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New School of Nursing mural celebrates legacy of diversity

By By Kirk Johannesen

September 20, 2022

The IU School of Nursing mural, A Commitment to Diversity, is unveiled Sept. 14. Photo by Alex ... The IU School of Nursing mural, “A Commitment to Diversity,” is unveiled Sept. 14. Photo by Alex Kumar, Indiana University. The Indiana University School of Nursing has embraced the importance of diversity for many years, and now a representation of that value will be on display for students and visitors to see.

A 5-by-3-foot mural titled “A Commitment to Diversity” was unveiled Sept. 14 in the IU Bloomington Health Sciences Building, where it will hang next to the Nursing Learning Resource Center.

The mural, painted by IU graduate student Raheem Elmore, features six School of Nursing graduates and “celebrates and commemorates the story of diversity, equity and inclusion among students, faculty and staff at the IU School of Nursing,” Dean Robin Newhouse said.

The six people depicted on the mural are:

  • Manuel L. Manalo, the first Asian male graduate, IU Kokomo, 1989.
  • Colleen A. Smith, the oldest graduate, IU Kokomo, 1998.
  • Lauranne Sams, the first African American faculty member, who joined IUPUI in 1958.
  • Ann Mitchem-Davis, the first African American female graduate, IUPUI, 1953.
  • Mackenzie Edge-Reetz, representing LGBTQ+ women, 2017 graduate of IU Bloomington.
  • Martin Valtierra, the first Hispanic male graduate, IU Northwest, 1987

IU President Pamela Whitten echoed the belief of former IU President Herman B Wells that institutional heritage should be preserved and present daily with visual reminders so that people remember the foundations set by predecessors.

“The mural will hopefully serve as a daily reminder of the impact of the IU School of Nursing and its pioneering students and faculty from underrepresented groups, and the foundation they provided on which current students, faculty and staff continue to build,” Whitten said to the audience at the unveiling. “IU has long played an essential role in providing health-related services to the people of Indiana and beyond through the clinical and health sciences of the school.”

Wendy Trueblood Miller, the School of Nursing’s associate dean for Bloomington programs, said that nursing represents the largest portion of the health care workforce, and it cuts across the entire fabric of human experience. To effectively provide empathetic care to a diverse patient population, nursing students must be exposed to diversity themselves, Miller added.

Patients say it’s important to have nurses who look like them and can relate to them culturally, the School of Nursing leaders said, which is why Newhouse says greater diversity is needed in the national nursing workforce. IU School of Nursing students Diana Jimenez Ronquillo, left, and Theophilia Denadi, right, with I... IU School of Nursing students Diana Jimenez Ronquillo, left, and Theophilia Denadi, right, with IU President Pamela Whitten after the unveiling. Photo by Alex Kumar, Indiana University.

Diana Jimenez Ronquillo, a senior in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Bloomington who spoke at the unveiling, recalled serving as a translator for her parents at medical appointments when she was a child. Now she likes that she can speak directly with Spanish-speaking adult patients, so their children won’t have the responsibility of translating.

“I can see the relief in their faces; I can see the comfort I bring to them,” Ronquillo said.

Theophilia Denadi, a junior in the nursing program who was born and raised in Benin, West Africa, said it wasn’t until she came to the United States that she felt like a minority who was at times scrutinized and dismissed. However, she said IU and the School of Nursing have provided her a community where she is accepted.

“Staff, friends and professors made me feel comfortable with being around people I can relate to,” Denadi said. “Since then, I have found my community with people that not only look like me but share similar experiences and values such as diversity, education and humanitarianism. This is the kind of community that all health care professions need.”

Edge-Reetz, who attended the unveiling, said it helps build connections and trust when patients see nurses who look like them and can relate to them culturally.

“I think it builds a rapport with the patient, and what you are telling them is actually true and meaningful,” said Edge-Reetz, the clinical manager of the obstetrics intensive care unit in the Maternity Tower at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. “You’re not just there to give them a shot; you’re there to truly care for them in their whole self.”

Edge-Reetz said there have been occasions when patients have been more at ease sharing about their own identity or that of a family member when they learn that she’s married to a woman.

The mural was the idea of John Simmons, the School of Nursing’s strategic and marketing communications manager. The idea stemmed from an article he wrote for the school’s newsletter, The Nursing News, about the need for greater diversity in health care, and subsequent discussions with some of the school’s senior students of color.

Jeremy Hackerd, director of strategic initiatives in the Office of the President, secured a small grant to hire Elmore and pay for his paints and canvas.

Elmore, who is working on a dual doctorate in English literature and African American and African Diaspora studies, was recommended by an admissions counselor in the IU Office of Admissions. Simmons said he was impressed by his portfolio, which included work for the city of Bloomington; he painted Black Lives Matter street murals on Sixth Street and at the Banneker Community Center.

Raheem Elmore.  Raheem Elmore.

“It is a historic project, so being able to be a part of that is a blessing,” said Elmore, who has worked as a professional artist since age 16, primarily in the mediums of airbrush, acrylics and oil paintings. “I am excited to have the piece unveiled and displayed.”

Simmons said he asked Teresa Troke, the Institutional Research and Decision Support assistant director, to give him the names of milestone School of Nursing graduates in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. Archivists, alumni relations and School of Nursing student services in Indianapolis, Kokomo and Gary helped Simmons get photos of the people depicted in the mural.

The project was a little challenging, Elmore said, because some of the photos were in black and white, some were sepias, some were blurry, and they were wearing different clothes and posed in different ways. So, Elmore said he had to imagine what the people would look like if they were all in the same room at the same time, in full color.

“I think the mural turned out well. I was happy to see it come to life,” Elmore said.

Kirk Johannesen is a communications consultant in the Office of the Vice President for Communications and Marketing.