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Department’s inaugural Spring Inclusion Symposium ignites commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility

Mid-morning on Tuesday, May 21, the Eric P. Newman Education Center (EPNEC) was abuzz with activity for the inaugural Spring Inclusion Symposium, hosted by the Department of Anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. WashU staff, faculty, trainees, students, St. Louis community members, and business leaders gathered for this half-day event dedicated to fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

The symposium began with attendees engaging with the artistic expression of inclusive representation, networking with fellow attendees, and interacting with community organizations who had booths set up in the forum.  The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion provided insights into DEI initiatives at the School of Medicine, while DUO Dogs brought therapy dogs to interact with participants, and TinySuperheroes proudly showcased their inspiring capes.

A highlight of the symposium was the artwork displayed along the lobby’s perimeter, captured by Rick Guidotti, founder and director of Positive Exposure. His award-winning inclusive photography showcased the unique experiences and strengths of individuals with physical and non-apparent disabilities.

The first keynote speaker, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy and Neurology, Kerri Morgan, PhD, OTR/L, ATP, addressed healthcare inequities and ableism in medical education. Morgan, a three-time Paralympic medalist, shared striking statistics and personal stories of the discrimination and microaggressions she faces as a person with a visible disability, which brought awareness to the need for universal accessibility and the importance of representation. Morgan also emphasized the need to enhance disability representation in NIH research and to prioritize accessibility improvements in clinical trials.

Professor of Anesthesiology & Emergency Medicine, Brian Wessman, MD, moderated a dynamic panel discussion on inclusive workplaces. Panelists included Aimee Wehmeier, MBA, President at Paraquad, Inc.; Thy Huskey, MD, FAAPMR, Professor, Orthopaedic Surgery and Neurology; Peppar Cyr, MPhil, MD/PhD Candidate, Neonatal Development Research (WUNDER) Lab; Chris Stone, EdD, Director, WashU’s Office of Disability Resources; and Robyn Rosenberger, Founder & CEO at TinySuperheroes. This discussion brought to life the intricate dynamics of creating inclusive workplaces. They shared personal anecdotes and professional insights, emphasizing the importance of not just accommodating but actively integrating individuals with disabilities into every aspect of organizational culture.

The final keynote speaker, Guidotti, captivated the audience with stories behind his artwork. His lens not only captures the physical appearance of individuals with disabilities but also illuminates their strength, resilience, and diversity. Through his art, Guidotti challenges societal norms and invites viewers to embrace a more inclusive perspective.

“The symposium was a powerful reminder of the need for ongoing commitment to inclusion,” said Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology and Administrative Director for the Center for Perioperative Mental Health, Katie Holzer, PhD, LCSW. “It provided not just awareness, but actionable strategies to create a more accessible community.”

Another attendee remarked, “This event was transformative. It opened my eyes to the daily challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and inspired me to be an agent of change in my professional and personal life.”

The inaugural Spring Inclusion Symposium left a lasting impact on all who attended, sparking meaningful conversations and inspiring collective action towards a more inclusive and accessible workplace and community.

“I left the event with a renewed sense of purpose and a commitment to advocate for better accessibility and inclusion,” concluded Holzer.

For those unable to attend the event, a recording of the symposium can be found on our YouTube Channel.