Columbia University Alma Statue

Columbia Nursing Processes the Pandemic and Reckons with Racism

From the Dean: Spring 2021 Magazine

Since this time last year, the pandemic has killed well over half a million Americans, a disproportionate number of whom were of color, underserved by the health-care system, or both. Over the same period, a critical reckoning with racial injustice, including systemic racism in health care, has roiled our country.

These dual crises have taken a heavy toll on the nursing community—even at an institution as privileged as Columbia—especially on our students who served on the front lines, supporting patients and helping families communicate with their ill loved ones. Most had little or no clinical preparation for what they encountered. They experienced suffering and death at levels that overwhelmed even veteran faculty.

Two second-semester DNP students in the psychiatric mental health doctoral program—Janine Inez and Alden Bush—recognized their peers’ and colleagues’ need to come to grips with these experiences. So they co-founded “Art in the Time of Crisis,” a schoolwide initiative that invited students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni to express pandemic-related trauma, stress, and other emotions, as well as their anguish over racial injustice. The resulting works—photography, painting, prose, poetry, music, and dance—reflect heartbreak, hope, and even humor.

The project is the focus of one of this issue’s features, as well as of a virtual exhibition and video that was held earlier this spring. The exhibition will also be available online through Columbia University’s Wallach Gallery.

The intention behind our national reckoning with racism is reflected in another of the issue’s features. In early 2020—just before the pandemic hit—we launched a virtual Center for Research on People of Color (CRPC), to better promote health equity and racial justice through research, education, and practice. The center’s interdisciplinary and racially and ethnically diverse faculty is devoted to exploring the health disparities that racial inequity and injustice cause and to identifying the ways that nursing can address them. Its bold research agenda includes investigations into how adverse life experiences affect cardiovascular health in marginalized adults; how racism, discrimination, and cardiovascular risk factors affect preterm birth rates; and more.

In addition, the center supports scholars, especially those from minority communities, by offering mentoring, career opportunities, pilot grants, and an array of learning opportunities.

The issue’s third feature illuminates Columbia Nursing’s dedication to equity in health care in yet another way—its presentation of service scholarships to students headed for careers in underserved communities. This year, three students won National Health Service Corps Scholarships, which cover up to four years of tuition and fees plus a living stipend, in return for working at an approved site in a medically underserved community. In addition, four students in the Masters Direct Entry program earned $30,000 each toward their tuition and fees from the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program. This program provides financial assistance to returning Peace Corps volunteers pursuing graduate or postgraduate degrees. Coverdell Fellows must complete internships in underserved U.S. communities; our students do this by working with Project STAY, providing health-care services for 14- to 24-year-olds living with HIV, as well as LGBTQ+ and justice-involved youth.

The Columbia Nursing community, like the nation, has weathered a lot in the past year. We have also learned a lot—about ourselves, our neighbors, and each other. As we have always done, we will share and practice what have learned, so as to be the best providers we can be. As harrowing as the past year has been, I’ve found myself often feeling inspired and hopeful.

I hope you’ll find yourself feeling so, too, as you read this issue.


Lorraine Frazier, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dean, Columbia University School of Nursing
Mary O’Neil Mundinger Professor of Nursing
Senior Vice President, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

This letter originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Columbia Nursing magazine.