Addressing Systemic Racism

On July 13, 2020, students in Einstein’s White Coats for Black Lives chapter sent senior members of our administration a letter indicating their concerns regarding influences of systemic racism that they stress require immediate attention. You can review their letter here and the administration’s response below. 

On August 2, 2020, faculty, students, and staff at Montefiore and Einstein sent a letter of support for White Coats for Black Lives (WC4BL) "in their mission to dismantle racism and promote the health, well-being, and self-determination of Black and Indigenous people, and other people of color." You can review their letter and the administration's response. 

Administration's Response to the Initial Letter from Einstein's Chapter of WC4BL 

Dear All:

We sincerely appreciate your taking the time and effort to draft such a comprehensive and detailed communication, which candidly describes actions the College of Medicine can take to root out influences of systemic racism and address critical issues to improve the lives of Black students and indeed everyone on campus. We also thank you for providing your thinking on actions that can help Einstein live up to its ideals.

Throughout our nation’s history, and especially today, we clearly understand that there is a much greater toll being borne by Black, indigenous, people of color, and other underrepresented minorities—both in our community and around the nation and the world.

To start, we take your concerns extremely seriously. Also importantly, we believe that actions that effectively address these critical issues benefit everyone associated with Einstein, including our administration and all faculty, students, staff, and members of our Bronx community.

As for next steps, we will use what you have provided, along with the information gathered from our recent town halls and our strategic plan for diversity and inclusion, and carefully examine how to make improvements across a range of issues, extending from curriculum reform, to dealing with microaggressions, to responding to reported incidents of bias on campus.

This effort is being led by Dr. Nerys Benfield, who will work closely with your group, as well as senior Einstein leadership and many others, including members of the Einstein Council for Diversity and Inclusion.

Regarding a timeframe for action and change, we will briefly outline (1) steps we have already taken; (2) other actions that we can implement in the near term, meaning within the next month or so; and (3) policies that will require ongoing discussions and consideration over the next three to 12 months because of their complexity and the need to identify financial and other resources if we are to make them a reality.

We appreciate your acknowledging that Einstein has already made progress in some areas, such as medical school curriculum reform. We have also taken other concrete actions, which include:

  • Appointing Dr. Nerys Benfield as senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion.
  • Increasing Dr. Irene Blanco’s role in the diversity office to 50% effort.
  • Restructuring diversity and inclusion leadership with the diversity office, including Dr. Blanco and Nilda Soto now under the leadership of the office of the senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion.
  • Mr. Damien Jackson assistant dean for student finances and Ms. Nilda Soto, assistant dean for diversity enhancement and inclusion, have been working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on recruitment of underrepresented medical students.
  • Appointing Dr. Oladimeji Oki as course director for a new curriculum on structural determinants of health and racism in medicine, which begins this academic year for first-year medical students.
  • Initiating a graduate school task force (Cultural Awareness and Research Curriculum Working Group) to determine how to incorporate anti-racism and social justice into the Ph.D. curriculum.
  • Establishing a committee on Graduate School Diversity and Inclusion Efforts, which meets regularly to work on and implement important changes.
  • Establishing pipeline relationships with undergraduate MARC (NIH-funded Minority Access to Research Careers) Programs and partnering with the BUILD program (NIH-funded BUilding Infrastructure Leading to Diversity initiative) to facilitate recruitment of underrepresented students to the graduate school.
  • Maintaining a continuous Einstein presence at the major national research symposia for underrepresented students including ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students), SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science), and ERN (Emerging Researchers National Conference).
  • Founding a new Einstein chapter of SACNAS, supported through the graduate school.
  • Appointing Dr. Nicole Harris-Hollingsworth as director of community collaborations. She will also serve on the Council for Diversity and Inclusion.
  • Designating a diversity lounge directly across from Dr. Blanco and Ms. Soto’s office on the fifth floor of the Belfer building. This renovation, halted due to COVID-19 restrictions, will resume with a target completion date of October 31, 2020.
  • Establishing guidelines and policies for faculty recruitments that are in line with the Einstein Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan for Excellence.
  • Removing restrictions on the quiet period for all student identity groups on campus.
  • Establishing spaces reserved for participants from HBCUs to participate in our summer pipeline program, Diversity Student Summer Research Opportunity Program.
  • Establishing Diversity Second Look and Real Talks to support recruitment efforts of URM students to the M.D. and MSTP programs at Einstein.
  • Including members of the office of diversity enhancement on various curricular and assessment committees to act in an advisory capacity to those groups.
  • Creating the Learning Environment (LE) working group that is performing qualitative studies to evaluate how certain groups across the M.D./MSTP/Ph.D. programs feel about the LE and their place in it.
  • Assessing the institutional climate as it relates to diversity and inclusion through campus-wide surveys conducted in 2017 and 2019.
  • Providing ongoing online training on implicit bias for the entire Einstein community.
  • Developing a group of departmental Diversity Enhancement and Inclusion liaisons.
  • Working with our psychiatry and behavioral sciences department to identify a group of mental health professionals with the expertise to support BIPOC students.

We also plan to implement the following over the next 30 to 60 days:

  • Draft a policy on anti-racism.
  • Develop and communicate to the student body a clear process for reporting misogynistic, racist, homophobic, or off-hand derogatory comments about the Bronx and its population that may occur during classes, in laboratories, or at clinical training sites.
  • Require the M.D., Ph.D., and MSTP programs to report to the Council for Diversity and Inclusion on the demographics of applicants, and people who are offered interviews, are accepted, and matriculate into each of these programs.
  • Develop plans for cultural awareness training for the admissions committees of the M.D., Ph.D., and MSTP programs.
  • Work with the office of grant support to develop a database of grants and fellowship applications for women and URM trainees. Develop a process for disseminating this information in a regular and timely manner to the Ph.D. and MSTP students.
  • Create an online dashboard that will list all current anti-racism initiatives at Einstein and progress that is being made. We will start building the platform now and believe it will be fully operational within the next three to six months.

To address many of the other issues you’ve raised in a truly meaningful way, additional, ongoing discussions will be needed among all of us. Their complexity and the need to identify resources will require longer-term considerations, so that their possible implementation can be both successful and effective.

Dr. Benfield will be reaching out to you to arrange a series of meetings designed to further define an ongoing course of action. This dialogue has already begun with many of you and this document helps provide a framework for prioritization. More specifically, we promise to examine each of your concerns to determine the best approach to enacting significant and meaningful change. While we cannot promise to meet every deadline for the actions you described, we can pledge to release a comprehensive report—which will include updated policies, programs, and guidelines—before the end of the upcoming academic year.

To conclude, we want to thank you again for sharing your insights on issues that are of greatest concern to you—and which concern all of us. As Dr. Benfield poignantly noted during our moment of solidarity, “this is not the work of a day, it is not the work of a year, it is the work of a lifetime.” In continuing to make strides, we believe that working together as partners in this enterprise and being mindful of all concerns and expectations, we can and will make the necessary improvements.

We can also state—in the strongest possible terms—that we are dedicated to confronting and dismantling systemic racism and improving the lives of Black students and underrepresented minorities on campus. We believe this work is in the best interest of not only students of color but all students, faculty, staff, and, most importantly, our current and future patients, who we serve with the science that drives Einstein’s basic and clinical research and the care that our graduates and faculty provide.

Finally, we clearly understand that our words must be backed by action and look forward to improved communication and reporting on all the forthcoming actions.


Gordon F. Tomaselli, M.D.
The Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean

Nerys Benfield, M.D., M.P.H.
Senior Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion

Irene Blanco, M.D.
Associate Dean for Office of Diversity Enhancement

Edward R. Burns, M.D.
Executive Dean

Myles Akabas, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Medical Scientist Training Program

Victoria Freedman, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in Biomedical Sciences

Allison Ludwig, M.D.
Associate Dean for Student Affairs

Josh Noshanchuk, M.D.
Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education

Yvonne M. Ramirez
Vice President, Human Resources