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University of Illinois grant funds DEI virtual reality training for nurses

Program will address ‘insidious problem’ with racism in medicine: nurses association

Nursing students at the University of Illinois soon will receive “diversity, equity, and inclusion” training via virtual reality courtesy of a $20,000 grant to address racism.

The American Nurses Association, which awarded the grant through its National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing, says the funds will address an “insidious problem” with racism in nursing.

But other medical professionals and scholars say the project is a waste of money.

The university’s College of Nursing plans to use the grant to hire a software engineer to create virtual reality training simulations for students and faculty, according to a news release.

After that, the project leads will observe students’ experiences with the training, including measuring their “confidence in addressing discrimination and racism in classroom and clinical environments.”

“Unlike other formats, virtual reality simulations offer an experiential and fully immersive, first-person vantage point for evidence-based diversity, equity and inclusion training,” Clinical Assistant Professor Paige Ricca stated in the news release.

Ricca is leading the project along with Rose Hernandez, associate dean for equity and inclusion. The College Fix contacted Ricca and Hernandez twice via email within the past month, seeking more details about what students will be taught in the sessions. Neither responded.

Encouraging students to confront racism is a key goal of the grant.

“We hope the experiences will provide unique insights into the challenges and perspectives faced by students and faculty of color in academic nursing and that those lessons will translate to the nursing care of racial and ethnic minority groups,” Ricca said in the news release.

However, Do No Harm, an organization that works to keep “identity politics” out of medical education, questioned the premise of racism being historically rooted in nursing.

“If incidents of racism within the nursing profession are indeed as prevalent as the ANA claims, why does the organization need to fund programs to create new training to simulate it,” Chief of Staff Laura Morgan told The Fix in a recent media statement.

A registered nurse, Moran said the nursing students “would be better served by spending $20,000 on training that actually teaches future nurses how to recognize and respond to a deteriorating patient – not on ideology that further deteriorates what it means to be a nurse.”

MORE: Philly med school will pursue ‘diverse workforce’ through scholarships, special programs

Moran was not the only critic of the grant. Lee Jussim, a distinguished professor of psychology at Rutgers University, told The Fix via email a fellowship for an accomplished student would be a better use of the money.

“I know of no evidence that DEI trainings accomplish anything with respect to reducing disparities or helping the downtrodden,” Jussim said.

This year, the ANA awarded a total of $200,000 to 10 projects addressing racial discrimination, including the public Illinois university, its news release states.

For instance, the East Carolina University College of Nursing also received a grant to investigate why few black males choose nursing as a major and what can be done to change the situation, according to the release.

An ANA commission spokesman did not return two recent email requests for comment from The Fix.

In bestowing the grants, the commission aims to combat what it calls the “insidious” problem of racism in nursing.

“The American Nurses Association is honored to present these funds to these inspiring programs who are taking deliberate action to truly dismantle racism within their respective initiatives and organizations,” ANA President Jennifer Kennedy stated in the news release.

The release cites a 2022 association survey that found more than half of nurses thought there was “a lot” of racism in nursing.

Virtual reality as a means to instruct students about diversity, equity, and inclusion seems to be a growing trend at colleges and universities.

George Mason University began developing virtual reality DEI training in 2022 to help faculty learn how to fight racism and their “implicit bias,” The Fix reported at the time.

MORE: Academics receive $297 million in NIH funds to study racism and health

IMAGE: Steve Sanchez Photos/Shutterstock

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Brendan McDonald is a student at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire.