Announcing the task force on climate and culture

Dear School of Medicine Community:

At the Washington University School of Medicine, we pride ourselves on excellence – in education, in patient care, and in our labs – but over time we have learned, and are still learning, the degree to which our ingrained structures and practices can obscure harm, perpetuate inequities, and create a culture that does not support inclusion. In fact, these issues can actually threaten our ability to achieve the excellence we so desire.

These years have also taught us that this culture is not eternal or immutable but can and should change; that the excellence for which we are known does not have to come at so high a price and that true excellence can only be the result of radical inclusion and an unmitigated dedication to safety.

Our students, staff and faculty have reminded us, in the anger and frustration they have expressed in response to recent events, that we have not done enough to be that place of inclusion and safety, that we have been far too comfortable in our excellence, and that we have not applied the principles of academic medicine—the relentless pursuit of improvement— to the level asked of us and expected of an institution of our caliber.

The Executive Faculty is taking concerns and frustration with campus culture extremely seriously. This week they voted unanimously to convene the Executive Faculty Task Force on Climate and Culture. Dr. Dineo Khabele MD, Mitchell & Elaine Yanow Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Dr. Benjamin A. Garcia, Ph.D., FRSC Raymond H. Wittcoff Distinguished Professor and Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, have agreed to co-chair this task force, which will be broadly inclusive, with representatives from faculty, house staff, and students. The group will be charged with identifying underlying aspects of the culture here at WashU that can lead to a negative climate for women, people of color, and other vulnerable or marginalized members of our community. Additionally, it will work to ensure that every individual on campus knows exactly what to do if confronted with inappropriate behavior or situations.

The Executive Faculty Task Force on Climate and Culture originates at the highest levels of leadership and will be fully supported by the University. It will be staffed by Dr. Renée Shellhaas, MD, MS, Associate Dean for Faculty Promotions & Career Development and David T. Blasingame Professor of Neurology, and her team as it works to identify and fill gaps in our programs, protocols and policies so that inappropriate events and situations become exceedingly rare and that, when they do occur, the response is immediate and appropriate. The task force will be encouraged to consider every possible solution, including external consultants, coaching programs, and innovations driven by the principles of implementation science to ensure that recommendations are executed and measure up to best practices.

This will all be in addition to our existing efforts toward creating and sustaining environments where everyone feels safe, supported, and welcome. This includes our labs, classrooms and all campus spaces where students, faculty and staff study, work, conduct research, and socialize. In recent years we have worked to streamline the process for reporting and investigating concerns where the safety of our environments has been compromised:

We have multiple policies in place to ensure a safe and professional workplace, which include:

These resources work when all of us do our part to publicize and sustain them. We strongly encourage, and in some cases require, members of our community to speak up and/or take action when they become aware of inappropriate behavior directed toward themselves or others. Any time we learn of a situation involving a member of our community, we follow up, investigate, and take action according to the facts of the matter.

We also have confidential spaces outside of the reporting mechanisms where community members can find support in dealing with troubling workplace situations:

It takes sustained commitment and careful effort to change a culture. It takes sustained commitment and careful effort to identify our problems and our blind spots, to determine what kind of sustained action will be necessary to truly eradicate them. This is not quick or easy work, but we must continually rededicate ourselves to doing it.

Above all, we know that it is the job of leadership to continuously build on and support our existing frameworks. We know that this moment requires a broader, more systemic solution toward creating a more inclusive, healthier environment in which everyone can be safe and thrive and contribute to the excellence associated with this institution.

As always, the work continues.        


David H. Perlmutter, MD
Executive Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs
Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor
George and Carol Bauer Dean