Nursing and Instructional BuildingThe conversation lasted more than an hour. When it became apparent that UNC Greensboro School of Nursing faculty and staff members had a lot more that needed to be said, a second Zoom call was scheduled for immediately afterward.

Two days later, the School of Nursing again connected virtually and continued a difficult conversation about systemic racism. At times, it got emotional.

As protests continued throughout the United States, the School of Nursing held a pair of open forums last week to start a dialogue about racism following the recent killing of several unarmed African Americans by police officers. Another meeting with the nursing faculty and staff was held Tuesday morning.

“Social injustice and race-related issues in America are not a new topic,” said Dr. Victoria Hammett, the experiential learning specialist for the School of Nursing. “It has just become a center of discussion with the recent events involving Blacks being killed at the hands of police officers and the advances of modern technology making these horrific scenes available to be watched by millions around the world.

Victoria Hammett“Hopefully, institutions as well as individuals will take a look at themselves and see how they perpetuate racial divisiveness because when you know better you do better.”

More than 50 administrators, faculty, and staff members from the School of Nursing participated in a forum on June 16. Many of them remained on Zoom afterward to keep discussing racial disparities and police brutality – two topics that have been in the news more lately in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Another 40 faculty and staff members took part in a second forum on June 18, and an additional 40 kept the conversation going Tuesday morning.

People shared stories during the forums about being raised in the South and raising their own children at such an uncertain time. Others talked about getting stopped by the police. And everyone listened in silence as faculty and staff members spoke about their upbringings, their biases, and the challenges that come with being Black in America.

Dean Robin Remsburg“These open listening forums are the first step for our school as we commit to examining racism and eliminating it. It’s hard work and it’s painful, but it is the right thing to do,” said Dr. Robin Remsburg, dean of the School of Nursing. “We can no longer stand by and watch the continuing senseless, inhuman, violent treatment of our Black community.”

Tracy Holloman, a consultant with Insigniam – an international management consulting firm – moderated the forums on racism for the School of Nursing. She challenged participants to examine their own pasts and discuss different forms of racism in the workplace.

She also stressed that everyone plays a role in issues involving diversity and inclusion, whether people realize it or not.

“The topic can be very painful, Black or white. There is a sense of loss, anger, hurt, pain, and fear among Black people. And with every act of violence or racist act, there is a continued grief that is experienced,” Holloman said. “It takes approximately three months for Black people to get past a racist experience, and if another incident occurs, we are retraumatized. This has a profound effect on our psyche, so it becomes a vicious cycle of loss and grief with no resolution for what is occurring.”

Holloman ended the second forum last week by giving nursing faculty and staff members a homework assignment. She asked them to think about what would be needed to have a truly inclusive work environment and what would such a place look like.

“What I hope comes out of the conversations is that people feel heard and that it becomes the catalyst for true transformation,” Holloman said. “I hope that an infrastructure for diversity and inclusion around race is developed and that it becomes engrained in and lived in the UNCG School of Nursing culture.”

Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing