Date of Award

January 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Medical Doctor (MD)



First Advisor

Anna Reisman


A QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS OF STUDENT BELONGING AND PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENTOF YALE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE The physical environment of Yale School of Medicine is decorated with historical portraits, the majority of which feature white men. These portraits are traditional in colleges and universities, but at YSM, few are presented with any historical context. This portraiture has been the subject of conversations about diversity and inclusion in recent years. We performed two studies to investigate medical students’ experiences with the institutional portraiture. The aims of the studies were to explore these relationships, and in comparing the responses between the two studies, to interrogate how changes to the physical environment affected medical students. Both studies consisted of one-on-one interviews with a student interviewer and student interviewee. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded until thematic saturation was reached. The two studies tell a story of exclusion as well as a story of change, of evolution of space, and of a desire and great need to continue this transformation. Students in 2018 described an unwelcoming environment that declared historical values of power entangled with whiteness and maleness. These students were resigned to existing within this environment and developed coping mechanisms to allow them to move through or avoid the spaces largely encoded as white and male. Some students in the initial group expressed a concern about the erasure of history. These experiences negatively affected students’ feelings of belonging at YSM, of not fitting the imagined mold of the ideal YSM student, and of not truly being welcome at the institution. These students also described different possibilities for the physical environment, imagining a more welcoming space that would include people who looked like them. Students in the 2020 study commented on a significantly different environment. These students still perceived the historical portraiture as declaring values similar to those experienced by the 2018 group, but the implications of these portraits had changed. Students were no longer simply resigned to their existence: they were also fed up, exhausted, and frustrated by them. These students were gratified by the changing artwork at YSM, while concerned that changes in the physical environment may not be continued or expanded to institutional policy.


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