By Michael Haederle

Taking Heritage to Heart

HSC Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Takes Steps to Enhance Six Monthly Cultural Celebrations

March is Women’s History Month – an occasion to celebrate the profound and invaluable contributions made by women throughout out our nation’s history.

It’s one of six federally honored heritage months observed on The University of New Mexico Health Sciences campus. Since last summer, the HSC Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion has developed a new initiative to better plan for these commemorations, with an eye toward making them more educational and inclusive.

Planning for each heritage month now starts with the formation of a committee drawn from faculty, staff and learners from across the Health Sciences campus and the community at large, says John Paul Sánchez, MD, MPH, executive associate vice chancellor in Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. 

“It’s a new approach,” Sánchez says. “We want to be systematic and consistent in the creation, implementation and evaluation of educational content so that it can continue to be utilized and be impactful beyond the designated heritage month.”

The six heritage month commemorations afford members of the HSC and larger community an opportunity to come together to deeply acknowledge and celebrate one another, says Valerie Romero-Leggott, MD, vice chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

“We hope to make these celebrations more engaging, impactful and meaningful,” she says. “We want to include more voices. We haven’t done this in quite this manner before. It is about honor and celebration and collaborative cultural change.”

The new process, supported by Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion staff Meg Elcock, José Rodriguez and Steven Romero, began with planning for Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs each year from mid-September to mid-October.

Romero-Leggott asked Sánchez and Jennifer Gomez-Chavez, EdD, special assistant to the associate vice chancellor for community outreach in her office, to lead the Hispanic Heritage planning committee, which orchestrated six events.

“Hispanic Heritage Month served as a sustainable model for subsequent months,” says Gomez-Chavez, who with Sánchez, also facilitates year-round heritage month planning activities for the office.

Planning for Native American Heritage Month in October followed with leadership from Tassy Parker, PhD, RN, director of the Center for Native American Health, and Carolyn Montoya, PhD, PC-PNP, associate dean for clinical affairs in the UNM College of Nursing.

The committee that planned for Black History Month in February was co-chaired by Lindsay Smart, PhD, associate vice chancellor for leadership in the Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and Nichole L. Rogers, an education specialist in the Department of Nursing Excellence at UNM Hospital.

Planning for Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May and LGBT Pride Month in June will follow a similar process.

The events held over the past six months – all virtual owing to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions – have attracted significant participation from across campus and in the community. The new planning process draws in more participants with the aim of enhancing engagement.

“The recent celebrations have been a testament to the power of unification, supporting the idea that when we work together, we can achieve incredible things,” Elcock says.

The planning committee for Women’s History Month is led by Melissa Rethlefsen, MSLS, executive director of the Health Sciences Library & Informatics Center, and Jessica Holland, director of UNM Women’s Resource Center.

In partnership with groups from across the university and the community, the committee built a calendar of nine events to be held throughout the month of March, ranging from a seminar on the racialized history of American motherhood and reproductive medicine to a virtual dance party and an online panel on diversity in science, technology, engineering and medicine careers.

“These activities have created a heightened awareness on campus and in the community, and we are growing and prioritizing the status of these diversity, equity and inclusion issues,” Romero-Leggott says. “Our office is building heritage months that are ongoing, focused and sustainable to enhance respect and belonging for all.”

If you would like to participate in the planning for a Heritage Month celebration, please contact Steven Romero at (505) 272-8292.

Categories: Community Engagement, Diversity, Education, News You Can Use, Top Stories