Our History of Inclusion

The Medical University of South Carolina was founded in 1824, in Charleston, South Carolina. The University consists of six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy.

In 1884, the first female students were admitted into the School of Nursing. In 1897, the Hospital and Training School for Nurses was established for the education of African American nurses and treatment for African American patients. In 1947, Mary Maxine Larisey, Ph.D., became the first female professor at the Medical College, within the College of Pharmacy.

The “Era of Diversity” at MUSC began in 1965 with the enrollment of the first African American student into the Medical College, though he would not complete this degree.

A pivotal moment in MUSC’s history occurred March 17–June 27, 1969 during the Hospital Workers Strike. It began when 12 MUSC health care workers were fired during their attempts to stand up for patient safety and better pay and treatment as employees. The firing led to one of the final monumental demonstrations in the American Civil Rights Movement. Four hundred black hospital and nursing home employees, all but 12 women, organized for higher pay and unionization. The strike would last for 90 days and draw national attention.

In 1971, the first two African Americans graduated from MUSC: Bernard W. Deas, Jr., M.D., from the College of Medicine and James Hodges from the College of Pharmacy. This was followed by Rosslee Douglas becoming the first African American female graduate in 1972, from the College of Nursing. In 1973, Rose Delores Gibbs became the first African American woman to obtain a medical degree, and in 1974, George McTeer, D.M.D., was the first African American to graduate from the College of Dental Medicine.

Other noteworthy milestones include: Emma Frazier as the first female African American graduate of the College of Graduate studies in 1977; Phyllis C. Johnson-Wolf, Janice N. Jones, and Cassandra Tisdale as the first African American female graduates of the College of Pharmacy in 1980; and in 1983, Dorthea Gertrude Taylor as the first African American female to graduate from the College of Dental Medicine.

Eleven years after the first African American students enrolled, the University established the first Office of Minority Affairs in 1976. James Martin, Ph.D., the first African American awarded a Ph.D. by the University of South Carolina, was appointed director of the office.

From 1976 to 1995, the Office of Minority Affairs changed in scope and direction as did the social and political disposition of the nation, state, city, and University with respect to access, equity, and opportunity. The Office of Minority Affairs was directed by committed leaders in the health profession and advocates for social equity and justice that included:

  • James W. Martin, Ph.D. 1976
  • Earl B. Higgins, Ed.D. 1987–1992
  • Jeannette Deas, Ph.D. 1993–1995
  • Thaddeus J. Bell, M.D. 1995–2004
  • Sabra Slaughter, Ph.D. (interim) 2004–2006
  • Willette S. Burnham, Ph.D. 2006–2015

In 2006, the Office of Minority Affairs began a new era as three offices--Student Activities, International Student Services, and the Office of Minority Affairs--merged into one. The Department of Student Programs and Student Diversity was born. Willette S. Burnham, Ph.D., was hired as the Executive Director to be attentive to serving the varied needs of our students and committed to academic success and educational distinction.

In 2013–2014, MUSC embarked on yet another milestone towards excellence and inclusion. At the completion of its inaugural strategic planning process for diversity and inclusion, Dr. Burnham-Williams became the University’s first Chief Diversity Officer. Anton Gunn was hired at MUSC Health’s first Chief Diversity Officer and Executive Director of Community Health Innovation. Dr. Burnham-Williams and Mr. Gunn were charged with implementing the enterprise Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.

In 2016, MUSC achieved a significant accolade when the College of Medicine was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as having the fifth largest number of African American medical students in the U.S., outside of historically black colleges and universities. That year, the American Association of Medical Colleges also ranked the College of Medicine in the 96th percentile for medical schools with the most African American students. In 2017, Chanita Hughes-Halbert became the first woman and African American from South Carolina elected to the National Academy of Medicine.

MUSC began another new chapter in 2020 when the Office of Equity was established. Led by Dr. Burnham-Williams, this office united the MUSC University and MUSC Health efforts and was charged with further elevating, empowering, and prioritizing innovative infrastructure, programs, and resources across the enterprise. This aligned effort allows MUSC to better elevate diversity, equity, and inclusion; assure that our workforce, students, and leadership reflect the communities we serve; and deliver equitable health care throughout our state.

A full history for MUSC can be found through the MUSC Waring Library pages.