Koo: “Think Beyond the Possible”? CWRU’s nursing school can barely keep up with the present


Courtesy of Claire Linos

Hyunjung Koo, Contributing Writer

There is a typical college application question that many of us will remember answering: why did you choose our school? Perhaps Case Western Reserve University’s lack of a supplemental essay, and thus, lack of need to scrutinize the reasoning for applying here, should have been my first “red flag.” However, had there been one, I would have responded that I wanted to learn at a nationally recognized nursing program. In fact, CWRU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) nursing program is ranked among the top ten in the nation by U.S. News.

I am a sophomore nursing student at the Frances Payne Bolton (FPB) School of Nursing, and I am Asian. Now, read that sentence again. My racial identity falls at the end of the sentence, not the beginning, which may seem counter-intuitive.

The order in which I describe myself is deliberate. It shows how I perceive myself; I don’t think about my racial identity daily, but I do attend my nursing lectures and study for my nursing classes every day. In an ideal world, my racial identity should be allowed to be treated as an afterthought. An academic institution, especially an esteemed one like CWRU, should support students so that their identities do not hinder their education.

However, the faculty and staff of FPB Nursing have “graciously” given me numerous opportunities to confront my identity as an Asian woman. The realization of my identity as a minority, forced onto me by someone else, is an unpleasant feeling I would not wish upon even my worst enemy.

I experienced it when my clinical instructor this semester, on our first day on the hospital floor, asked me how to pronounce my name and then declared he would just call me by my last name. I experienced it when my nursing advisor—a former President of the American Nurses Association—asked if I had an “English name” at our first meeting. I experienced it when my first-year clinical instructor notified us that there was an Asian patient on the floor who could not speak English and subsequently turned to the three Asian students, suggesting we act as translators—even though we had already told her that not all of us were bilingual. I experienced it when I opened the RateMyProfessor page for my first-year nursing professor and found two different comments from 2019, stating she acts inappropriately towards Asian students. I experienced it when my psychiatric nursing clinical instructor said a racial slur used primarily against Asians in a conversation with me.

The inappropriate behaviors displayed by FPB Nursing faculty members towards me is not isolated and not limited to my Asian identity. A nursing professor denied the entirety of my disability accommodations request, which the Disabilities Office had approved. A friend disclosed that the community nursing instructor made inappropriate remarks suggesting that she held a racial bias against Black teachers and parents at a local school where community clinicals were conducted. A different first-year nursing clinical instructor laughed in my face when I privately disclosed to her that I was mentally struggling because I was going through a family trauma. A psychiatric nursing clinical instructor was recently fired after sexually harassing the female students in his clinical group. Every single one of these incidents are related to different faculty and staff members.

In complete contrast to the mission and vision listed on the their Strategic Plan for the years 2018-2022—where the school listed the need to “increase diversity and inclusion efforts for and among students, faculty and staff” as a key goal—the nursing school administrators seem to pay no mind to their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI) initiatives. Namely, Dean Carol Musil and Director of the BSN Program Beverly Capper seem to be uninterested in answering the student body’s repeated inquiries regarding what DEI initiatives are currently in place and what plans are to be implemented in the future. The school has attempted to placate students with non-answers and ignored our concerns too many times. The lack of scrutiny for their own actions and lack of a feedback system make this department so suffocatingly regressive.

Take, for example, our four-year community nursing course. A mandatory one-credit-hour course that delves into building competency in providing care for a diverse populace is an excellent idea in theory. The execution of it, however, is a completely different story altogether. During my first-year, the class completed a ‘poverty simulation’ assignment that was supposed to give us an understanding of how financial constraints can force tough decisions at all times. Afterward, we discussed what we learned from the simulator, which was poorly moderated at best. Students came forward with their own stories of financial struggles, especially while attending CWRU, and our two instructors did not add much and seemed completely untrained to deal with such topics. My sophomore year “community-nursing” experience was not much better, raising the question of how well-versed any of these instructors are when they are teaching the sensitive issues that are covered in this course?

On the one hand, I do commend the goal of this course; I have had the chance to go to local women’s shelters and schools to interact with people of the Cleveland community that I would never have otherwise gotten the opportunity to meet. This first-hand experience has taught me more about how to communicate with my patients than a textbook or classroom ever could have. However, I am frustrated with the poor handling of such necessary education. What is the point of espousing “cultural competency” in our lectures when our community nursing instructor herself will ask her Asian students whether “any [local school] students have asked why they have such small eyes?” Or explaining that “Fridays are low attendance days,” because parents [in a predominantly Black, lower class neighborhood] are too lazy to drive their kids to school, since they are hungover, according to her? The instructors and administrators of this school should be educated on culturally competent care themselves before trying to preach it to us.

The reality minority students face in the nursing department is horrific. It is increasingly concerning once you consider the fact that there are faculty teaching in FPB Nursing who are also practicing nurses today. The current situation of the nursing department is best summarized by a RateMyProfessor comment from 2020, where one student said that a current faculty member “…just doesn’t seem to be cut out for being a professor in this era.” The Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing needs to do better, for the sake of both future nurses and patients.