Gittens Delivers Fifth Annual State of Diversity Address

By Chris Carmody

The address, which kicked off Diversity and Inclusion Month at UAMS, was followed by the annual presentation of the Dr. Edith Irby Jones Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards and the UAMS Serves awards. 

Gittens, vice chancellor of the Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DDEI), said the employees and students at UAMS represent a wide variety of cultures, beliefs, lifestyles, abilities and perspectives.  

“While we may be different, we share a common mission: to improve the health, health care and well-being of Arkansans and others in the region, nation and world,” he said. 

But Gittens also noted the difficult climate for diversity, equity and inclusion programs across the country, particularly those in higher-education institutions. The 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to a national outcry and a concerted effort by businesses and other organizations to bolster their diversity efforts, he said. Three years later, those programs are increasingly facing scrutiny and opposition from critics.  

“I could spend the remainder of my time with you today responding to the question of ‘Why?’” he said. “But I’d rather spend my time responding to the question of ‘What now?’” 

The answer, Gittens said, “is to continue to do great work to ensure that all Arkansans, regardless of their expression of diversity, have access to educational opportunities, health care and employment in health professions.” 

DDEI strives to foster an environment that is inclusive for all employees, students and patients, with the goal of ensuring the delivery of high quality, equitable care. The division’s outreach programs support students from underrepresented backgrounds throughout the state, including those from rural or economically disadvantaged communities. 

These endeavors have paid dividends, Gittens said. In the past four years, DDEI has secured almost $10 million in grants and contracts to expand its outreach efforts. The latest award — a five-year, $3.25 million federal grant — will help DDEI and UAMS Regional Campuses launch a program to recruit and support students from underserved areas in the Arkansas Delta. 

Gittens also highlighted the work of Pathways Academy, an educational and community engagement program for K-12 students, and Health Career University, an initiative that helps high school, undergraduate and postgraduate students gain exposure to health careers. Both programs expanded this summer, serving hundreds of students across the state.  

UAMS has continued to draw national acclaim for its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, Gittens said. The university was ranked for a third consecutive year in Forbes’ list of Best Employers for Diversity. It also received recognition as a Diversity Champion from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the nation’s oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education. 

Gittens thanked the hundreds of UAMS employees and volunteers who lend their time and support to DDEI programs, and he encouraged them to “continue to do the work both individually and collectively.” 

“Stay focused on the change you’re making in the lives of the next generation of health care professionals,” he said.  

Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, chancellor of UAMS and CEO of UAMS Health, said the institution’s commitment remains strong.

Recipients of the Dr. Edith Irby Jones Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards and the UAMS Serves awards gather onstage after the State of Diversity address.

Recipients of the Dr. Edith Irby Jones Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards and the UAMS Serves awards gather onstage after the State of Diversity address.Image by Evan Lewis

“I’m proud of our efforts to serve all of the people of our state equally, regardless of who they are or where they live,” he said. “It’s an example of how we should always treat each other — compassionately, fairly and equitably.”

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

  • Student — Kennede McLeroy-Charles, College of Pharmacy 
  • Staff — Cilia Zayas, MHA, MSF, College of Medicine, Biomedical Informatics Research 
  • Early Career Faculty — Rajinder “Sonia” Singh, Ph.D., Psychiatric Research Institute 
  • Mid/Senior Career Faculty — Diane Jarrett, Ed.D., MA, College of Medicine, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine 
  • Lifetime Achievement — Rosalyn Perkins, MNSc, APRN, Institute for Digital Health & Innovation

The UAMS Serves campaign encourages volunteerism and connects employees and students with opportunities at UAMS and in the community. Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., UAMS provost and chief strategy officer, expressed appreciation for all the members of Team UAMS who have spent time volunteering in the past year.  

“Service to others is the connective thread that runs through patient care, academic and research missions as our institution seeks to improve health and health care in Arkansas,” she said. “A spirit of service strengthens communities, helps address unmet needs and promotes growth and personal fulfillment.” 

Winners of the UAMS Serves awards were: 

  • Gwendolyn Bradford, Stocked & Reddie Food Pantry 
  • Jason Lewis, UAMS Volunteer Services Auxiliary  
  • Ahad Nadeem, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit  
  • UAMS Care Management STRONG Committee 
  • UAMS House of Delegates 

The State of Diversity address was the first of four events planned by DDEI to mark Diversity and Inclusion Month. The other scheduled events are: 

  • Sept. 21 — “The Intersectionality of Diversity: Beyond Race and Gender,” panel discussion, noon-1 p.m. Room 8240 of Rahn Building, also available online 
  • Sept. 27 — “A Virtual Conversation with Brian Gittens, Ed.D., MPA, ” noon-1 p.m.  
  • Sept. 29 — UAMS 2023 International Fest, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., ground-floor concourse of Education II Building

A flyer with more information about this month’s events, including how to access the virtual discussions, can be found here.