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Kate Hickert ‘18, a second-year master’s student in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, has launched a student-led book club in hopes of creating a lasting impact when it comes to discussions surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. The book club began in April following the news of the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, which spurred her to learn more about systemic racism.

Kate Hickert '18, a second-year student in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.
Kate Hickert ’18, a second-year student in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

“I wanted to do the work, but I knew I couldn’t do it myself,” Hickert said. “I wanted a community to be around to help understand racism, anti-racism, and my role in it as a future health care provider.”

So far, the book club has read three books, including The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity; and How to be an Antiracist.

“My hope with it going forward is that it’s not about mine or anybody’s individual effort, but our effort as occupational therapists and a division as a whole, and it’s perpetuated because we’re always thinking about antiracism as a division, even when it’s not in the headlines,” Hickert said.

Hickert launched the book club with the support of faculty Khalilah Johnson (’16 PhD) and Linn Wakeford ’86 (’17 PhD), among other faculty.

Johnson said the book club has been an excellent space to learn and build community together around antiracism, justice, and health equity.

“I am proud of our students for being committed to grappling with and taking steps to dismantle structural racism in  occupational therapy practice and society at large,” Johnson said.

Hickert said faculty, PhD students, and members of the classes of 2020, 2021, and incoming class of 2022 have participated in discussions.

“Every facet of our division has shown up in some way,” Hickert said. “There have been challenging conversations—questions posed that we definitely don’t have the answer to, but they’re good things to think about. It’s a type of conversation that I haven’t had in higher education before.”

As a future health care provider, Hickert said providers should not turn a blind eye to health disparities, including those that arise from issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Context and environment is so important to every occupation that a person can engage in,” Hickert said. “It comes down to being the best OTs we can be, and to have best practice. We have to be aware of all contexts as well as we can be—even at the macro level.”

Hickert said she hopes to explore possible opportunities with nationwide organization Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) to secure the book club’s legacy within the UNC-Chapel Hill chapter following her graduation in 2021. Hickert said the book club started as a summer project but that she hopes students will be able to read one book per semester.

“We’re trying to make it not a fad and to be purposeful in learning about systemic racism,” Hickert said.

Hickert said they hope to choose a variety of books for future club meetings that incorporate perspectives both from and outside of medical settings.

“It gives me hope for the future of OT, and more specifically, for UNC OT.”

The Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. Its occupational therapy master’s degree is ranked #10 in the country according to U.S. News & World Report. Johnson, OTR/L, is a research assistant professor. Wakeford, OTR/L, is an associate professor in the division.