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Largest Dermatology Conference Voted on Right-Wing Proposal to End DEI Programs

Equating diversity, equity and inclusion with antisemitism, a group of dermatologists tried to end DEI in their field.

A group of dermatologists recently sought to end their profession’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs en masse, exposing the degree to which the wider reactionary backlash against anti-racist efforts has found converts within the medical specialty.

The anti-DEI proposition was heard at a dermatology conference held in San Diego this month: the annual gathering of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), a nonprofit professional association with a membership of over 20,000.

Like many nonprofits, the American Academy of Dermatology has gradually incorporated efforts and programs to attract and hire a more diverse workforce. Such steps have included designing and implementing outreach and mentorship to potential students of color, diversity-focused workshops and conferences, plans to update literature and resources to represent a wider range of skin tones and a host of other programs distributed across the nation’s practitioners. Diversity efforts have been ongoing for some time and have been recognized by the Academy and many across the specialty as a necessary and beneficial adjunct to modern dermatological practices.

In truth, the need for such programs in this field is especially keen, owing to some rather glaring omissions. In a 2020 review, dermatology was found to be the second-least diverse specialty in all of medicine. The white-dominated nature of the profession has gone hand in hand with a systematic failure to include patients with darker skin in research and training materials — a failure that can have very real negative health ramifications for patients of color. But instead of acting in concert to embrace DEI initiatives and address these problems, there has been, as multiple sources described to Truthout, a marked backlash to “DEI” writ large simmering within the profession.

By introducing a blanket proposal to eliminate DEI programs throughout the dermatology field — “Resolution 003” — at the American Academy of Dermatology’s annual conference, a faction of DEI opponents within the field made their aims widely known. Their proposal, which was formally titled “Sunsetting All Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Programs,” drew instantaneous controversy and condemnation online. In response, other dermatological professionals filed countermanding resolutions. Ultimately the defenders of DEI prevailed at the conference: Dermatology’s DEI programs, it seems, will be preserved for another day. However, the tensions underlying this clash are far from resolved.

Zionist Agitation Merges With the Right-Wing Fixation on DEI

This sudden push against DEI at this week’s American Academy of Dermatology fits neatly into the broader context. The introduction of Resolution 003, rather unprecedented for the AAD conference, closely mirrors the strategies and priorities of the U.S. right wing’s ongoing fight against “DEI” as they (mis)understand it. Many use the word as a catch-all term to which they ascribe the bulk of the nation’s woes. (Recall that as recently as a few months ago, the buzzword to which the right’s ire was directed was “critical race theory.” And before that it was “wokeness,” and “antifa,” and an endless stream of other phantom enemies, with the right weaponizing these words to promote fear and rile up their voting base.) As a result, plenty of DEI programs, the bulk of them corporate, milquetoast and not particularly controversial — in practice very far from anything radical — have been subject to the poorly aimed vitriol of the MAGA crowd.

But the anti-DEI push within dermatology also exposed how Zionist efforts to suppress all criticisms of Israeli state policy amid the unfolding genocide in Gaza have become intertwined with the broader right-wing project of attacking DEI.

Leaked email correspondence sent between multiple leading dermatologists and reviewed by Truthout offered clear evidence that the Resolution 003 effort to “sunset” the entire span of the AAD’s DEI initiatives originated in an intent to retaliate against anti-Zionists in the field. In one email sent by Brian Raphael, the lead author of Resolution 003 to sympathetic dermatologists, the former writes that DEI “is anti semitic and harms Jews.” Truthout spoke to a source with knowledge of the matter that confirmed the veracity of the emails but asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.

In the text of the resolution, the authors wrote, “Since October 7th, there have been instances where the DEI movement has been perceived as being filled with antisemitism, weaponizing the concept against Jews by labeling them as ‘oppressors’ and allegedly justifying extreme hate speech and violence.”

Building on that sweeping claim, they sought to mobilize their entire field to “sunset” diversity, equity and inclusion efforts aimed at gently welcoming people of color into the field and providing competent care to patients of color.

According to multiple dermatologists familiar with the issue, even the particular number of signatories included when Resolution 003 was first released was meant to signal the Zionist motivations behind this sweeping attack on the entirety of all anti-racist and diversity-oriented efforts within the dermatology field: The 107 signatories were supposed to be symbolic of October 7, the date of the Hamas-led attack on Israel that has become the rallying cry to justify the ongoing genocide that the Israeli military is perpetrating against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

While paying lip service to the idea that diversity is “important” and that DEI was “initially well-intentioned,” the authors of Resolution 003 also charged in its text that DEI has “evolved in recent months into a political movement that categorizes certain groups as oppressors and others as oppressed.” (Given that DEI programs have been around for years and are in no way a singular political movement, it would seem that the authors’ perception of this ostensible evolution is in fact a product only of right-wing media’s recent coverage and instrumentalization of the term.)

Once again, the leaked emails between the resolution’s authors, also reviewed by Truthout, make the intent behind the resolution utterly unambiguous. Comments from the lead author Raphael, such as “DEI has become a political ideology that has fueled anti semitism and threatens the future of Jews,” are indicative of the effort’s origins. The resolution’s authors, in leap upon free-associative leap, repeatedly conflate basic DEI policies with, first, the movement for Black lives, and then with anti-Zionism — leading them to the sweeping and preposterous conclusion that mildly reformist dermatological DEI programs, aimed at improving training and bringing more dermatologists of color into the field, should therefore be totally eliminated.

The resolution authors rather bizarrely attempt to portray their attack on DEI programs as being carried out in the interest of “disadvantaged communities,” arguing in the text of the resolution that “many professionals have dedicated their careers to advocating for and supporting disadvantaged communities, and the current DEI system, which is perceived to contain antisemitic elements, is seen as inconsistent with these values.”

The conflation of disparate political movements aside, their attempt to tarnish the entirety of dermatology’s DEI programs with allegations of antisemitism appears particularly egregious when considering the nature of the DEI programs in question: aforementioned efforts like including different skin tones in dermatological learning and research materials, offering training and curricula around treating patients of color, and other very basic decisions enacted to counter legacies of historical racism and ignorance within the field. That’s to say nothing of the very real consequences for patients’ health — crucially, a central aspect of DEI is to teach dermatologists to more accurately recognize skin ailments as they show up on a range of skin tones.

Raphael did not respond to multiple requests for comment before the publication of this article. Subsequent to its initial publication, he belatedly offered this comment to Truthout via a spokesperson:

I regret this resolution was not received in the manner we intended, and therefore we are clarifying our position. The intent of the proposal was never to eliminate all diversity programs, but to work with our colleagues and the AAD/A to adopt more inclusive policies that promote the end of racism and hate speech—and support the equal treatment and respect of all individuals, especially within the healthcare system. We fully support AAD/A’s existing diversity programs that are focused on promoting inclusivity and creating opportunities for all groups. We are working with the AAD/A to arrive at a more inclusive policy that recognizes the horrifying rise of anti-Semitism and the need to protect against all forms of hate and discrimination.

Zionists in Dermatology Are Working to Silence All Criticism of Israel

Amid the Zionist-led push to disband dermatology’s DEI programs, dermatologists who wish to speak out against the IDF and its killing of civilians in Gaza say they feel unable to do so, even outside of work, for fear of reprisal within their field.

As one dermatologist put it, “This resolution to sunset all DEI initiatives is an attempt by those who have power and influence in dermatology to stifle political diversity amongst future dermatologists. The signers of this resolution know that dermatologists of color tend to be pro-Palestine. That makes [the opponents of DEI] extremely uncomfortable.… However, I do think that there are also others in dermatology that have been wanting to sunset DEI for years, but now they’re hiding in the shadows.”

Truthout reached multiple dermatologists who said they strongly oppose both the genocide in Gaza and Resolution 003 but have felt unable to speak out about either. All sources requested anonymity for fear of professional consequences, citing the strong possibility of swift censure from mentors, professors, medical leadership, licensors, and others with power over their careers and livelihoods.

Their fear appears warranted. Last November, a Palestinian dermatologist, Amena Alkeswani, was threatened with firing and the loss of her license after she posted a heated statement regarding Palestine that her detractors framed as antisemitic. Truthout was provided with chat transcripts that indicated that, in the wake of Alkeswani’s post, top-level dermatologists, including the chair of the dermatology department at an elite university, had reported Alkeswani to the American Board of Dermatology and were planning other attempts to threaten her credentials.

Perhaps some might retort that Alkeswani erred in posting at all — after all, AAD professional guidelines caution against political outbursts and social media admonishments. But if that is the case, then Alkeswani is being held to a double standard. Truthout has reviewed tranches of social media posts posted by numerous dermatologists, including signatories of Resolution 003, spreading right-wing content about Muslims, DEI, and more, including to a group called “Derms on the Right.” Signatories of Resolution 003 were also seen to have publicly “liked” a puerile racist Facebook post mocking Rep. Ilhan Omar’s hijab. The clampdown on social media activity by AAD members has so far exhibited only a unidirectional trajectory.

The Conference Votes

The escalating tensions and social media scrimmaging within the dermatology field came to a head March 8-12 as the AAD held its major annual conference in San Diego, inviting its members to vote on a number of resolutions, including Resolution 003 and those proposed to counter it. After that, the results of the vote were taken to an executive committee; from there, the vote is passing to the handful of leaders on the board of directors. It was, sources describe, the most contentious AAD meeting in memory.

“Usually, the resolutions are for things like, ‘What kinds of sunscreen should we recommend?’” said one dermatologist who was present at the conference on the phone with Truthout. “This was different.”

Not only was Resolution 003 up for a vote — the online fervor around had, again, led to the introduction of two additional resolutions in response, 004 and 005. Their authors saw the need to hit back against the 003 authors’ all-encompassing denunciation of DEI. Resolution 004, for instance, took repeated pains to emphasize that the claims found in Resolution 003 (such as the ostensible politicization of DEI and its alleged ill effect on “unbiased and equal medical care”) are “unfounded” and had “no supporting evidence of fact within our specialty of Dermatology.”

Resolution 005, which was also crafted in defense of DEI, was introduced by Dina D. Strachan, MD, FAAD (fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology). The resolution explicitly critiques the “right-wing political initiative in the United States” that seeks to “harass non-traditional leaders and interfere with any efforts to foster an equitable, diverse and inclusive society.”

In the pages of Resolution 005, Strachan and her coauthors then declare that the dermatological community has “a great concern, given the stated threats to DEI, that the proposed resolution to dismantle this initiative is not about antisemitism but racial discrimination and unwillingness to accept diversity at levels of leadership.” Resolution 005 also points out that Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias are an equally salient concern for the field, and that “dismantling DEI does not protect anyone against anti-Jewish bias, Islamophobia or anti-Arab bias and conflating the issues has been shown to escalate discord and disunity.” Moreover, “No examples of anti-Jewish bias, which is what is put forth in the proposal, have been presented or tied to DEI in the AAD/A initiatives.”

As announced at the conference, it was ultimately a stripped-down version of this statement, Resolution 005, that prevailed and went on to a board vote. At least for now, the members of the American Academy of Dermatology have rebuffed the anti-DEI tenets of Resolution 003, with resounding condemnation: Sources say that the majority of participating members voted against it.

However, for a couple of reasons, the large majority of dermatologists in favor of DEI cannot yet claim full victory. For one, a final decision on the version of the resolution text that will actually be adopted has, for now, been punted; it will not be established until the board of directors meets, which may take place as late as May.

But more to the point is that, while the preferences of the majority of membership were made abundantly clear, the nuances of the text that they voted for would not survive the second round of voting conducted by a more exclusive leadership group. The version of Resolution 005 that survived the executive committee meeting on March 10 and that was ultimately passed to the board was a far cry from the clarifying diagnosis and stipulations of the original text of the resolution.

In fact, Resolution 005’s key points would be reduced to the point of near-banality — the text was cut in almost its entirety. Truthout reviewed a slide shown to the conference audience with the text of the stripped-down version of the resolution that prevailed. The trimmed-down resolution was far vaguer and more noncommittal:

The AAD/A Board of Directors update the mission of the Diversity Committee to more specifically examine and address any forms of hate toward identity groups defined by the AAD diversity statement of intent as they may relate to the AAD/A’s core mission and values.

That quote is not an excerpt — it’s the final resolution in its entirety. Nevertheless, the rejection of Resolution 003 and the adoption (in letter, if not fully in spirit) of Resolution 005 still represent a meaningful victory: By its heavily weighted majority vote, the dermatological community has decided to defend the value and importance of DEI programs within the white-dominated field — programs whose importance many dermatologists of color attested to during the conference talks.

Before the conference began, the AAD president, Terrence A. Cronin Jr., had sent out an email to the association’s members warning them that “public admonitions or personal attacks on social media platforms are inappropriate and may be considered ethical violations.” He sent the email after dermatologists of color publicly denounced Resolution 003’s authors and signatories. No such email was sent when Amena Alkeswani was under online attack from high-ranking colleagues, according to the dermatologists interviewed by Truthout.

Reached by Truthout for comment, the American Academy of Dermatology offered the following statement, attributed to AAD President Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD:

The American Academy of Dermatology’s commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and access to quality care for all is part of our Strategic Plan. The Academy is also committed to an environment in which our members, employees, and strategic partners feel welcome, included, and understood.

We celebrate diversity in all forms including, but not limited to, religious, ethnic, cultural, gender, and racial identities and aim to improve disparities in health care. We are ardent opponents of any form of antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Asian hate, and racism of any kind.

After the conference, one dermatologist source (who, like the others, wished to remain anonymous for fear of career reprisals) commented to Truthout, “I am ultimately happy that 003 did not pass. This is a victory in that DEI was protected, and I commend the author of 005. Zero-zero-five, even in its amended form, is a much better alternative. The amended form I do not feel adds much to DEI, as DEI already existed to protect each other from all forms of hate and discrimination. But again, it kept DEI alive from the smear campaign.”

Resolution 003, the dermatologist continued, had alleged that, “DEI was antisemitic and promoted hate, without any evidence. In fact, the only evidence of hate within the derm community appears to be solely from the authors of 003.”

The dermatologist added that the authors of Resolution 003 “clearly feel comfortable with making racist comments, anti-Arab/Palestinian comments and Islamophobic comments online. Perhaps they feel this does not affect their ability to care for all patients equally.”

Note: This article has been updated with a comment provided by Brian Raphael after publication.

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