Linda Jackson is led by one guiding principle: to make sure that students at Yale School of Medicine (YSM) from underrepresented backgrounds feel that they are part of the community.
Jackson, who came to YSM over 30 years ago, directs the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Community Engagement, and Equity (DICE), leading summer research programs that bring in students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving universities. She also supports YSM student affinity groups. But unofficially, she gives students the feeling that they are part of the YSM family — inviting them into her office, and into her home. “Darin [Latimore, MD, Deputy Dean of Diversity and Inclusion] wanted our office to be a place where students can come and relax and be themselves,” Jackson said. “A place where they can find comfort and peace.”
When students graduate, they remain in close communication, forming a multi-generational network that has become an invaluable resource over the years.
“Linda epitomizes the meaning of inclusivity for the students we serve,” says Latimore. “She goes above and beyond to enhance their wellbeing and to ensure their success in our programs.”
She’s taken students to New York City and the beach. They have accompanied her to Immanuel Missionary Baptist Church on Chapel Street in New Haven and stood to receive recognition from the pastor, who is himself a graduate of HBCU Morehouse College in Atlanta. And Jackson has always opened her home to students, cooking them traditional Caribbean and Southern dishes, or letting them use her kitchen to cook their favorite meals. “I’m from Connecticut but my family is from Georgia,” Jackson says. “My roots are in Georgia. And being from the South, we’re very welcoming and friendly.”
Jackson eases the process for Black and Brown students finding their way through medical school — and they remain grateful to that support years later. Dr. Olatokunbo Famakinwa, better known as Dr. Toks, is an award-winning internal medicine physician and pediatrician working in Washington, D.C. She met Jackson as a first-year medical student at Yale and says, “I can’t speak about her without tears coming to my eyes.” Jackson, she says, “created a safe space to students to come to her with any concerns or any conversation. She always opened up her office and even her home. It’s already tough to go through medical school,” adds Toks, but “being a medical student of color is even tougher.”
She recalls as a fourth-year medical student when she was struggling and Jackson invited her to her home and cooked curry chicken. “She gave me comfort and warmth, and a sense of home,” says Toks. More than a decade after graduating, she and Jackson remain close friends.
Dowin Boatright, MD, MBA, MHS, assistant professor of emergency medicine, first met Jackson over 20 years ago when he was a Morehouse student and came to Yale for a summer research program she was leading. He remembers that there was a presentation at the end, and he hadn’t known that he would be expected to use PowerPoint. “She reviewed it and helped me to revamp my presentation,” he said. “She provided personal support but also academic support.”
At the time of the summer research program, many students were still coming to terms with who they were and who they wanted to be, said Boatright, and Jackson helped to steer them on their medical paths, providing comfort and connections. Other Morehouse alumni who participated in the YSM summer programs, like Andre Matthews, assistant professor and medical toxicologist at Emory University, are regularly invited back for lectures. Invariably on these visits, Jackson will host a dinner, says Boatright, and include other Morehouse alumni, including Dirk Johnson, MD, FACS, associate professor of surgery (trauma), medical director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and medical director of surgical services.
“There are so few medical students and physicians of color,” said Boatright. “We want to go places where we feel like there are safe spaces. You can go to Linda with any problem and she will be supportive. And she can also provide connections that lead to opportunities.”
Beyond Yale, Jackson serves as the northeast regional director of the National Association for Minority Medical Educators, Inc. (NAMME) and has held previous roles as national secretary and regional program chair of NAMME. Jackson’s passion for her work has served as an inspiration to students in her program who are now paying it forward. Boatright now serves as a mentor to medical students at Yale who Jackson sends his way. Toks offers admission counseling and resources to students from underrepresented communities through her organization the Pre-Med Laboratory, carrying on Jackson’s legacy, and regularly talks to students who Jackson sends to her.
“I saw her passion for diversity and inclusion,” says Toks. “I saw the way she gave of herself during the summer programs and the way she rallied everyone to help students who couldn’t pay for basic supplies. Now, she’ll call and connect me with students who are interested in attending Yale and have questions. One of her greatest attributes is her ability to connect students across class years.”