October 17, 2003

Hrabowski applauds Vanderbilt’s efforts for diversity in the sciences

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Dr. Freeman Hrabowski III, Ph.D.

Hrabowski applauds Vanderbilt’s efforts for diversity in the sciences

When Dr. Freeman Hrabowski III, Ph.D., walked into the lecture hall at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, he was shocked.

The president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was very surprised to see a room at Vanderbilt filled with young people of color pursuing doctoral degrees and and postdoctoral training. He attributes the diversity to the progress the school had made.

“It never occurred to me that I’d be in a room looking at faces, brilliant faces of black and Latino students. It never would have occurred to me that Vanderbilt has made the progress it has made,” he said. “We all make assumptions.”

Hrabowski, the guest speaker for the second annual Levi Watkins Jr. Lecture, highlighted the needs of schools to prepare minorities for success in science and medicine.

Watkins, now a professor of Cardiac Surgery and dean of Postdoctoral Programs at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was the first African-American student to enter and graduate from VUMS. A professorship in his name is held by George C. Hill, Ph.D., and dean of Diversity.

Hrabowski said most of the money spent in the country regarding minorities is used for remedial education or studying the deficiencies of children of color. The general assumption, he said, is that the best-prepared students will have the necessary tools to succeed.

“But I contend that if the best prepared in science, coming out of high school for example, were OK,” he said. “We would have many more young people of color entering both graduate school and medical school and yet as those of you in the room know, the numbers continue to be fairly small.”

Hrabowski applauded Dean of the School of Medicine Steven G. Gabbe’s efforts in setting a foundation that will be vital in years to come for minority students, noting that the vast majority of black students attend predominately white colleges and universities.

“The challenge we face in research universities and medical schools is to think carefully about how we can increase the pool of students of color who are again well prepared in science and to think about what it takes to help a student particularly those coming out of predominately white settings.”

He spoke about the need to educate people about the importance of research, science, medicine and the need for more people to enter into these fields.

“Every one of those young people here of color has the potential to have an impact on thousands of lives. There are so few people in America in general who are privileged to come to a wealthy, wonderful place like Vanderbilt.

“You’re producing the talented tenth. It’s a noble story yet to be told.”

Editors note: The “talented tenth” is referred to in W.E.B. Du Bois’ book, Souls of Black Folk in which Du Bois introduced the notion that the best and most capable black youth must be educated in the best learning institutions in the country so that they become the most outstanding leaders who could then pull the others along and support the nation.