Gittens Reflects on Progress in Annual State of Diversity Address

By Chris Carmody

“If I had to use just one word to describe the state of our diversity, I would use the word ‘thriving,’” said Gittens, vice chancellor of the Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DDEI).

He compared DDEI’s mission to a garden, noting that it’s rooted in the vision and support of UAMS’ leaders, that it’s nourished by the efforts of dozens of volunteers, that it blossoms through various initiatives, and that it’s tended by a committed staff.

The address, part of the division’s Diversity and Inclusion Month, was followed by the presentation of the Dr. Edith Irby Jones Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards and the UAMS Serves awards.

Gittens noted the recognition UAMS has received for its diversity efforts, including being named one of Forbes’ Best Employers for Diversity for the second consecutive year. UAMS was the only Arkansas company to make the Top 100. The university also was named a Top Performer by the Human Rights Council for its policies regarding the equal treatment of LGBTQ employees, patients and visitors.

Brian Gittens, vice chancellor of the Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, gives his annual State of Diversity address.

Brian Gittens, vice chancellor of the Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, gives his annual State of Diversity address.Image by Bryan Clifton

“But while receiving national recognition for the work we do is important, it is especially gratifying to see the difference our work continues to make in the lives of our students, staff and faculty,” he said.

UAMS is a microcosm of the nation, and it is not immune from the trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, mass shootings and an increase in division and incivility, Gittens said. “Against this backdrop, our work of fostering an inclusive, equitable campus where everyone feels a sense of belonging and the freedom to bring their whole selves into their work and learning space is crucial,” he said.

Gittens praised the efforts of DDEI subcommittees that plan campuswide events, publish hiring guides on recruiting a diverse workforce and host webinars to address the needs of veterans. He also highlighted the division’s external partnerships, including a collaboration with the National Healthy Start Association and the Little Rock chapter of The Links to foster discussion about Black maternal mortality.

In the past year, DDEI has made significant progress in its goal of establishing a statewide footprint for its outreach programs, he said. Pathways Academy, a statewide initiative that provides year-round programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, celebrated a successful launch with a summer enrollment of more than 500 students. DDEI also rebranded and expanded its summer outreach efforts for undergraduate students, putting them under the umbrella of a new program called Health Career U.

Gittens concluded by noting the diversity of the UAMS workforce not only in race or ethnicity but also in personalities and perspectives. “We have a choice — we can choose to ignore reality and wish everyone was just like us, or we can choose to embrace our differences, take the time to listen and learn about each other, and respect and value each other,” he said. “Although we may be different, we have chosen to unite in the pursuit of our mission to improve the health, health care and well-being of Arkansans and of others in the region, nation and world.”

Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, said UAMS employees hail from 90 different countries and represent all races, religions and backgrounds. “Our diversity allows us to be better at all aspects of our core missions — education, research and patient care,” he said.

The Edith Irby Jones awards honor students and employees who demonstrate commitment and leadership in fostering diversity and inclusion. Nominations were scored by judges from DDEI’s student, staff and faculty subcommittee. The winners were:

  • Student — Steffen Lewis, BSN, RN
  • Trainee — Debasmita Saha, Ph.D.
  • Staff — Kimberlyn Blann, M.Ed.
  • Early Career Faculty — Shaneika Chambers, MHA
  • Mid/Senior Career Faculty — Antiño Allen, Ph.D.
  • Leadership — Pebbles Fagan, Ph.D., MPH
  • Lifetime Achievement — Ronda Henry-Tillman, M.D.

DDEI also recognized outstanding student and employee volunteers through the UAMS Serves awards. Those winners were:

  • Sherry Cunningham and Teresa Hourston, Ronald McDonald Family Room
  • Sandy Henry and Kristen Hooper, Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute
  • Nghi Tran, All Hands On Deck program