The University of Colorado School of Medicine (CUSOM) promoted three discriminatory scholarships for “historically underrepresented” groups on its website – that is, until they were notified by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that those programs were being challenged.
On June 4, 2023, Do No Harm senior fellow Mark Perry filed a federal civil rights complaint with the Department of Education’s OCR for three “diversity scholarships” that discriminated on the basis of race/ethnicity or sex/gender identity/sexual orientation. Shortly after the Denver OCR received the complaint and contacted the university, CUSOM made substantial changes to the eligibility criteria for each of the three scholarships:
1. Medical Student Externship Diversity Scholarship
The original eligibility criteria stated, “The Program is open to applicants who belong to groups that are recognized as historically underrepresented in the health profession including African American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hispanic/Latino, Pacific Islander and/or LGBTQIA+.”
The eligibility was later updated to remove the illegal race/sexual orientation/gender identity restrictions:
2. The Chair’s Diversity Scholarship
Eligibility for this scholarship was originally restricted to “a member of a traditionally underrepresented minority in health science graduate programs (African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaska Native, Vietnamese, or rural students).”
The revised criteria now say that “any student in good academic standing” is eligible to apply:
3. Visiting Student Diversity Scholarship
This scholarship was being promoted as an opportunity for 4th-year medical students with an interest in surgery; however, the discriminatory program was only open to “applicants who belong to groups that are recognized as historically underrepresented in the health profession including African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, Pacific Islander and/or LGBTQ.”
After being notified by OCR of the federal civil rights complaint, the CUSOM revised the eligibility criteria to say that anyone can apply:
“In each case, CUSOM scrubbed the discriminatory and illegal eligibility restrictions based on race, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity after the filing of my complaint,” Perry said. “The remedy that Do No Harm and I sought,” he continued, “was to enjoin the University from continuing to engage in illegal discrimination.”
As soon as the OCR finalizes its investigation it has indicated that it will issue a closure letter to reflect the changes CUSOM has made to correct its non-compliance with Title VI and Title IX, according to an email Perry received from the Denver OCR.
Do No Harm applauds the steps that CUSOM has taken to stop its illegal discrimination and enforce federal civil rights laws including Title VI and Title IX – as is legally required by recipients of federal financial assistance. We encourage other medical education programs to follow suit.
This case at the University of Colorado School of Medicine demonstrates the effectiveness of challenging colleges and universities that are violating the law by offering discriminatory scholarships and academic programs. Do No Harm will continue to take the necessary action to correct these violations and restore fairness and the equal treatment of all individuals in medical education.
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