Student Voice: What Diversity and Inclusion Means to Me

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

By Georgina Villarreal
College of Nursing MSN, CNL candidate

November 16, 2016

October marked the one-year anniversary of the time I joined eight nursing students in a circle at the Tower rooftop garden and exchanged stories about what it personally meant to be a minority seeking a health care profession.

The high point then was listening to my black, Hispanic, Indian, white, bisexual, and first-generation college peers speak on resilience and adversity. And while the lows brought truth to bullying sometimes felt in the clinical setting, discrimination witnessed on hospital units, controversial topics in the classroom and the disclaiming of social justice, we were determined to make a change.

This gathering led us to three important takeaways:

  1. There was currently no student organization on campus dedicated to diversity and inclusion efforts.
  2. There was an urgent need to discuss social injustices across university campuses nationwide.
  3. We were going to be the voices to make it happen.

We named our student affinity group Rush University Diversity and Inclusion, or RUDI. It is the first interdisciplinary, student-led group at Rush welcoming all students, faculty and staff to become members in honor of RUDI’s mission: To assist with the recruitment and retention of diverse student and faculty members at Rush University and create a safe space to have discussions, present ideologies, and educate one another in hopes of sharing thoughts and experiences that deal with social (in)justices and diversity and inclusion.

Over the past year, RUDI has worked hard on interdisciplinary collaboration and sustainability. We created a weekly “brave space” in the Rush cafeteria called “Tuesday Chats,” along with a quarterly article club designed to discuss recent news addressing discrimination and social justice in our community. As a means to bridge the gap with staff, we co-facilitated diversity meet-and-greets with Rush Human Resources and addressed stereotypes in the workplace and the LGBTQ climate at Rush.

While I am incredibly proud of the overall participation, networking and dedication of all RUDI members this year, I will graduate this December with my most memorable moment taking place at our 2016 inaugural Fall Rush Diversity and Inclusion Mixer.

With support from Rush University student affinity groups, the Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Student Life and Engagement, the Diversity Leadership Council and the College of Nursing, RUDI was able to host an exceptional event.

Standing alongside my founding members and advisors, I was able to share our story as I embraced the beauty and diversity of all 100 guests.

Nothing less than moving, I took a moment to realize what diversity and inclusion means to me. Diversity is the very part of me that makes me unique. It is the part of me that speaks a different language, has lived in a different country, was the first in my family to graduate high school and attend college, and will be the part of me that makes up only 7 percent of all Latinos in the nursing population. Inclusion, however, is my daily decision to seek commonality. It is the very part of me that seeks others’ stories and shares mine in the search to find similarity and community.

I know we are told to avoid self-disclosure in the medical field, but I take that with a grain of salt. Working in an academic medical center has only proven that there is comfort in our similarities and strength in our differences.

My wish is that RUDI’s legacy will remain one of unity and respect — to never criticize people for what they don’t know and capitalize on all teachable moments.

As learned at our diversity mixer, it is through constant self-awareness of unconscious bias and privilege that allows us to recognize and collectively work for social justice.