiring initiatives, student recruitment, retention and outreach. Editorial board members and a HEED Award advisory board review and evaluate all applications for the award, determining those institutions that earn the distinction.