A sense of belonging is essential to defining a community. One of the ways the College of Pharmacy is honoring its values of diversity, equity and inclusion, and creating a welcoming and supportive environment for all members of its community is through the formation of affinity groups.
“Last January, we invited students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the College of Pharmacy to join our newly launched affinity groups,” said L’Aurelle Johnson, director of diversity for the college. Affinity groups bring together people who have similar backgrounds or identities which may serve as barriers to inclusion or success. Members of the groups have been able to come together to discuss their shared experiences and advocate for institutional change. “The goal,” Johnson says, is to create spaces where all members of the college community feel they belong to the college and are supported.”
There are currently groups for people who identify as Asian/Pacific Islander; Black or African American; First Generation College Students; Hispanic/Latinx; LGBTQIA; Persons Experiencing Disabilities; and a new group for those who identify as American Indian.
The college has also invited people to join the Ally group which is designed to support the affinity groups and the college’s overall strategic initiatives related to equity and inclusion. “The goal of our Ally group is to make sure everyone in the college feels seen, heard, & valued and knows they have a seat at the table,” said Rebecca Cuellar, SCoPE Program Administrative Director and Ally group co-facilitator. She notes since the Affinity groups started 15 months ago, there has been a significant increase in participation. The Ally group currently has 47 formally-trained Allies to support the Affinity groups, with many more interested in attending the next Ally training session this February.
Alumni participation in all of these groups is welcome and beneficial. Anjoli Punjabi, PharmD, MPH, ‘17, who is the facilitator of the Asian/Pacific Islander affinity group, sees an important role for alumni in offering context and support. “We can provide a historical perspective so that the groups can evaluate if and how progress has been made to support various aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says. It’s insight Punjabi says can be valuable when thinking about sustainable solutions.
She also notes alumni have a specific perspective they can offer to pharmacy students. “Student pharmacists and graduate students substantially benefit from alumni involvement. Alumni of similar backgrounds as students in the affinity group can often have strong mentoring relationships due to shared experiences.”
Although the affinity groups are fairly new to the College of Pharmacy, Punjabi says she’s already seen the groups drive action and change. She points to the example of the Asian-American Pacific Islander (API) diversity affinity group’s involvement in writing the strong message that no level of discrimination towards the API community during the COVID-19 pandemic would be accepted.
All alumni are invited and welcome to join the College of Pharmacy’s affinity groups or the Ally group. Facilitators say it would be ideal to have several alumni in each group. The benefits, Punjabi says, are a two-way street. “With alumni involvement, progress in improving DEI at the CoP will be stronger and more sustainable. And just as alumni can offer an important perspective to the students, likewise, I learn a great deal from the students involved in the affinity groups. I find myself inspired and know that with the College of Pharmacy’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, real change is possible.”
Anyone interested in joining one of the College of Pharmacy affinity groups or the Ally group, can visit the website.