Dear students, colleagues, and friends:
Today, Jan. 15, 2024, we honor the life and legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose ideas remain our compass in the work that we do.
Diversity and belonging are critical in every work and learning environment, but perhaps nowhere are they more important than in nursing. Disregarding the interaction between race and society will continue to impact academic, professional, and healthcare outcomes, causing efforts to achieve health equity to fall flat. It's why we must continue to commemorate the legacy of Dr. King and why it's vitally important that nurses look like, sound like, and be from the same places and backgrounds as their patients.
Equally important is that every nurse must be adept at caring for people across the spectrum of humanity with compassion, respect, and without judgement: across ability, race, religion, geography, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and more—precisely the kind of work that our School’s 2024 MLK Award winners do.
Jeanne Alhusen, a nurse scientist, NIH scholar, and nurse practitioner, has always been a nurse first. In her research with and advocacy for women with disabilities, she relies on the wisdom from an advisory board to guide her investigations, which have yielded some remarkable findings, including the fact that women with disabilities are 2 ½ times more likely to be exposed to violence during pregnancy and dramatically less likely to have access to the family planning resources they need. Jeanne’s research is her argument for change, and because of it, a new pathway to truly inclusive care is becoming visible. Her sensitivity, intellect, and advocacy are extraordinary, traits that Rev. King embodied as well.
Mesha Jones, well-known throughout UVA Health as immediate past president of its Nursing Professional Governance Organization, our School as a clinical instructor and student advocate, and the community at large, is similarly dedicated. Whether she’s showing up at a healthcare event with President Joe Biden, speaking at a Black faculty forum before students, as a guest lecturer in a nursing class, or standing at the podium at a Virginia Nurses Association, American Nurses Association, or National Black Nurses Association event, she inspires us all. Mesha is generous, authentic, and the very definition of a servant leader—qualities that Rev. King also personified.
Led by our fearless 4th years Morgan Allen and Donna Nkurunziza, the Black Student Nurses’ Alliance has, in less than two years, built a community for students of color at our School through belonging, advocacy, and togetherness. Volleyball, kickball, Black rom-com movie nights, bake sales, letter writing campaigns—these student organizers are a creative force of community builders. They’ve also made visible our collective commitment to diversity, community, belonging, and activism, all ideals Rev. King held dear.
We couldn’t be more proud to share an academic home with these extraordinary nurses and nurses-to-be. When you see Jeanne, Mesha, or any of the students in the Black Student Nurses Alliance, please congratulate them on their extraordinary work and this award. May we all continue to contemplate how Dr. King’s work can inform our own.
Dean and Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor of Nursing and UVA Health Dean of Professional Nursing
Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Director, Inclusion, Diversity, and Excellence Achievement initiative