Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘It’s important for us to be unified’: A Q&A with leadership from Black Women in Medicine at UMass

The president and public relations director discuss their vision for the new RSO
Courtesy of Michelle Gitau

In the spring of 2020, Attiya Nurse started a new group —now a Registered Student Organization— to bring together Black women in medicine. Since then, she and her executive board have been holding successful events and creating a supportive community of Black women who are working towards similar goals. The Collegian spoke with Nurse, the organization’s president, and Michelle Gitau, the public relations director, about their experiences spearheading the up-and-coming group.

Sophia Gardner: I read in the Rebirth Project that you started Black Women in Medicine in the spring of 2020. How did the idea come about?

Attiya Nurse: So Black Women in Medicine started actually in Florida, and I used to go to school in Florida. So, when I transferred here, I really felt like this was something that was missing at this campus. So, I definitely wanted to bring it here.

SG: So, when you first came to UMass, did you feel that Black women in STEM fields needed more representation?

AN: ​​Yeah, I definitely did. I was a bio major when I started. I was taking chemistry classes and I was often one of the only Black girls in my class. Seeing us all sitting like in different parts of the room, I felt like ‘Oh, we need to, like, get to know each other’. We’re only a small minority in this school. It’s definitely important for us to be unified and be able to share resources with each other and stuff like that.

SG: So, Michelle, what made you interested in joining Black Women in Medicine?

Michelle Gitau: I remember when the Instagram started, and I saw the first post and I was like, “Oh, my God.” I was just so excited to see an organization representing Black women in medicine. I just remember either commenting or DM-ing the page, because they had tagged the class of ‘23 incorrectly. So, I was like, make sure you tag the class of ‘23. I think they had a couple of events that spring, and I went to them over Zoom. And then I joined the e-board.

SG: Would you say that a lot of people join because of social media?

AN: I feel like it’s kind of 50-50. Because we are targeting a small population at UMass: Black women in medicine or STEM. So, I feel like most of the people we get on Instagram tend to be Black women just generally supporting us, but I feel like when we’re advocating on campus, talking to different people in class and stuff like that, we get more people targeted to our mission. So, kind of both, I guess.

MG:  I would agree. I think Instagram is a great way to get the word out there. But a lot of our members come because a friend told them or a friend of a friend.

SG: What does Black Women in Medicine look like logistically? You have both meetings and events, right? How often?

MG: We have a board meeting every week. And events are usually at least twice a month. Our events usually cater towards showing other Black women like in medicine or in STEM who have succeeded or made it past undergrad and are doing bigger things. So, showing that to our members and making it known that it’s possible.

AN: I definitely agree. We’ve also had some smaller events just to get to know each other.

SG: So, Black Women in Medicine started in the spring of 2020, which also means that you probably had to start remotely. What was it like trying to start an RSO in the middle of a pandemic?

AN: It was hard, because like I said, we are targeting a small group of people on campus. But in some ways, it was good because we were able to get different doctors from different states. One of them was in New York and another was somewhere down south. So, it was cool in that sense. But then it’s also hard, because sometimes you don’t want to go to an event on Zoom when you’ve been on Zoom all day. So, it was kind of hard to get people to come to some events. I’m glad we’re on campus now.

SG: Since you’re both graduating in the spring, you won’t be at UMass anymore, but the organization will still be around. So, what do you hope that the Black Women in Medicine looks like after you leave? What do you hope the legacy of the organization is?

AN: I would definitely say collaborating with different organizations on campus, getting the word out there that you don’t have to be a Black woman in medicine to come to our events, you can still support us in different ways. I would also say, growing our membership and solidifying a space on campus. And maybe something annual that Black on medicine is known for, that’d be great.

MG: Yeah, I definitely want to see membership growing numbers. I think transitioning back to in-person has been kind of weird for younger students because they don’t really know what’s available in terms of clubs or they’re not really that interested anymore. So, I would love to see people get involved more in the club. And having an annual event — I think our hope was to have a social event where we invite different professionals.

AN: We had a “Black Love” event earlier this month, and it was really fun. We collaborated with the Black Student Union and NAACP. I’d love to see that continue. It was really fun to meet different Black students on campus and Black professionals on campus. I’d love to see that continue.

SG: What’s the best way for interested students to get involved?

AN: I would say we’re most active on Instagram. They can also request membership on Campus Pulse, so we can make sure we add them to our email list. We post most things on Instagram. We have a link tree on our Instagram with applications for membership.

Black Women in Medicine can be found on Instagram at @nsbwm_amherst.

Sophia Gardner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @sophieegardnerr.

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