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Why Hondros College of Nursing is Prioritizing Social Justice in its Classrooms

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   August 30, 2021

Hondros recently expanded its education efforts beyond the classroom to host an entire week devoted to social justice at all its seven campuses.

One nursing school is educating and equipping their students "to be the change they wish to see" in their communities by focusing on social justice wherever there is a need.

"Because social justice is so prominent now and so close to home for everybody in society, we are looking at our course content to see how we can bring more awareness to social justice issues because this is not going to go away," says Dianna Tabern, dean and director of nursing at Hondros College of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio.

Noting that social justice is a core of nursing, Hondros recently expanded its education efforts beyond the classroom to begin hosting an entire week annually devoted to social justice at all its seven campuses.

"We want to spark more discussion on, 'What if this happens as a nurse? What should you do? How are you going to advocate for the fair and just thing to do?' We want to ensure there is equality in all aspects of providing healthcare," she says.

The need is there. For example:

  • Black adults experience higher rates of adverse safety events compared to white patients treated in the same hospital, according to a recent analysis by Urban Institute researchers.
  • Lack of access for sexual and gender minority (SGM) people to respectful, affirmative healthcare is well documented. Many LGBTQ+ individuals report having experienced discrimination by clinicians, including outright refusal of medical care, surveys have found.
  • In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly one in four trans people reported not seeking necessary medical care because they feared being discriminated against.

Tabern talked with HealthLeaders about how Hondros is teaching social justice to nursing students and how the 2020 murder of George Floyd was part of the impetus.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

HealthLeaders: How long has the Hondros College of Nursing been hosting social justice events?

Dianna Tabern: This was actually our first event. We started out with a small committee that really grew, and asked, "What can we do that may make a difference in the lives of students who may be suffering from some type of social justice issues?" [With the George Floyd tragedy], we really recognized that the younger generation of students are more proactive than probably my generation as an African American dean. I've suffered a number of social justice issues and the older generation has a different way of handling it, more like letters to the senators or you go to your boss and have a sit-down conversation about the way you've been treated. But the younger generation of people are much more proactive in the issues. I don't know if it's generational or the extent of the situation with George Floyd.

HL: So it was the students who drove this?

Tabern: No, we did this as leaders. The driving force was our CEO, Harry Wilkins, in regard to his own faith and belief in tolerance and fairness for everyone, which is something that the college has always stood for.

HL: Social justice is such a broad term; what parts of social justice does Hondros encourage its students to work for?

Tabern: Our hope is that our students understand how broad social justice is. It's not just about racism necessarily; it includes gender bias, poverty, hunger, ageism, refugee issues, income gaps, and access to healthcare. I mean there's a lot of things that are involved in social justice. I don't think that many people recognize that, or even think about it, especially if it doesn't affect them directly. Our objectives are an extension of our mission which states that our goal is to prepare students to demonstrate social responsibility, cultural sensitivity, and service to the community, so we want to make sure that they understand that.

As a little side note, one of our efforts in social justice week was students writing an essay about what social justice meant to them. One student wrote, "Social injustice: two small words, one big impact. I define social injustice as discrimination. Discrimination is the foundation of social injustice and until we fix the root cause, there will always be inequality. As a nurse, it is our duty to acknowledge the culture around us, identify the social injustices, and correct them. If we do not make a conscious attempt to correct them, then at the end of the day we are contributing to the problem."

HL: You said that people don't tend to recognize social injustice if it doesn't affect them directly. How are your nursing students, then, introduced to the idea of social justice?

Tabern: In the different classes they have, such as mental health courses, they are taught to get in touch with their own ethics, their values, and their beliefs, because in order for them to understand their own biases and how they might interfere with the care they provide, they have to understand themselves. They have to learn how to be tolerant and put their own biases aside, or they have to think more broadly about the issues.

What people really know is what they learn from their parents, or from the community, and sometimes you need to open up those thought processes so they can say, "Oh, I never thought of it that way," because otherwise, those thoughts interfere with how they provide care because of their own beliefs. They have to learn.

We give them more food for thought and it sparks conversation in some of the classes about different issues. That's when they learn about the issues that are global. Some do not know about global issues. One time when I was when I was teaching one of the courses on leadership, I started talking to them about Native Americans, and how they can get involved in working in some of the Native American communities in Colorado and Arizona that are very remote and don't have access to healthcare. Many of the students said, "Oh, I didn't know that that was an issue." But you don't think about it unless you're well-traveled. They're learning about the problems within the world.

HL: How have you seen your students carry what they learn about social justice out into the community?

Tabern: Access to healthcare and the problems with healthcare are part of social justice, and during the days when COVID first came about, our graduate students had temporary license to help in the field. We had a numerous amount of students who went to New York City and to different states to help in COVID units. To go above and beyond what you need to do to help those that need more healthcare provisions, that's part of social justice. They were willing to put their health on the line to go and do this.

When a lot of people hear the words "social justice," they really think it's about black power because the George Floyd case sparked it [recently, but] social injustice and discrimination has been here forever. But when you're looking at social justice as a whole, like with gender or LGBTQ, there's social justice issues everywhere. So, I really believe that as nurses, as students, we each have to decide whether or not we're going to be a part of the problem or part of the solution within our profession and within community at large, and how active we're going to be.


“In order for [nursing students] to understand their own biases and how they might interfere with the care they provide, they have to understand themselves.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


Social injustice includes racism, gender bias, poverty, hunger, ageism, refugee issues, income gaps, access to healthcare, and more.

A social justice curriculum in nursing education is crucial because nursing students must learn to be tolerant and put their own biases aside to effectively treat all patients.

Each student must take what they've learned and decide how actively they are going to work for social justice within their profession and the community.

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