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Boards vote to reinforce commitment to DEI, apologize to family of Bruce Tucker

VCU and VCU Health boards address institutional history and affirm commitment to health equity.

A set of panels commemorate the 19th-century human remains found in an MCV Campus well in 1994 (Kevin Morley, University Marketing) A set of panels commemorate the 19th-century human remains found in an MCV Campus well in 1994 (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

By Laura Rossacher

The Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors and the VCU Health System Board of Directors this week approved a resolution that acknowledges and apologizes for the treatment of the late organ donor Mr. Bruce Tucker and the people whose remains were discovered in the East Marshall Street Well.

Tucker, a Black man, contributed to an important medical advancement as the donor for what was then the Medical College of Virginia’s first heart transplant (and one of the first in the country), but the procedure was done without his or his family’s knowledge or consent.

"History can teach us a powerful lesson, if we are willing to listen. Our past actions do not reflect the society VCU works to advance – one in which people of diverse backgrounds and experiences are given the dignity and respect their humanity deserves," said H. Benson Dendy III, rector of the VCU Board of Visitors. "VCU is very late in taking this action. But the time is never wrong to do what’s right."

The boards also authorized the commissioning of a plaque in Mr. Tucker's honor. The plaque will recognize his important, although not by his choice, role in the early history of heart transplantation.

"Mr. Tucker's story helped transform medical ethics at VCU Health and across the country, leading to a more ethical and respectful approach to treating patients and communicating with families," said Art Kellermann, M.D., senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System.

The commemorative plaque will be funded with individual contributions from VCU School of Medicine faculty and permanently displayed at VCU Medical Center.

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., who serves as chief diversity officer, vice president for institutional equity and vice provost for community engagement and equity at VCU, presented the resolution to the board :on behalf of a diaspora that transcends and continues to transform how we see ourselves both backwards and forwards."

The resolution also includes an acknowledgement that VCU did not render proper recognition and respect for the lives of the 19th-century people whose remains were discovered in an abandoned well on the MCV Campus during construction in 1994.

In the 28 years since, VCU and the East Marshall Street Well Project Family Representative Council, among others, have taken steps to study and memorialize the remains to ensure they are remembered and the VCU community learns from this time in history.

"The adoption of this resolution is an important step in our work to build trust with our communities and essential to achieving the health equity goals stated in the university’s strategic plan, Quest 2028," said Marcelle Davis, Ph.D., vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at VCU Health. "It also recognizes that our institution did not always land on the right side of history."

Next week, VCU’s Office of Health Equity will host its inaugural "History and Health: Racial Equity" symposium, kicking off a full year of health equity events at VCU. Participants will take part in examining the impact of history on current health inequities.

In October, author Chip Jones will deliver a keynote lecture about his book "The Organ Thieves," which chronicles the events related to the first heart transplant at MCV. Jones’ book was selected as VCU’s 2022 Common Book for first-year students.

"It is important that VCU is transparent and forthright regarding its history," said Sheryl Garland, executive director of VCU’s Office of Health Equity and chief of health impact at VCU Health. "It is difficult for healing to occur without the acknowledgement of truth."