COM-Phoenix Diversity Team Works to Ensure Inclusivity
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix had been a one-person department for more than a year.
Sonji Muhammad, assistant director of the office, said the department began taking shape in the fall of 2014.
"I wanted to be involved with the office when I saw the focus wasn't on compliance, but actually working with the entire college in making it a more inclusive, nurturing and respectful environment for students, faculty and staff," she said.
"Everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed – and with diversity, we work with others and look for ways to make that happen," Muhammad continued.
The office has recently expanded through the addition of Associate Dean Francisco Lucio. He previously served as director of diversity and inclusion at New York University School of Medicine, where he helped lead the development of key institutional diversity initiatives.
"I think I can bring a lot of positive experience to this role," he said.
Lucio, who has a Juris Doctor degree, was a middle-school teacher in his hometown of Salinas, California, where he taught English as a second language.
"I enjoyed teaching students and the educational environment," he said.
Ultimately, though, Lucio desired a career where he could work both with students and outside of the classroom. Diversity and inclusion work in an academic medical institution setting was the perfect marriage between his love of education and his law background.
"The benefit of understanding law and policy and the need to advance diversity in health care has been a great benefit in my position," he said.
L'Tanya Miller, administrative associate for the office, recently joined the team, as well.
"One of my favorite parts of the job is being a part of the initial development of the team that will make up (the Office of) Diversity and Inclusion," she said. "I love being part of a team as it is being built and experiencing the process of its maturation."
Miller has a diverse background. Prior to joining the UA, she worked as a welder for the U.S. Navy, an administrator for the discipline initiative department at the Department of Education and an office manager at Intel Corp.
"A robust diversity department will help to shape the next generation of medical professionals, who will deal with topics still being debated in the political world," she said.
Muhammad echoed Miller's statement about the importance of a robust diversity department.
"It's in line with our mission, which is to train exemplary physicians, scientists and leaders while focusing on our core values, which include diversity and excellence," she said. "Diversity means excellence. While there are many myths that diversity lowers standards, they are myths. Actual research has shown how it does the opposite."
Muhammad has spent most of her career in the corporate sector, but in the last five years has transitioned to working in academia.
"No matter your position at the college, everyone contributes to student success."