Cultivating a Community of Empathy and Inclusion

Published on 17 October 2022

As University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy  encourages its students to pursue extraordinary, the University is committed to providing an enriching  and diverse environment where students can grow, learn and expand their horizons within a welcoming community inside and outside of the classroom. 

With diversity and inclusion at the heart of the University’s core values, faculty and staff work to foster social awareness and cultural sensitivity and embrace diverse perspectives to create a nurturing environment where today's students can grow into empathetic and compassionate health care leaders. 

At the center of the University's work to build a welcoming environment on campus is the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). This spring, the office welcomed new leadership with Harlan B. Hodge, MSW, CDM, assuming duties as its director. 

With a 20-year background in DEI and leadership development, which includes four years serving as senior manager of DEI at BJC HealthCare, Hodge is responsible for leading campuswide diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and collaborating with the UHSP community to foster a positive campus environment.

"As director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, my initial goal is to engage our campus community in adopting an overall philosophy to create a sense of belonging campuswide," Hodge said. "This philosophy is focused on three key principles we can all embrace. First, we want all members of our community to know that if they're here, they belong. Second, we want the campus community to be committed to doing no intentional harm, and third, we want all members of our community to do our best to heal harm when it’s done." 

To further feelings of connectedness on campus, Hodge says the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion also will be focused on exploring the topics of empathy and vulnerability. 

"Through my work in health care, I learned that an empathetic provider is far more effective than one who is not," Hodge said. "The on-ramp to empathy is vulnerability and being able to open up and say 'this is me.' I'm hoping my office can give our community more opportunities to share their stories, help us practice being vulnerable in a safe space and teach us all how to honor each other’s vulnerability and leverage that for  building empathy." 

On the academic side, Hodge is committed to continuing to create pipeline programs designed to provide diverse students with opportunities to come to UHSP and get the education they need to become future health care providers. 

"I think one of our university’s greatest opportunities is to help address the current lack of diversity in health care by developing talent from this region, for this region," Hodge explained. "Right here in St. Louis, we have so many students who are gifted in math and science, and we have the chance to get them invested in our community as health care providers. They will know more about our patients, our region and the region’s health and well-being than anyone, and this education can begin at UHSP." 

As the University works to impact health care at a local level, it also is focused on helping students improve the health of populations at home and across the globe through its new College of Global Population Health. 

Led by Founding Dean David Steeb, Pharm.D., MPH, the College of Global Population Health was created to provide students with global education experiences designed to help develop and train a contemporary workforce and a new generation of health leaders who can make a transformational difference in health outcomes for the future. 

The college serves as the primary home for the University’s global and population health-related academic and research programs, while also helping to grow University engagement with the St. Louis community to promote health equity and positively impact health outcomes. 

"It’s important to recognize that we are the first College of Global Population Health in the U.S.," Steeb said. "Public health is serving everybody across multiple areas, and with population health, we’re trying to add an additional focus on social determinates of health, and we’re working with health care delivery organizations to truly move the needle and advance health equity." 

Outside of the College of Global Population Health, Amy Reese, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology, is working to educate undergraduate students on the importance of diversity and inclusion in science education. 

In her microbiology class, students are collecting soil samples and identifying bacteria within them that could be used as sources for the creation of antibiotics — while also gaining knowledge on larger scientific questions regarding antibiotics.

"I'm nudging students to think about the social justice issues surrounding the work they're doing," Reese said. "We’re discussing the history of the soil they collected and diving into discussions about antibiotic resistance, the populations that are experiencing it and why." 

Students in Reese's Science, Ethics and Society junior-level elective course take an even deeper dive into cultural issues, learning about topics such as scientific racism, health disparities, the portrayal of science and scientists in popular media and the ethical issues surrounding scientific research.

"My teaching efforts are rooted in my belief that students become more effective scientists and health care practitioners when they are pushed to move beyond learning basic scientific principles and examine the complex ways in which science and scientists interact with the larger world."

Within St. Louis College of Pharmacy, students are benefiting from training in social awareness and cultural sensitivity within the professional curriculum. Through the training, students examine topics related to identity, bias, health care disparities and systemic racism. 

"As a campus, we have a responsibility to embrace all of our students and the wonderful things they bring to the table and to help them flourish," Reese explained. "Our path to diversity and inclusion is an ongoing journey, and I look forward to continuing this journey  to becoming more inclusive in my teaching  and more welcoming in my classroom."

This story was first published in the fall 2022 issue of Script Magazine. To view past issues of Script, visit the Script Magazine archive. 

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