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Dean Frazier's Message on Juneteenth

Dear Columbia Nursing Community,

Juneteenth, of course, marks the day in 1865 when word of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached every last enslaved person in the United States. The day is a sober reminder of the injustices delivered before and since then, including still today, upon marginalized and vulnerable peoples. I am writing you today with a sense of the past—to mark the sentiments embodied by this significant day in history; the present—to embrace the sense of activism and angst that we all have felt over the past few weeks; and the future—to let you know some of the steps Columbia Nursing has begun to take in the direction of greater inclusivity, equity, and justice.

There has been a lot of grieving and reflecting in recent weeks. We can use this time, as a school, to make a commitment to anti-racism and to rooting out lingering injustice. We will need to be frank with each other, as difficult as that can sometimes be. But we will also need to be as gentle as we can with each other, in view of the cumulative effects of the social trauma first of a pandemic and social isolation, then of the horrific events of the past several weeks.

So, first, I want to take this opportunity to celebrate some of the many nurses of color who have contributed to the profession’s advancement—including Sojourner Truth (1797-1883); Harriet Tubman (circa 1820-1913); Estelle Massey Osborne (1901-1981), the first African American to receive a master’s degree; and Hazel Johnson-Brown (1927-2011), the first African American female general in the Army.

At the same time, I want to acknowledge many of our own African American students, faculty and alums who have and continue to contribute greatly to the betterment of our society. Thank you for your service to our school and to the profession, as we celebrate this historic day.

Second, as you already know, I want to acknowledge that President Bollinger has declared Juneteenth to be a University holiday and has committed the institution to “summon our better traditions” as we continue “confronting invidious discrimination.”

And third, I want to let you know that within the School of Nursing, we are already moving in that direction:

We are holding weekly Diversity Student Support meetings.

  • Our staff discussions meeting next week will be devoted to the topic of “Reflections on Black Lives Matter and the Current Climate.”
  • We are planning to hold sessions for faculty focused on “Having Difficult Conversations.”
  • We continue a concerted effort to increase our faculty of color.
  • We are looking at the curriculum, the student body, and the school climate to ensure that we are truly welcoming and inclusive.
  • Those of us who have not personally felt the sting of racism are pledging to better understand our white privilege and to become concerted allies in the Black Lives Matter movement.

There will be more in the coming weeks on our plans and actions.

I hope you will join me in reflecting on the significance of Juneteenth, and on this time of great awareness and promise for change.

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