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Taking action to address institutional racism

A message from President Jacobs on our steps forward
Aerial OHSU Marquam Hill

This message was shared with the OHSU community Friday, June 5.

To the OHSU Community,

On Saturday, I shared with you my view that addressing the structural racism responsible for the unjustified killing of Black men and women demands the attention of us all. In this piece, I wrote about the importance of holding ourselves accountable and the need to take action. Now is that time.

I have read many comments and I have received great feedback and suggestions about the urgent need to address these issues internally at OHSU so our institution appropriately reflects our ideals. We must hold the mirror up to ourselves and get our house in order so that we can best educate, inform and lead others on behalf of those we serve. This is one of our most important duties and responsibilities.

It is glaringly evident that we have work to do to in this regard. While our members have been mourning the senseless loss of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, OHSU has also been completing an investigation and action plan regarding an incident involving noose imagery within our OHSU community – the third incident of its kind in the last three years.  

On April 10, during an online workgroup, a team member posted an image of two nooses in the chat room. On April 22, an OHSU employee reported the posting of the image to the OHSU Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Department. OHSU AAEO immediately investigated and, after interviewing all parties involved, took strong disciplinary action with the responsible employee on May 5. 

Let me be clear: OHSU will not tolerate racist actions, imagery or speech. After addressing this issue, we took time to devise an action plan that will allow us to make even more meaningful changes going forward. On Wednesday, we shared that plan with the employee who reported the incident. I now want to now share our commitment with you. 

To put an end to this specific behavior, OHSU is:

  • Revising the OHSU Code of Conduct to make displaying hateful imagery an explicit violation, subject to discipline up to and including termination.
  • Enlisting an outside consultant to assist in reviewing OHSU policies and practices to ensure equal application of conduct violations and to ensure they meet our institutional values. Although we are heavily curtailing our use of consultants due to our budget constraints, there are times when outside help is warranted. This is one of them.

Having to address another noose incident in our own work community amid the tragic killing of Mr. Floyd is incredibly disturbing. It is appalling that one of the most deplorable and feared symbols in American history was posted in a workgroup discussion. I unequivocally condemn any representation of a noose or other hateful symbols on our campus, and I appreciate the swift action our AAEO investigative team took to address this issue. 

At the same time, the death of Mr. Floyd again reminds us that the steps laid out above are far from sufficient to bring the changes needed at OHSU and to allow us to continue to serve as leaders for our communities, our state and even our nation. What we have tried in the past, doing the same things over and over again, has not been sufficient. 

OHSU must do better, and we will.

To begin to address structural racism inherent to OHSU, with an eye toward making change happen, we are committed to:

  • Developing a training and mentoring program for our employees of color to support upward mobility and career development, focusing in particular on the lowest wage earners among us, following a recommendation made by our Black Employee Resource Group.
  • Actively requesting input from our Employee Resource Groups and students in reforming our policies to focus our efforts on the changes most needed. 
  • Reviewing our practices of using the services of incarcerated individuals.
  • Reviewing the policies, procedures and training of our public safety officers.
  • Creating additional opportunities to connect, such as listening sessions and town halls, to hear your ideas to further address racism at OHSU and create lasting change. 

We recognize that this is merely a start. We will support OHSU’s communities of color and our tribes to help them heal and be heard. We will develop a systematic process to identify additional policies and practices in need of change. We will measure that change and we will hold ourselves accountable. Please know this is not a complete list of actions; it is the beginning of a change that will require a deep commitment for us all to work together to transform our organization to be actively anti-racist. We must also ask ourselves what we must do as individuals to achieve the change that we want as community members.

While we embark on this work, many of you have asked for resources to immediately begin discussions and work in your teams and departments. I commend you for this. Here is a list of resources.

Please join me in OHSU’s commitment to dismantling racism at OHSU, in the health care industry, and our country. I need your help.

Stay safe,

Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, OHSU President



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