Southern College of Optometry is addressing the necessary conversation of race relations and diversity in the nation head-on with an initiative to expand its leadership and build a more equitable and inclusive campus culture. The Memphis-based optometry institution expanded the role for Janette Pepper, OD, to coordinator for minority recruitment and named her coordinator for student diversity and inclusion. In addition to her faculty position in clinical and didactic instruction, she will step into this new role to guide SCO in creating and sustaining an inclusive environment for all students and prospective students.
“Recent events in our nation empowered SCO leaders to take an honest examination of our own internal issues and discover what more we can do to stand in solidarity with minority communities, beginning with our students,” says Lewis Reich, OD, PhD, president of SCO. “We must continue to prioritize support and resources devoted to expanding opportunities for applicants from a wider variety of backgrounds and experiences. Dr. Dumas Pepper achieved great success in recruiting a more diverse student body, and I’m confident that she is the right person to enhance connections across our campus.”
PROVIDING ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL SUPPORT
Protests and calls for equality erupting across the U.S. in recent weeks moved SCO to encourage a more open dialogue among current students and explore internal opportunities to provide critical academic and social support for the students. Pepper’s expanded leadership will allow her and the college to better implement the voiced suggestions from faculty and students. Though diversity is emphasized in the recruitment process, the college found more opportunities to enhance inclusivity among students during their four years of study.
“Optometry has evolved immensely over the past decades,” Dr. Pepper says. “We’ve seen shifts in gender and a wider range of backgrounds among students pursuing this degree. However, we found opportunities for our students to learn more about each other’s backgrounds and heritage. We are working with students to gather their input and address this gap by inviting honest conversations, increasing student advising and adapting curricula.”
Dr. Pepper will drive the planning and implementation of various initiatives alongside the department of academic support services. She will also serve as an adviser to support a stronger campus presence for SCO’s diversity-oriented student organizations, such as Spectrum for LGBTQ optometry students and the National Optometric Student Association for students of minority and underserved communities.