During his undergraduate days at the University of California, Berkeley, Darin A. Latimore, M.D., felt like an outsider. He was out of his socioeconomic league. A debilitating autoimmune disease kept his mother, a home health aide, from working, so Latimore had an after-school job, paid the bills, shopped for groceries, and ran the household. His classmates didn't know what to make of a black student who was majoring in microbiology and immunology, and didn't play sports. While they debated whether to buy a BMW or a Volvo, he drove a rattletrap with mismatched tires.
Even before entering college, he had received little encouragement. His high school English teacher told him he'd flunk out of Berkeley because he wrote so poorly. His family discouraged him from attending such an elite institution and urged him to go to community college so that he could continue to contribute financially.
He blossomed as a student and resident at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, where mentors encouraged his passion for teaching and potential for leadership. Nevertheless, during residency he felt a need to prove himself to colleagues and patients, some of whom objected to being treated by a black doctor. Latimore initially shied away from academic medicine and instead worked with HIV/AIDS patients, becoming a staff physician with The Permanente Medical Group in South Sacramento. There, he trained medical students and residents, many of whom shared his experiences of isolation and discrimination. Hoping to create a more welcoming environment, he wrote a job description that led to his inaugural position as director of medical student diversity at UC Davis in 2008.
“The first time I met Darin he gave a presentation on being black and gay, and I was so impressed at how he portrayed his experience and shared it with others,” said Nicole Sitkin, then an undergrad at Davis and now a third-year medical student at Yale who chairs the Dean’ Advisory Council on LGBTQ Affairs. Latimore rose to become associate dean of student and resident diversity, helping to expand the definition of diversity to include underrepresented Asian-American groups, and those who are economically disadvantaged. When he started, about 20 percent of medical students at UC Davis were black or Latino. By the end of his tenure, approximately 43 percent of UC Davis medical students met his broader definition of diversity.
Now he holds a similar position at Yale, where he’ the medical school’ first chief diversity officer. His job is to address the lack of gender and minority diversity‒especially among faculty‒and improve a climate that many view as less than inclusive and respectful. In doing so, he will apply a broad definition of diversity that includes gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals, and those who are differently abled.
Although medical school faculty diversity in the United States has been increasing, it has not kept pace with the diversity of medical students or society in general. At the School of Medicine, almost half the students are women and 60 percent are non-white. At the assistant professor level, 47 percent of faculty are women and 30 percent are non-white. But the higher up on the career ladder, the more those numbers fall. Fewer than a quarter of professors are women, and just 14 percent are non-white. But Latimore sees his role expanding outside the medical campus.
At a recent Town Hall, Latimore was on a fact-finding mission to hear about student and faculty concerns regarding diversity, inclusion, and social justice. To his surprise, about a third of those attending came from New Haven’ black and Latino communities, and their unexpected presence changed the conversation. Latimore, who is in his element in front of a crowd, not only rolled with the change in plan, but embraced it. “Diversity is the easy part,” he said, “because it’ just numbers.” Inclusion, on the other hand, means fostering a culture in which people have the tools they need to succeed. While he told his audience that he will partner with New Haven residents to lift the health of the community, his vision goes beyond providing health care‒he believes that Yale has an obligation to partner with the New Haven community to address issues of education, poverty, and unemployment.
Since his arrival in January, Latimore has met with department chairs to learn how they view diversity and inclusion, and to identify problems. At the same time, faculty, residents, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and students from the schools of medicine, nursing, and public health have sought him out. “Everyone wants a light shined on an issue,” he said, whether it’ leadership, inequality, a need for transparency, or a desire to be heard and respected.
Latimore is working with such groups as the Minority Organization for Retention and Expansion; the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine; the Committee for Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice; and the Dean’s Advisory Council on LGBTQ Affairs. Under his stewardship, the Office of Multicultural Affairs will become Diversity, Inclusion, Community, and Equity, with an expanded staff to make it accessible to a larger number of students. He has begun standardizing faculty search criteria and plans to implement unconscious bias training for search committees, eventually expanding it to all faculty members. Over the longer term, his plans include forming a diversity committee to develop a strategic plan with a timeline and metrics to track progress. “We need data,” he said. “You do not change what you do not measure.”
When Latimore started at UC Davis, he assumed he could change the world. Today, he realizes that change comes slowly and is brought about by cultivating relationships and finding common ground in order to move forward. “I believe that unless we have an inclusive environment, diversity will be a revolving door,” he said. “To make a long-term dent, we need to create an environment where everyone feels they can fly.”