In addition to the pandemic, the past year will also be remembered as a year of debate, demonstration, and calls to action regarding social justice and reform. It also was a year of continued research into our history at Frontier Nursing University (FNU), specifically in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). These historical findings are important to understanding our past and the roots of our challenges today. We are focused on continuing our current efforts and identifying other areas of improvement to make FNU a fully diverse, integrated, and antiracist university at all levels.
DEI Initiatives, Progress and Goals
FNU is contributing to the diversity of the midwifery and nurse practitioner workforce. However, we know our past includes a period of time when midwives of color were denied access to formal education at the former Frontier Nursing Service. It is in this spirit that we have expanded DEI efforts that were already underway for over a decade and realized the need to be even more intentional in our anti-racist work. This work has been essential for FNU to ensure sustainability, growth, and equitable services for our students, faculty, and staff. Even more importantly, this work must be done in order for us to truly fulfill our mission, achieve the goal of a diverse nursing and midwifery workforce, and improve health outcomes, especially for historically marginalized populations such as people of color. Although we have made notable progress, it is imperative that our DEI and anti-racism work continue to evolve and persist in order for our graduates to successfully serve their communities.
FNU is taking a systemic approach to thread DEI and anti-racism throughout the university. This approach is part of the FNU strategic plan and in concert with our mission and vision. We are actively expanding institutional capacity for DEI and anti-racism work. In this process, some changes are able to be made quickly, and others will unfold over time. This work must be strategically developed, implemented, and evaluated to achieve our DEI and anti-racism goals, and most importantly to ensure the sustainability of these initiatives.
One of FNU’s key strategic goals has been to create an environment that promotes DEI and promotes the success of all community members. FNU is actively recruiting diverse preceptors, Board members, students, faculty, staff, and administrators. FNU is also highlighting DEI as a core value in the culture of the university; ensuring DEI and health equity are emphasized in our curriculum; and increasing student and employee retention and satisfaction, especially those of color.
While our DEI initiatives began in 2006 and included many successes along the way, a major step was taken in 2018 when we created an administrative position for a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer who sits on the President’s Cabinet. This position, along with two supporting staff positions in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, centralized our DEI and anti-racist work and has helped to hold FNU accountable for measurable, meaningful progress. Much has been accomplished as a result. The list below highlights a few of the ongoing initiatives that illustrate the institutional commitment to our DEI efforts.
- Approximately 12 years ago, the Diversity Impact Program was created. Along with other initiatives aimed at retention and support of students of color (SOC), the Diversity Impact Program included an annual conference open and free to students and faculty to explore and learn about DEI, health equity, and health outcomes. These conferences, which have been held for the past 10 years, include presentations from reputable leaders in nursing and DEI work and engage faculty and students in challenging discussions to stretch personal and professional growth. We are looking forward to the next conference which will be held virtually June 24-27, 2021. The theme for this year’s conference is “Dismantling Systemic Racism and Discrimination: Our Roles and Responsibilities.”
- The Diversity Impact Program hosts quarterly speakers throughout the year on various topics aimed at increaseing awareness of DEI issues, health equity, and anti-racist work. The entire FNU community is welcomed to attend.
- FNU has partnered with several external entities and knowledgeable individuals over the past year for consultation and ongoing relationships to help achieve our mission across the university, including needed changes to our curriculum.
- Efforts to increase diversity have included recruitment of faculty and students from professional nursing organizations representing underrepresented groups via in-person attendance at conferences (prior to COVID-19) and ongoing marketing in nursing journals and diverse magazines.
- DEI faculty and staff training designed by a nursing consultant with expertise in DEI and health equity issues is consistently dissmentated.
- Implicit Bias Education and Training for the President’s Cabinet and Board of Directors have been provided by external consultants who are DEI experts.
- The FNU Comprehensive Mentoring Program is designed to support and retain SOC by meeting their specific professional and academic needs (e.g., program-specific guidance, professional goals, etc.).
- The Professional Organization Mentoring Program offers SOC the opportunity to be mentored by faculty members at professional nursing conferences to expand their educational and professional experiences. Mentees and mentors are expected to continue their relationship after the conference. The Office of DEI also sponsors the student’s membership for the selected professional organization.
- In the 2020/2021 Health Resources and Services Administration Nursing Workforce Diversity Grant year, a total of ten SOC have received scholarships in the amount of $7,500 each. An additional ten students will receive scholarships before the end of the current grant period. These scholarships have been instrumental in abating the social determinants of education for SOC throughout the duration of this grant.
- Tutoring and writing support for a select number of courses in the curriculum is offered to all students and has benefited SOC and increased learning and retention.
- An emergency assistance fund for urgent financial relief is offered to all students, including our SOC facing financial barriers to assist in continuing their education. SOC have applied for and received funding.
- The creation of the Mary Breckinridge Task Force (MBTF), which was charged with exploring the history and legacy of our founder, Mary Breckinridge, to uncover and understand the nuances of her beliefs and how these affected the formation and development of FNU, was paramount in 2020. We are committed to using what we have learned from the task force to move forward in our goal to become a truly inclusive university. The MBTF included a comprehensive set of recommendations for future DEI endeavors at FNU.
- FNU launched a new course this spring called Introduction to Cultural Safety, created by FNU faculty member, Dr. Erin Tenney. While the focus of the course is on indigenous people, the tenets can be applied to all populations. The course is free and open to everyone. This cultural experience invites participants to learn more about themselves and the people they serve on a deep level that takes history, context and positionality into account. Register for the self-paced, 3.0 hour CE course here.
Due to these DEI efforts, the number of SOC at FNU has increased from 9% in 2010 to 27.8% in 2021. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, FNU graduated a total of 841 students (208 SOC). Additionally, the current retention rate for SOC is 84%, exceeding our goal of 80%. The number of faculty of color is continuously rising, currently at 14%. Outside of the classroom, our faculty are active in their professional organizations and communities providing leadership and compassionate health care for families.
To further our mission to become an anti-racist University, in the Fall of 2020, a President’s Task Force on DEI was assembled. The task force is charged with identifying, implementing, and evaluating initiatives that will address DEI and antiracism within our community. The goal of the task force is to enhance FNU’s Culture of Caring to make equity, respect, and belonging a reality. The task force will work collaboratively with our community at large. The task force is expected to create a comprehensive action plan and facilitate the implementation of the plan. This group has begun meeting and includes members from the administration, faculty, staff, and students. We look forward to sharing more about the task force, their activities, and accomplishments as we move forward.
At FNU, we want everyone to embody a sense of belonging. While we still have much work to do, we are proud of the strides that we have made towards our goal of supporting SOC and contributing to a diverse workforce that better reflects the make-up of the families and babies receiving midwifery and nurse practitioner care in the U.S. DEI achievements at FNU have positioned the university to become a three-time winner of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award (2018, 2019, and 2020).
If any questions or concerns arise regarding the progression of DEI and anti-racism work at FNU, please contact the Office of DEI at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Nursing and Midwifery Page to receive updates, resources, and information on our DEI activities.
Geraldine Q. Young, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, CDCES, FAANP
NONPF Leadership Fellow
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer
Diverse Magazine Leader in Higher Education