Anti-Racism in Nursing

Since the murder of George Floyd, many organizations, companies, and individuals have pledged to be anti-racist in order to make the world a more fair and equitable place. While the term “anti-racism” seems relatively straightforward, it can be confusing to those who are unfamiliar with it. According to a work titled NAC International Perspectives: Women and Global Solidarity (quoted here by the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre), “Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.” 

The Illinois Association of Colleges of Nursing stands against racism, both overt and covert and including institutionalized racism, and pledges to support anti-racist policies and practices with the goal of ending racism in nursing. Please continue reading for examples of how our members and their institutions are already working towards this goal. 

Incidents of Racism in Nursing

While racism is, without a doubt, present to some degree in every profession, due to the nature of the nursing profession incidents can be even more despairing. In healthcare, racism can be seen both in healthcare professionals and also in the patients they care for. 

While in many cases it may be subtle, other times these racist words, actions or systems are overt. Many IACN members recall witnessing these incidents: patients refusing care from nurses because of their skin color, racist comments by patients or even co-workers, and the ignoring of racist incidents by nursing leadership. 

Working for Anti-Racism

The behavior described above is reprehensible, and it is IACN’s goal to end these types of incidents. Our members are already working towards anti-racism, both institution-wide and in their respective classrooms.

Dr. Lea Monahan, Professor & Director at Western Illinois University personally tackles issues head-on in the classroom. She stated, “I address appropriate and inappropriate behavior openly on the first day of class during orientation. I tell students that inappropriate behavior is not tolerated and give examples of former students who said or acted inappropriately. I think it’s best to give clear, direct examples.”

IACN membership also stresses the importance of creating a learning environment that has respect for all students with valued and respectful exchange of ideas. Judy Shackleford, Dean of Academic Affairs at St. John’s College explains, “Nursing Educators can facilitate this in classrooms as well as in caring for clients. Exposing students to diverse and vulnerable populations, and teaching them how to advocate and give culturally competent care are some important components in nursing curriculum.”

Dr. Charlene Aaron, Chancellor at St. John’s College said that she encourages her educators to “model the behavior of a nursing leader and call out racist behavior when it happens. Educators should continue to educate the families, patients and our students that this is not acceptable. They should also be including cultural and health beliefs of different races in the nursing curriculum.” 

Dr. Judy Neubrander, Dean of Mennonite College of Nursing at Illinois State University said, “At the cabinet level, Illinois State University has appointed a new VP of diversity and inclusion. The college of nursing is forming a council to introduce programs and education within the college related to diversity, inclusion, and equity.”

Increasing Diversity

While we tackled efforts currently underway to increase diversity in the nursing workforce in this post back in April, it’s important to reiterate that doing so is a multifaceted challenge. A large part of that challenge is increasing the diversity of nursing students. 

Dr. Renee Kidd-Marshall, Director of the RN to BSN program at Eastern Illinois University, explains, “We must take down the socio-economic barriers for diverse students. That means financial support.”

It also means reaching potential nursing students early. Dr. Pam Furguson, Dean of Nursing at Methodist College, says, “If an individual has not been exposed to the concepts of nursing as a profession, this career option may not be considered. Early introduction and creating a network of support for diverse individuals to consider, and then prepare for applying to a nursing program is vital.”

Dr. Neubrander adds, “Once students are enrolled, we also need to make an extra concerted effort to make diverse students feel welcome. And we have to make sure there aren’t things happening that are unknowingly making students not feel welcome.”

Moving Forward

IACN realizes that there is still much work to do with regards to fighting racism. And while politics and the rhetoric on both sides impede much of the progress that could be made in the area, IACN membership and nursing educators across the state are united in working toward making nursing education and the nursing workforce a safer, more open, and better place for all. 

Dr. Aaron sums it up, “If you are Black, you will always feel the oppression of what the institution of slavery must have been like; If you are White, it may be difficult to empathize with this feeling. The change I would like to see tomorrow, is genuine respect for each other, no matter the color of one’s skin. Also, I would like to see people participate in peaceful dialogs all over the country on the topic of race, equality, and justice for all. No violence or destruction. IACN colleges and universities strive for our current students, prospective students, families, and communities to know they are welcome to speak freely, collaborate with us, and that our graduates will be prepared to create the future of nursing. We are all in this together, let us be the change!”Anti-Racism in Nursing