How Eve Higginbotham is dismantling racist and sexist systems one step at a time

Between the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, widespread economic hardship destabilizing society’s most vulnerable individuals, and nationwide demonstrations calling for the long-overdue dismantling of racist systems and institutions, the spotlight on some of the country’s most deeply entrenched issues has only become brighter.

Eve Higginbotham
Eve J. Higginbotham, vice dean for Inclusion and Diversity and professor of ophthalmology at the Perelman School of Medicine. (Image: Penn Medicine News)

Through all of these challenges, Eve J. Higginbotham, vice dean for Inclusion and Diversity and professor of ophthalmology at the Perelman School of Medicine, has been busy sharing her voice and taking action.

She crafted an open letter sharing her horror and hope following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black individuals at the hands of the police; moderated an emotional and enlightening virtual dialogue that delved into the meaning of this movement and the path to antiracism; and has served as a driving force behind Penn Medicine’s Action for Cultural Transformation (ACT) plan. Developed through a partnership between the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and Penn Medicine Academy, ACT serves as a framework for sustainable change across the health system and aims to eliminate racism, mitigate bias, better support the diverse communities we serve, and create a culture of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Higginbotham has also long been invested in investigating the barriers that women—and particularly women of color—face in science, engineering, and medicine. A member of the National Academy of Medicine since 2000, she serves on the NAM council and currently chairs a committee examining the impact of COVID-19 on the careers of women in these fields. She also recently served as a reviewer for a report published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine titled, Promising Practices for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine: Opening Doors.

Higginbotham reflects on the findings of this groundbreaking report, the watershed moment that we all face, and how Penn Medicine is rising to the occasion and taking action.

“I have been interested in gender, ancestry, and building a diverse workforce and inclusive culture my entire career, so I’m really excited about the suggested interventions—like collecting demographic student, trainee, staff, and faculty data to keep institutions transparent and accountable, establishing mentorship and sponsorship programs to increase opportunities for professional development, and addressing funding disparities for women and underrepresented researchers,” she says. 

“I think this is a really critical moment. This is a time in which we can come together as a community to accomplish a single goal: creating an antiracist and antisexist health system. It’s a complex goal, and many conversations still need to happen, but there’s nothing more powerful than a community being galvanized and pushing to become the best it can be.”

This story is by MaryKate Wurst. Read more at Penn Medicine News.