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A Call for Continuing to Call Out Racism

March 31, 2021
Profile photo of Lori Patton Davis - she has a big smile and a bright blue v-neck top

The importance of graduate students playing a positive role towards improving the racial atmosphere of their school cannot be overstated, said Dr. Lori Patton Davis. But it’s more important for them to keep their eyes on the academic ultimate prize. 

“I love the passion of students who work towards making change, but the big difference is for you to graduate so you can go out and continue that effort where you work,” said Patton Davis during her talk, “Masks, Mattering, Magic and Movements: Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities to Support Minoritized Students in Higher Education,” at the MGH Institute’s E. Lorraine Baugh Visiting Faculty Lecture Series on March 26. “Getting your degree is resistance.” 

Patton Davis, chair of the Department of Education Studies at The Ohio State University, was the keynote speaker at the MGH Institute’s inaugural Social Justice Research Conference. Sponsored by the Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the conference also featured more than two dozen faculty and students who afterward presented their research to engage in critical conversations about the school’s collective commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion research. (See program for more information and complete list of presentations.

Patton Davis is best known for her important cross-cutting scholarship on African Americans in higher education, critical race theory, campus diversity initiatives, girls and women of color in educational and social contexts, and college student development and graduate preparation.  
She spoke of her own struggles, noting that she never was given the chance to participate in a major grant as a graduate student, and that she received scant support early in her teaching career from colleagues and university administrators as she pursued researching issues related to students of color—barriers she eventually overcame. “It’s not unique to scholars of color, these racial injustices and inequities,” she said. 

Addressing an audience comprised mostly of health care students and professionals, she spoke of the importance of recognizing the individuality of patients. “It’s not good enough for health care workers to treat every patient the same, as it doesn’t take into account the myriad experiences Black, Indigenous, and people of color have had,” she said. 

A theme she returned to several times was equity mindedness, comprised of four elements that are needed to create an improved racial climate: calling attention to patterns of inequality and subsequent outcomes; taking personal responsibility for disrupting those patterns and outcomes; assessing one’s own practices; and being conscious and aware of social and historical practices. On a college campus, she said, that included such things as listening to students and believing them, hiring more diverse faculty and staff, and incorporating culturally relevant pedagogy in the curriculum—all things the IHP has worked on improving in recent years.  

“Many people in higher ed think that things will magically occur and get better,” Patton Davis said, “but often it’s people of color who are doing all the work and not getting credit for it. Everyone has to do their share and not just the chief diversity officer.” 

“You can’t do much if you don’t know what racism is, not just overt things but things like microaggressions,” she added later. “There’s nothing fun about challenging racism. It has to be hard work to do this because anything less means things can’t change.” 

The lecture series honors E. Lorraine Baugh, a long-serving trustee and first chair of the Institute’s Board of Trustees who is now an Honorary Trustee. Established in 2012, the visiting faculty speaker series has an emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the health professions. This program is made possible by the support of MGH Institute Honorary Trustee Carol M. Taylor and her husband, John H. Deknatel. The couple established the fund because, as Taylor said, “modeling success and helping set goals with regard to diversity is important for students, and a faculty role model can be quite powerful.”