In 1850, Harvard Medical School admitted three black students, Isaac Snowden, Daniel Laing, Jr., and Martin Delany, along with one white woman, Harriot Hunt. Immediately after, a majority of enrolled students signed a petition demanding the admissions of these four students be rescinded. In response to the petition, Dean Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. informed the students they would need to leave HMS following the resolution of that semester's classes, writing that “the intermixing of the white and black races is… injurious to the interests of the school” (1).
165 years later, we, the students of the Harvard Medical School, write to you with a different petition - one that seeks to redress present inequities in our institution through the selection of our next Dean of the Faculty of Medicine.
As a historian of the Civil War and American South, you can appreciate how the legacy of our institution has shaped its present condition (2). Of the 9,453 full-time faculty at HMS, only 558 (5.9%) are “underrepresented in medicine” - and of full professors, only 17% are women (3,4). None of the 15 Advisory Deans of HMS societies are underrepresented in medicine. While the student body has become more diverse, as 21.7% of HMS students are underrepresented in medicine, there are still gaps: in the current first year class of 165 students, only two women identify as black (4,5,6). These numbers are not reflective of a nation in which African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians comprise 32% of the population (7).
The stated mission of Harvard Medical School is to "create and nurture a diverse community of the best people committed to leadership in alleviating human suffering caused by disease.” In America, racial, gender, and socioeconomic barriers have perpetuated suffering by denying millions access to healthcare and the right to lead healthy lives. At Harvard, the lack of diversity amongst faculty, leadership, and students reflects rather than repudiates these barriers. To truly dismantle systemic inequalities across our nation and world, we must also dismantle them at home. We need a leader committed to social justice both inside and outside our community.
We must build on the progress of our recent past. We must relentlessly support underrepresented individuals at all levels of our institution. We must demonstrate moral courage at every turn. And, above all, we must establish a vision, clarify our stated goals, and hold ourselves accountable to those aims.
As members of the Harvard Medical School community, we urge you, President Faust, and the Advisory Council to:
1) Select a Dean who will fight for measurable increases in diversity among administration, faculty, and students
2) Select a Dean who has demonstrated a commitment to social justice, as exemplified through actions and/or scholarship furthering health equity
3) Ensure that at least 25% of interviewed candidates for the Dean position come from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine.
We thank you for your consideration,
1. Sollors, W., Titcomb, C., and Underwood, T. Blacks at Harvard: A documentary history of African-American experience at Harvard and Radcliffe. NYU Press, 1993.2. Faust, D. John Hope Franklin: Race and the Meaning of America. The New York Review of Books, 2015. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/12/17/john-hope-franklin-race-meaning-america/3. Based on data retrieved from HMS Office of Faculty Affairs. 4. The American Association of Medical Colleges defines “underrepresented in medicine” as those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.5. Based on estimates from the HMS Office of the Registrar6. Bailey, M. Harvard Med Narrows Faculty Gender Gap, But Slowly. STAT News, 2016. Available online at http://www.statnews.com/2016/01/12/harvard-medical-school-women/7. U.S. Census Bureau: State and County Quickfacts. 2015. Available online at http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html