Duke Medical School’s Anti-Racism Plan Sparks Debate Over Professional Norms

The Duke University School of Medicine has ignited a heated debate with its “anti-racism strategic plan” that labels timeliness, individualism and professional dress codes as aspects of “White supremacy culture.” This initiative, part of a broader effort launched in June 2021, aims to address and dismantle systemic racism within the medical school.

The strategic plan, titled “Dismantling Racism and Advancing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the School of Medicine,” includes a set of 18-month priority initiatives focusing on promoting diversity and condemning what it defines as White supremacy culture. According to the document, this culture privileges White individuals and discriminates against non-Western and non-White professional standards.

Identifiable characteristics of this culture include “perfectionism, belief that there’s only one right way, power hoarding, individualism, sense of urgency and defensiveness.” The plan suggests that these elements reinforce White supremacy by adhering to predominantly Western norms.

This initiative has been met with mixed reactions, especially as some states, like Florida and Texas, have moved legislatively to remove DEI programs from public educational institutions. However, Duke reaffirmed its dedication to these principles in January 2023, drawing inspiration from the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd.

Vice Dean of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Kevin Thomas outlined five key areas of focus: fostering an inclusive culture, building leadership capacity and accountability, promoting ongoing learning, ensuring equitable recruitment and retention, and advancing research and assessment. Dean Dr. Mary E. Klotman highlighted the plan’s flexibility and long-term commitment to these goals.

The plan also incorporates the concept of “White fragility,” a term popularized by Robin DiAngelo, to describe the defensive reactions of White individuals when discussing racism. This inclusion has further intensified the debate over the plan’s methods and goals.

While the plan has drawn criticism, Duke encourages its community to participate actively in these initiatives. Fox News Digital, which brought the plan to public attention, reported that Duke had not immediately responded to requests for comment.