Race and Work at MD Anderson


Race and Work at MD Anderson



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The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Lovell Jones, PhD

Right, right. So then when I came in the eighties, being the first, there was still that psychological separation where the staff, especially staff of color, African Americans, couldn’t believe that I was a faculty member here, simply because it just wasn’t something that was in their lexicon.

So I think all of those sorts of things, and as I’ve said, who you are and your experiences have a deep bearing on your solutions to the problem. And I often say in situations I’m in—I may have mentioned when I was at the Texas Medical Center strategic planning meeting and bringing to the forefront that I was the only African American scientist sitting in the room of 120 people, in the discussion about direction, discovery, I never ever—until it was brought to the forefront by myself and then some of the women scientists sitting in the room, there was no discussion of the community in terms of how this was going to impact and the bearing. And it wasn’t out of some by design; it was just that it wasn’t part of their lexicon either, and therefore it wasn’t going to be discussed, and therefore it wasn’t of value. And I think that’s where this all comes into being.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

I was going to ask you at one point, but I think you’ve answered the question, to what degree increasing the numbers of—increasing the degree of diversity among patients is reliant or connected to increasing the diversity among healthcare-delivery people.

Lovell Jones, PhD

It is. There’s a whole lot of literature on racial concordance. In fact, at the meeting that I was at, the two, first on developing core competencies for patient navigation on the national level and then the policies behind that in moving in that direction, that was some of the discussion that look place. And even at those meetings, I brought up that it was interesting discussion because of the lack of diversity at those meetings both in terms of ethnic and racial, but also in terms of professional, and most of the people there were in disease state, most of the people there were nurses, most of them were white females, and most were in oncology. So we were trying to develop core competencies across the health spectrum, from AIDS to diabetes to pediatrics, sickle cell anemia, and [unclear].

So it goes back to their experiences aren’t in those areas. Therefore, how do you develop core competencies when your experiences aren’t in those areas? Not to say that you can’t, but if you aren’t thinking about it in a broader sense outside your own world, then the competencies are going to be more focused on your world than anyone else, and I think that if you drill down, that’s the same thing in terms of MD Anderson.

I had my discussion with Dr. DePinho when he first came, which I think he got very upset with me. Several times he’s gotten very upset, but that was the first time. In my presentation, I sent him a note and said I wanted to present to him on the history of the Center and why the Center was important and the direction of the Center. And in the presentation, I talked about the lack of diversity at the institution and the lack of what I perceived as a really affirmative effort in truly addressing it.

And I’ve seen affirmative efforts where, for instance, for a period of time at UC Berkeley, where there was a concerted effort to say, “We’re going to make sure we have not only a diverse student body, but a diverse faculty across, and this is something that we feel is important for the university, important for the state, and we’re willing to go to bat in the legal sense to say that this is important and present it as such and not cower away from it in terms of that.”

I said, “There’s been no such here at Anderson, and so that’s probably one of the reasons why I was the first and the only, and when I left, there was no other, because it wasn’t.”

And his response at the time was, “Well, you know, Dr. Jones, I find it hard to believe in a city that’s elected a lesbian mayor that—.”

I said, “That has nothing to do with it.” (laughs) I said, “Because I can point out—and yes, we can go forth and say we have a diverse [unclear] City Council, we’ve had a black police chief, we’ve had a black mayor, but the health of the city is like a third-world nation. And that has to do, to me, with the Medical Center being, in its leadership and those that control its direction, not being very diverse, and that’s not saying that you are racist in any manner or form. That says you have a bias based on your experiences, and the end result is what we have.” He wasn’t happy with that answer.

Because as I said in the meeting yesterday and the day before, my pointing out things are not to—first of all, one should not take things personally. An editorial I wrote, an Op-Ed piece I wrote was on listening and seeing how that applied, and then if it did, seeing how one can confront it. I’m a—I’m not a fan of—I guess the best way of saying it, I’m not a fan of cultural competence, because there’s so many cultures within this hospital and within Harris County Hospital District and different places, that you’re never going to be culturally competent in any area. So when we say we’re training people in cultural competence, people assume that, “I’ll go to class, I’ll learn all I need to learn, and then I’m culturally competent.” Doesn’t work that way.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

It’s kind of arrogant anyways, to think you could be competent in someone else’s culture. (laughs)

Lovell Jones, PhD

Right. But there’s such a thing as cultural humility, and cultural humility is becoming aware that you have a bias and then seeing how you act on that bias and then adjusting how you relate to individuals. To me, I think that’s the key, and it’s a lifelong experience. It’s not something you take in a class. It’s not something you finish. It’s over your entire life, because you’re going to be meeting people, and then even in cultures, there are differences based on individual personalities. So you have to adjust to them in that manner and to put it in that broad umbrella of cultural competency and so forth.

But there’s a way of having it addressed in a manner that—and I’ve said to the administration, which went over and out the door, is that this place used to have a difficulty—and still to some extent; it’s not totally overcome, a difficulty in dealing with women, so much so that they had to bring in a group to discuss the issue of sexual harassment and dealing with those issues, and everyone had to go through that training. Everyone had to sign on the dotted line a form that went into your personnel file that you had taken this and that you—and several department chairs’ heads rolled (laughs) because they did not adhere to certain standards and that sort of thing.

Race and Work at MD Anderson