Skyller Walkes, PHD
Assistant Dean of Diversity & Inclusion
Assistant Professor of Instruction
The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy
Diversity, equity, and inclusion statements, or what I’ve intentionally reformed as diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) statements, are quickly becoming an expected part of most professional candidate applications. This is an advancement toward a more wholistic evaluation of what diverse candidates can bring to an organizational or institutional space. At least, that’s how it is intended. However, we know that intent and impact are two different things. Though becoming a far more routine part of the application process for professional candidates and even graduate students, it still remains somewhat enigmatic for many involved in the process.
One of the first things to achieve is an understanding of each of the terms and how they are distinctive. Though often used in chorus, they are not synonymous. It’s important to reflect on how they complement one another and can effectively work in concert to advance a more culturally responsive and culturally safe environment for everyone, but especially for those who experience or have been historically marginalized/disenfranchised. Moreover, we cannot assume staff, faculty, and students have a shared lexicon or philosophy around DEAI. Yet, we must also recognize that many of our learners can often outpace our preparedness as facilitators to discuss or engage in these themes, making it even more critical to maintain a proactive approach to effectively implementing them in our interpersonal engagement, curricula, and pedagogical methods. Therefore, we should aim to be not only culturally proficient but an exemplar of diverse and inclusive practices.
In that, we must also develop a more inclusive definition of diversity that broadens the race and gender identity focus to an intersectional framework that can include but is not limited to culture and diverse abilities- including neurodiversity, life experiences, gender expression, class/ socioeconomic status, learning styles, sexual orientation, languages, and value systems. Again, when writing a DEAI statement, what one chooses to disclose as specific to themselves is a personal choice, but that’s not the central point of what the statement purports. A DEAI statement should outline one’s substantive contributions and commitment to each of these areas in a way that demonstrates the following: an awareness and understanding of systemic inequities that impact access, opportunity, and upward mobility for historically underserved, underrepresented, and economically disadvantaged communities/populations; a clear demonstration of accomplishments, credentials, and or a performance history that highlights a commitment to eliminating said barriers while also exploring the creation of opportunities when possible- in practice or research; plans or efforts to continue this commitment through tangible contributions that could be demonstrated through future research, activities, or service to communities or organizations that seek to advance these goals. When using a wholistic model, each of these themes are evaluated as a continuum, rather than an end goal. Ideally, a DEAI statement can and should address a candidate’s experiences- lived, scholarly, and or in practice.
In academe, the aforementioned three areas can be further explicated more pointedly in the following ways: educational philosophy, teaching and mentoring, research, service and outreach, collaborative efforts, and leadership. For healthcare professionals, these areas can be explained in ways that highlight how practitioners are: actively broadening their understanding of the way social identities and histories intersect to impact systemic access and social determinants of health for their patients and broader communities; how they create more intentionally inclusive communication and engagement with their patients and colleagues; elucidate the concrete ways they are transforming their environments to be more inclusive and culturally safe for patients, colleagues, and community members. These goals for both groups are not mutually exclusive and can be pursued across roles.
In closing, DEAI statements cannot be viewed as a means to an end or a box to be ticked for superficial accountability measures. Rather, these statements should serve as a bridge between theory and practice. For that to happen, individuals must regularly self-interrogate to assess themselves- both their progress and opportunities for further growth. Additionally, organizations have a responsibility to also evaluate how they are attending to the needs of their communities and their provisions for growth toward the DEAI culture they espouse. In short, the DEAI statement is only a preliminary declaration of the work that must also come.
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