The Fralin Biomedical and Research Institute at VTC,  the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM), and the Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology recently cut a ceremonial ribbon to open their new Center for Inclusion. In the spirit of InclusiveVT, the center is designed as an inviting and inclusive space where individuals can celebrate diversity and learn from one another.

The space, which is in Room 205B of 1 Riverside Circle, is available for all students, postdoctoral fellows, and residents and is open to everyone on the Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke. Student clubs and groups are encouraged to have meetings, host discussions, utilize resources, or simply enjoy some quiet in between classes and research.

“We are excited to see this dedicated space to continuous learning and inclusion open on our campus,” said Lee Learman, dean of VTCSOM. “We recognize that diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural competency are essential to excellence. Our students will undoubtedly benefit from the enriching perspectives they will gain within this welcoming space.” 

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In the spring of 2020, VTCSOM hosted a town hall meeting to discuss national events that put a spotlight on systemic racism and looked to identify opportunities to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion at the school.

“This Center for Inclusion, this safe space, is not only a physical place where we can find that comfort when we feel overwhelmed by everything going on in the world around us, but rather represents that every single one of our voices are valid,” said Sarah Yosief, a fourth-year student at VTCSOM. “It says that we deserve the right to be unapologetically our true selves without judgment, even when there is that something out there that tells us differently. We deserve to be heard, and this safe space represents that our voices cannot be silenced.”

What grew from the town hall and other community forums was the InclusiveVTCSOM Task Force, made up of more than 100 faculty, staff, and students. The task force developed key recommendations, which included a Center for Inclusion. At the same time, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute was holding a series of community engagement meetings at which students and faculty defined and updated principles and policies.

“Listening sessions and frank conversations were held to better learn about the needs and concerns of the entire health sciences community,” said Michael Friedlander, vice president for Health Sciences and Technology and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “While we often hear from and reflect on different perspectives in the classroom, this space is devoted to students and trainees who want to dig deeper, to challenge their own biases, and to relate to others both in their scientific endeavors and as fellow humans, colleagues, and friends. We want to provide the resources and further a sense of mutual understanding, respect and caring that begins in the classroom and the laboratory around common interests in biomedical science and health research and also extends to the relationships they build with the many individuals and perspectives they encounter during their time here, across the broader community.”

Students, faculty and staff gather within the Center for Inclusion at its official opening.
Students, faculty, and staff from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute gather within the Center for Inclusion at its official opening. Photo by Clayton Metz for Virginia Tech.

The new Center for Inclusion is intended to provide students support and community engagement while enhancing the learning and work environment. Students from both VTCSOM and Fralin Biomedical Research Institute will have opportunities to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges and opportunities related to science, health care, research, and beyond. The goal is for students to feel ownership of the Center for Inclusion and plan meetings and events that are significant to them.

Hassan Farah, a doctoral student in Translational Biology, Medicine and Health Graduate Program, stressed the need to focus on advocacy, not only on the Roanoke campus, but for community outreach. 

“This space is a great step forward toward making that a reality,” Farah said. “I’m really happy about what we’ve done here today. I want it to be something that challenges us to do more in the future, as well.”

The center contributes to the momentum of student support added during the 2021-22 academic year. Main campus partners hold regular office hours and offer services to the Roanoke campus’s growing student population. Services include the Schiffert Health Center, Cook Counseling Center, dean of students, ombudsperson, Office for Inclusion and Diversity, LGBTQ+ Resource Center, El Centro-Hispanic and Latinx Cultural Center, Asian Cultural Engagement Center, Virginia Tech Women’s Center, and others.

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