Skip to content

Town halls on race relations lead to recommendations for Penn State Health and College of Medicine

As the national conversation about race has shifted, Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine have seized the opportunity to examine themselves.

In recent weeks, the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion presented a series of frank town hall meetings with employees about race relations across the system and College. More than 3,000 people participated in 11 sessions covering a variety of issues from addressing bias directed at students to dealing with diversity and discrimination among employees and patients.

From the recommendations that coalesced from these sessions, leadership is developing plans to make Penn State Health and the College of Medicine more diverse, more equitable and more welcoming to all its patients, students, employees and stakeholders.

Among the recommendations:

  • Train all employees to recognize unconscious bias and “micro-aggressions” — daily indignities that can create hostile work environments. Include training in becoming an “upstander” or someone who knows how to intervene against bias, discrimination or other actions inconsistent with the organization’s values
  • Create a friendlier workplace where colleagues greet each other
  • Increase the diversity of learners and the workforce
  • Increase the focus on health disparities affecting diverse populations
  • Add a greater focus on diversity within the College’s curriculum

“What was clear from all of the town hall sessions is that many employees have come to realize they have colleagues who have experienced racism or some other form of bias,” said Lynette Chappell-Williams, chief diversity officer, Penn State Health, and associate dean for diversity and inclusion, Penn State College of Medicine. “They want to do something about it.”

The town hall sessions also suggested developing a toolkit offering examples of what to say when confronting an incident involving racism or discrimination.

Steps will also be taken to help patients understand organizational expectations about diversity. For example, patients engaged in biased behavior, including using offensive comments or refusing care from a provider for discriminatory reasons, will not be tolerated.

“Our organization has a policy that prohibits discrimination by patients and their families and visitors, including refusing care solely based on diversity,” Chappell-Williams said. “Going forward, we will provide training on how to deal with biased patients and increasing communication with patients about our expectations of respect.”

What’s next: Senior leadership is reviewing more than 20 recommendations for improvement from employees and students and will present an action plan in upcoming town halls and other communication channels. “The most important thing we’ve heard is that this is not just a one-time reaction. It needs to be a sustained change in our culture,” said Penn State Health CEO Steve Massini.

If you're having trouble accessing this content, or would like it in another format, please email the Penn State College of Medicine web department.