A Seat at the Table

By Bernadette Gillis

In his nearly nine years working at Duke, Lowell Tyler says there have been countless times when he’s been the only Black person or Black man in the room. It can be a bit of a challenge, and even though it’s a situation he has gotten accustomed to, he says it’s one that can—and should—change.

“The notion that there are not talented, capable, African Americans that can excel, I don't believe that,” says Lowell, division administrator in the Department of Surgery. “I think there are talented, capable people out there. So, when we’re not in the room, it raises the question, ‘Why is that?’”

There are no easy answers. But Tyler hopes his time serving on the Dismantling Racism Staff Steering Committee will make a difference, not just for himself but for the good of the school as a whole.

“I think we have an opportunity to make some tangible improvements that will enhance opportunities for all people and make it more equitable, and, hopefully, we’ll build not only a staff and a workforce that reflects our community, but also leadership that reflects it." 
-Lowell Tyler

In his current position, Lowell works with division chiefs and others in his department on budgeting, financial management, and strategic planning. He says he has noticed that in some divisions there are no Black faculty members.

“I will say that it is something that is on the minds of the division chiefs and the department chairs,” Tyler says. “As we continue and renew our efforts, there are opportunities to meet the moment, and to make sure that our applicant pools are as diverse as possible. I think we do need to take the time to take a step back and ask, ‘Are there things that we are missing?’”

Tyler acknowledges that the work that he and his fellow committee members are doing isn’t new, but in some ways, he says, it feels different this time around. He says the conversations that are occurring at the school now around race are more upfront and widespread. “We know the conversations are important steps,” he says.

The committee members aim to be intentional about their work and are looking closely at ways to find solutions that are long-lasting. Tyler says part of that is making sure everyone, particularly leadership, follows through on their promises.

“It isn’t something where you flip a switch and it happens,” he says. “We have to hold each other accountable. At all levels, leaders must be accountable for creating that culture of inclusivity.”

Tyler is encouraged by the attention the school’s leaders are giving to addressing inequalities and by the work that the steering committees are putting forth to make change.

“I think there is a moment for reflection and really examining what we can do better,” he says. “Then there's a phase where we actually have to do the work. I think now we’re at a point where we need to do the work.”

Lowell Tyler, MBA, is division administrator in the Department of Surgery.


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