By Daniel C. Robinson, PharmD, FASHP

In 2007, shortly after my arrival to WesternU we made a commitment to diversity within the College of Pharmacy. We incorporated the principles of diversity in our mission statement and communicated our commitment in a 2007 document to the Board of Trustees titled: “Utilizing Scholarships to Promote Campus Diversity.”  

Western University of Health Sciences College of Pharmacy is committed to creating an academic environment that celebrates diversity and the value that multicultural perspectives add to the quality of the educational experience. Thus, the College seeks to attract students who can offer different perspectives on life in a multicultural society and who can contribute to the awareness of socioeconomic and multicultural diversity at WesternU. (As a result of this commitment underrepresented minority students have increased from 2% in 2007 to 18% in 2021). 

Dr. Daniel Robinson with College of Pharmacy students at COP Honors Day in 2018.

MAKING THE CASE 

Health professions educational institutions have a compelling interest in increasing diversity among their student and faculty populations. Diversity in our students and graduates will 1) increase access to health care for minority populations as graduates return to provide service in their own communities; 2) increase the quality and satisfaction of health care interactions since minority patients tend to select caregivers of their own racial and ethnic backgrounds; and 3) improve the educational climate and educational experiences for health professions students. Students who are trained in a multicultural environment will be better able to provide care to diverse populations. As we strive to advance science, we believe that advances in minority-related research will come from increasing the number of scientists who come from under-represented minorities (URMs).  

Traditional admissions practices have focused on quantitative factors such as grades and standardized tests. While these are important criteria, they do not take into account the different educational backgrounds and experiences of (URM) who may not have had access to enriched academic environments, a high percentage of credentialed teachers, advanced placement courses, or honors programs. We implemented a more humanistic and holistic admissions process that valued diversity, bilingual/multilingual skills, and experience in serving minority communities. 

Because URM are less likely to accept the level of debt that is required for health professions education, need-based scholarships had to be identified to address current discrepancies in our student population. 

While we still consider race and ethnicity as central parts of our diversity efforts, we have broadened our thinking to include the elimination of barriers to any marginalized or underrepresented population. Creating an inclusive environment enriches the educational experience for all who attend WesternU.  

PIPELINE AND EARLY ASSURANCE PROGRAMS 

Our students represent socioeconomic diversity, cultural diversity, geographic diversity, and even educational diversity. We have tracked our first-year students and have consistently found that approximately 40% are foreign born. With this wealth of diversity, we still suffer from underrepresentation from Hispanic, African American, and Native American students. This is particularly important, given our location in Southern California and the health care needs of our largely Hispanic population. To address this challenge, in 2008, we created a position that has been largely devoted  

to increasing our applicant pool of underrepresented minorities in Southern California. We added Dr. Jesse Martinez to our administrative team as the Vice Dean of Academic Diversity and Development. Following his retirement in 2016 we added Dr. Mario Jimenez as Director of Diversity Initiatives. Through their efforts, we now have Early Assurance Programs with minority-serving universities including Cal Poly Pomona, CSU San Bernardino, CSU Fullerton, CSU Los Angeles, and the University of Redlands. These programs are designed to identify URM students early in their college experience and provide mentoring and guidance that will assure a smooth transition from their baccalaureate through admission to the College of Pharmacy. 

The College of Pharmacy has been a key partner in the WesternU Pomona Health Career Ladder, by hosting workshops for local middle school through high school students and their parents. These workshops expose students to each of our nine health professions, including hands-on experience in our compounding laboratory. This represents a small fraction of the activities that our student pharmacist ambassadors engage in with Inland Empire school districts, community service organizations, and regional health care partners. To facilitate effective communication and cultural competence, student leaders and pharmacy administration worked to develop a student-facilitated “Essential Medical Spanish for Pharmacists” Spanish language patient counseling elective. To date, over 700 students have participated in the series or workshops in order to provide a higher level of care to our Spanish speaking communities. Special thanks to our founding Spanish language committee members: Sandra Pineda, PharmD ’13; Fabiola Escalante, PharmD ’14; Tiffani Emerson, PharmD ’13; Luis Moreno, PharmD ’14; Jennifer Turicos, PharmD ’14; Richard Garcia, PharmD ’13, Dr. Jesse Martinez; and Dr. Wallace Murray. The program continues today because of the amazing group of volunteer student facilitators with the aid of Benito Machado, Manager of Early Assurance and Pathway Programs.  

TODAY AND TOMORROW 

The tragic events of 2020 have refocused our thinking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism (DEIA). We are proud of our commitment over the past 15 years and our investments in key personnel who champion our diversity efforts, but we still have much to learn and accomplish. The University has responded by recognizing its institutional responsibilities in fostering a culture of respect and equity at all levels and for all people. A very powerful student-driven White Coats for Black Lives group brought welcomed energy and passion to our campus initiatives. The Humanism Strategic Performance Group was formed and a national search for a Vice President for Humanism, Equity, and Anti-Racism was launched. In addition, each college is revisiting its diversity priorities and the College of Pharmacy has formed the DEI Task Force to take a fresh look at this important subject.  

To ensure that we maintain our commitment to a more diverse and inclusive environment, I have created the Robinson Celebrating Diversity Scholarship through a $35,000 endowment pledge. This scholarship seeks to recognize individuals who engage in meaningful efforts to support diversity and eliminate barriers to any marginalized or underrepresented population. Scholarships are available to students regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, or disability.  

THIS SCHOLARSHIP IS AVAILABLE TO A STUDENT WHO: 

  • Has made tangible commitments to underrepresented or disadvantaged populations.
  • Has a demonstrated record of service that promotes an inclusive academic environment.
  • Has worked to remove barriers to access, resources, and opportunities for the underrepresented or disadvantaged.
  • Has promoted a campus culture that is welcoming to all and affirms that everyone is valued, respected and able to reach their full potential.