Individuals honored for enhancing diversity

April 25, 2023
Two men and a woman smile while holding awards against a background that says Dr. Earl B. Higgins.
The 2023 Earl B. Higgins Diversity in Leadership Awards recognized Xzavier Killings, from left, (Student), Dr. Anita Ramsetty (University) and Jonah Burrell (Health Leadership). Photos by Zheng Chia

For the second consecutive year since the COVID-19 pandemic, MUSC employees, faculty, students and guests gathered both in person and virtually to celebrate the achievements of three honorees in the 27thannual Earl B. Higgins Diversity in Leadership Awards. The three were recognized for their significant contributions to enhancing MUSC’s commitment to diversity through their performance, service and collegiality in the workplace and Lowcountry community.

The April 5 gathering was presented by the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and hosted by Willette Burnham-Williams, Ph.D., chief equity officer at MUSC at MUSC’s Drug Discovery Building Auditorium in Charleston. 

DEI recognized individuals in three categories:

  • Student: Xzavier Killings, a fourth-year College of Medicine student.
  • MUSC Health: Jonah Burrell, R.N., of 3North at the Institute of Psychiatry.
  • University: Anita P. Ramsetty, M.D., the associate dean for Community Engagement and director of Student Service Learning at the College of Medicine.
Three women and two men smile while holding awards. 
The annual awards were celebrated April 5. Honorees and presenters include Jonah Burrell (Health), Marsha Higgins, Dr. Anita Ramsetty (University), Dr. Willette Burnham-Williams and Xzavier Killings (Student).

“This is one of our most wonderful highlights of the year in terms of what we do for MUSC to acknowledge the great work going on in the space of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Burnham-Williams. “At a time when so much of what we do is challenging and opportunities arise to help us think about the importance of this work, it is an honor to recognize and celebrate the most distinguished people among many who do this work every day and are leading the work of our event’s namesake – Dr. Earl B. Higgins,” she said.

Higgins was the director of Affirmative Action and Minority Affairs at MUSC from 1992 to 1996. He was an advocate for recruitment and retention and developed enrichment programs to increase representation of minority students throughout MUSC academic programs. He led recruitment and equal opportunity efforts while serving as a mediator for race relations to create a harmonious learning and work environment at MUSC and within the Tri-county community. At this year’s ceremony, his family was represented by his sister, Marsha Higgins. 

“Each of you met many criteria to be considered and receive this award. We congratulate you – what a wonderful compliment to receive this nomination and award. Your kindness and respect for your patients, coworkers and community is special. Enjoy this day, as it’s all about you – thank you for your service,” Higgins said.

Xzavier Killings – 2023 Student Leadership Award recipient

Killings is a fourth-year College of Medicine student who was nominated by Silvia Pereira-Smith, M.D., Department of Pediatrics. Killings is known for his service and dedication to others. As an undergraduate student at Davidson College, Killings was awarded a Watson Fellowship to travel the world; he visited countries, such as Zambia, Jamaica, Mumbai and Belize, inspiring his interests in medicine and global health.

As a medical student, he conducted research addressing health care disparities in minority populations and racism in pediatric health and well-being among other areas. He led the COM’s pediatric interest group, served as a presidential scholar and fellow, was a peer mentor and served on the college’s admissions committee. Killings was a voice in advocacy efforts supporting pediatric gun violence prevention, adolescent mental health, suicide and childhood hunger at the S.C. State House and U.S. Congress. In July, he will begin a pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

A young man smiles while holding an award. He's surrounded by two smiling women. 
Fourth-year medical student Xzavier Killings, center, is presented the student leadership award by Marsha Higgins and Dr. Willette Burnham-Williams.

“Xzavier has exceeded by giving of himself and bringing others along through service and modeling the commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and what it looks like. He’s a credit to his work, his family, his education and his community,” said Burnham-Williams.

“It’s an honor to be nominated along with such an inspiring group of individuals. MUSC has inspired my imagination, curiosity, creativity and confidence in problem-solving. I know these are all experiences that I have learned so much from, and that I will never forget. Thank you to my amazing mentors for this wonderful nomination and recognition,” said Killings.

Jonah Burrell, R.N. – 2023 MUSC Health Leadership Award recipient

Burrell came to MUSC to study nursing in 2020, following a successful career in advertising and marketing in Atlanta, Chicago and New York City. In 2018, he switched careers, responding to the inequities he saw in health care among the LGBTQ community and with his work on Upstate Pride South Carolina’s board of directors.

As a student in the College of Nursing, he served as president of the MUSC Student Alliance for Equality (SAFE), an LGBTQ student organization on campus. After graduating in May 2021, he worked as a psychiatric/mental health nurse at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health’s Institute of Psychiatry. He joined the Institute of Psychiatry Shared Governance Council to advocate for patients and patient care. Today, Burrell serves on the Alliance for Full Acceptance board of directors and is pursuing a doctorate in nursing practice to become a psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner to provide care to the LGBTQ community.

A very happy looking man stands at a podium smiling while he speaks. 
MUSC Health Leadership honoree Jonah Burrell thanked the audience for being selected for the award.

Burrell’s nominator, 3N nurse manager Lynnette Morris, R.N., wrote: “You won’t find a more committed and dedicated team member – Jonah is dedicated to patient quality, service and care. He always has a smile. He always serves with dignity and integrity. He always thinks of others first and himself last. He always models what DEI looks like.”

“My commitment to the LGBTQ+ community is a passion that I remain dedicated to in both my professional and personal life. What an honor for me to receive this award in the work that Dr. Higgins has accomplished – to be a trailblazer – and be a part of that and his legacy is truly an honor. Thank you,” said Burrell.

Anita P. Ramsetty, M.D. – 2023 University Leadership Award recipient

According to Burnham-Williams, Ramsetty is the first diversity award recipient to receive the most letters of support for her nomination – with one letter signed by 14 MUSC students who volunteer with the MUSC Community Aid, Relief, Education and Support (CARES) student-run, free medical clinic, where Ramsetty has served as clinic director and faculty adviser since 2016.

In 2021, the CARES Clinic received a national award for DEI efforts by the Association for Prevention, Teaching and Research. Ramsetty has led the expansion from the main CARES Clinic site to two additional outreach clinics –  the St. Stephen Rural Outreach in Berkeley County and the Pediatric Prevention Clinic in North Charleston – to address health care disparities and improve access to care in these communities.

A recipient of multiple awards, Ramsetty was a 2019 faculty honoree receiving the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a 2019 Healthcare Hero by the Charleston Regional Business Journal and 2022 MUSC College of Medicine Excellence in Diversity Award winner. 

A woman wearing glasses with long, curly hair stands at a podium. 
MUSC CARES Medical Clinic director Dr. Anita Ramsetty dedicated her award to her late mother who modeled values of acceptance, equity and respect that she honors in her everyday work and teaching.

Surprised with the news that she would receive this award, Ramsetty said that she was humbled knowing its history and the award’s previous honorees. She dedicated the award to her late mother, who she said instilled important values of acceptance, equity and respect in her while growing up in her native Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean.

“In the time that the foundation of this work was done, it was not necessarily the most welcoming. Dr. Higgins walked through many fire paths to do this work. Therefore, I am truly honored to receive an award in his name. What I learned from my mother early on is that everyone is valuable. She demonstrated it to me in her quiet ways. We all need to be treated with respect, and everyone deserves everything. Our job is to lift everyone up in that way. I like to think that the work that we do is similar. But you have to learn balance in everything. Thank you for honoring me in this way and supporting the work that we do and recognizing its importance,” she said.

Get the Latest MUSC News

Get more stories about what's happening at MUSC, delivered straight to your inbox.