BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’14
March 10, 2021
ON THE HEELS OF THE RACIAL RECKONING that swept the globe in the Summer of 2020, the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy set out not only to address any racial inequities and systemic racism within its own walls but also to effect real change in the physical therapy profession and beyond.
In this effort, Associate Professor of Clinical Physical Therapy Didi Matthews ’99, DPT ’02 was appointed the Vice Chair of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to lead the movement within the Division.
“To help me in doing this work, I went to my guiding professional organizations to find recommendations and guidelines for addressing issues related to equity, diversity and inclusion within academic programs,” Matthews said. “I was disappointed to find that, with the exception of a few statements, there was little, if anything, to help guide me. There were no tangible resources that could help me in moving this work forward.”
That situation is set to change, with the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy forming a National Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Commission and electing Matthews, with her own experiencing blazing trails in anti-racism and diversity, to represent physical therapy faculty members.
“I am honored personally and professionally to have been given such a great responsibility,” Matthews said. “I believe the work that will be done by the commission has the chance to have long lasting effects on our academic programs.”
The goals of the commission are to increase representation of racial and ethnic minority students and faculty in physical therapy education and create new anti-racist and anti-bias policies and programming to help programs across the nation with their own diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
“There are many people interested in doing this work, but they need guidance and resources,” Matthews said. “I hope that in this role, I will be able to help develop guidelines and resources that will aid physical therapy programs across the country in being more equitable, diverse and inclusive.”
The Division’s Anti-Racism Plan
As Vice Chair of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Matthews has led the effort to launch a comprehensive anti-racism plan at the Division.
The plan led to the creation of the Diversity, Anti-Racism, Inclusion and Community Engagement Council whose goal is to foster diversity in the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students; provide an inclusive, anti-racist environment where all community members are valued and feel welcome; and to promote population and health equity.
This year’s plan objectives fall under the categories of program structure and leadership, culture and environment, faculty and staff development, curriculum, admissions, faculty/staff recruitment and retention, professional diversity, patient care and research.
Some of these objectives include providing an open, non-judgmental learning community-centered on themes of racism and social justice in health care education, practice, and research; updating curricula to incorporate health justice; making Division clinics more accessible and inclusive to a diverse population; and making the Division’s research culture more equitable and inclusive.
Each year, the plan will be assessed and revised, based on benchmarks that have been met as the Division presses ahead with its antiracism efforts.
“In leading the work towards equity, diversity and inclusion over the past several months, I have learned so much. I owe a lot to many people in the Division who have supported me and modeled leadership to me.” Mathews said. “I am hopeful that I will be able to reach out to many in our profession to make a large impact. The physical therapy profession is poised and ready to make a transformative change, and I am so excited to be part of that.”