STS Apologizes for Ex-President’s Speech Amid Twitter Backlash

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) and its newly installed president have posted an apology for a speech delivered by its outgoing president that appeared, in part, to disparage affirmative action as a means to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field.

The speech, entitled “Three Score & More” and presented January 22 at the STS 58th Annual Meeting in San Diego by John H. Calhoon, MD, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, unleashed a cascade of tweets, some circumspect but many expressing outrage and dismay.

Many of the tweets were from individuals who acknowledged not hearing the speech but who had seen at least one accompanying slide which, by then, had been widely circulated on the platform. It contained phrases like “Affirmative Action is not equal opportunity” and “Defining people by color, gender, religion only tends to ingrain bias and discrimination,” all under the heading of “Virtuous Ideals.”

Reactions on Twitter included comments like “This is bad beyond description” and a description of the slide’s content as “the blueprint & thought process for those actively maintaining Whiteness & the Patriarchy in medicine.”

Following an early onslaught of such tweets, the STS and new president Thomas E. MacGillivray, MD, MedStar Health, Washington, DC, issued a statement disowning at least the controversial parts of Calhoon’s presentation, stating they were “inconsistent with STS’s core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The post continues, “The STS apologizes for these remarks. We know these comments were hurtful and we regret the pain they have caused to so many valued colleagues.” It then states, “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central principles of our Society, and what we strive for in our profession and our practice. STS is committed to learning from this experience and taking action to reinforce our commitment to these values.”

“I believe that either the slide and/or my remarks were misinterpreted by some. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I’m profoundly sorry and apologize,” Calhoon told | Medscape Cardiology.

“I’m proud of my own group’s record on diversity and using equity and inclusion to get there,” he said. “We’re committed to it. We’ve had a wonderfully diverse group. I tried to highlight that in my remarks.”

About the Twitter response to the slide in question, Calhoon said, “I have no idea how they were thinking.” He added, “I can only comment that I’m really proud of our record and, for that matter, the STS’s record on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

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