Jacobs School welcomes its newest addition, the completed “Celebration of Diversity” mural

L to R: Allison Brashear, Raul Vazquez, Toni Gaiter-Vazquez and Julia Bottoms are holding pieces of ribbon with UB on it and smiling in front of the Celebration of Diversity mural.

A joyful ribbon-cutting took place at the Jacobs School on Feb. 22, 2024 when the Celebration of Diversity mural was unveiled. L to R: Allison Brashear, vice president for health sciences and Jacobs School dean; Raul Vazqez, and Toni Gaiter-Vazquez, whose donation made the mural possible; and artist Julia Bottoms. 
(Photo credit: Sandra Kicman)

The mural models are current UB medical students, residents, and alumni

Release Date: February 22, 2024

“Having my presence on the mural reinforces the idea that our differences, whether in upbringing, experiences or perspectives, collectively contribute to the richness of our shared environment." ”
Narayan Dhimal, PhD, Alumnus, soon-to-be MD candidate and mural model
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning marked the completion of the massive, larger-than-life-sized “Celebration of Diversity” mural in the atrium of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

Stretching from floor to ceiling along part of the Jacobs School’s second-floor atrium, the mural created by Buffalo-based visual artist Julia Bottoms measures 50 feet wide by 16 feet tall.

“The completion of this beautiful mural, featuring actual members of our Jacobs School community, holds deep significance for us,” says Allison Brashear, MD, vice president for health sciences at UB and dean of the Jacobs School. “It embodies our diversity and our commitment to Buffalo, reflecting our shared dedication to an inclusive environment where all can flourish.”

The mural has been in the works since 2019. Discussions between Raul Vazquez, MD, a 1989 Jacobs School graduate; his wife, Toni Gaiter-Vazquez, EdD, a 1991 UB graduate; and the late Jonathan D. Daniels, MD, a 1998 Jacobs School graduate and formerly associate director of admissions, began about how the medical school needed more color after the new building opened.

Second Look Weekend

The Jacobs School itself was changing as well. In 2018, the school held its first Second Look Weekend, an opportunity dedicated to hosting underrepresented students who had been accepted to the MD program but who hadn’t yet decided to enroll.

The event was inspired by Karole Collier, then a first-year student at the Jacobs School and a member of the UB chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), the national organization committed to supporting current and future underrepresented medical students.

Collier saw that more could be done to attract students to the school who were underrepresented in medicine (URM). Working with Daniels and Dori R. Marshall, MD, who was director of admissions, Collier took her idea to Vazquez and other physicians and businesses on Buffalo’s East Side who embraced the idea. Vazquez is a leading sponsor of Second Look Weekend. In the first year, the Jacobs School nearly doubled its number of students underrepresented in medicine over the previous year. These efforts have been changing the Jacobs School ever since.

Julia Bottoms stands on scissor lift in front of half finished mural.

Julia Bottoms pauses for a moment while painting the mural from the scissor lift. Photo credit: Sandra Kicman

The question was how to communicate those changes to faculty, students, staff and visitors in a more compelling way. The idea for a mural was born. But figuring out who to include in such a mural was another question that sparked numerous conversations among the Office of Medical Advancement, students, alumni and the community.

There was discussion about depicting some of the pioneers who had paved the way for the diversity of the Jacobs School. At the same time, there was a strong interest in capturing the spirit of the school’s diversity that is flourishing today. The decision was made to show current students, residents, alumni and community members as they are today.

“You create your own narrative as opposed to others creating it,” says Vazquez.

Bottoms embraced the concept. “We started out talking about history and then decided, well we want to capture this moment because one day this will be history as well,” she says. 

L to R: Jazmin Corral , Narayan Dhimal, Daniel Olutalabi and Parveen Attai stand in front of their images in the mural.

L to R: Jazmin Corral , Narayan Dhimal, Daniel Olutalabi and Parveen Attai stand in front of their images in the mural. 
Photo credit: Sandra Kicman

The mural depicts UB students and alumni, some in scrubs, another in a white coat, chatting, walking and jogging, and shows a streetscape just outside the school with students relaxing or jogging in a park.

“The mural reflects how the Jacobs School and the city of Buffalo are so connected and how our students, faculty, staff and trainees all experience the community as a key part of their training,” says Maria Wilson, inclusive excellence workforce specialist in the school’s Office of Inclusion and Cultural Enhancement.

The first major art installation requisitioned by the Jacobs School, the mural was made possible by funds provided by the Vazquez family. Vazquez is president of CINQCARE New York; he and his wife are the founders of Urban Family Practice and the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Healthcare Network (GBUAHN) in Buffalo. Their daughter, Nina, graduated from the Jacobs School with an MD in 2023 while another daughter, Nadia, is in her second year.

“People will donate art or funds to support art because of their personal connection to the physical space where the art will be located, as well as a passion for the art itself, its beauty and what it symbolizes,” says Jennifer Seth-Cimini, senior director of advancement for the Jacobs School. “They want to know that the art will be cared for and appreciated by others for many years.”

Casting call

The Office of Inclusion and Cultural Enhancement held a casting call for the mural, seeking people in every year of medical school, in the doctoral and master’s programs in biomedical sciences, as well as residents and alumni. Ten models were selected.

Daniel Olutalabi stands in front of his likeness in the mural.

Daniel Olutalabi, MD, Jacobs School alumnus and UB medical resident, stands in front of his likeness in the Celebration of Diversity mural. Photo credit: Sandra Kicman

Daniel Olutalabi, MD, a Jacobs School graduate now doing his radiology residency at UB, is shown wearing a suit in the mural. He says the mural serves multiple purposes.

“If the mural helps continue to show the Jacobs School’s dedication toward diversity and training culturally competent doctors, then people will recognize that this is the kind of place where you get that kind of training,” he says.

Olutalabi adds that the mural is more than a statement; it can also serve to stimulate dialogue. “The mural sparks a conversation, like ‘hey, what’s this mural about?’” he says. “It gets us talking, especially for individuals who may not know the struggles that URMs are going through.”

Ifeoma Ezeilo, Class of 2025, former president of the UB chapter of SNMA, is shown as a jogger in the mural. “Not only is there the beautiful scenery of Buffalo, but also the beauty of the people we see around us,” she says. “Seeing all the diversity on the wall, it shows that Jacobs is growing and that’s a beautiful thing. You want your school to continuously grow, to show new voices and new perspectives, even more importantly, for the patients we are treating in a culturally sensitive  way.”

For Narayan Dhimal, the mural powerfully reflects his deep connection to Buffalo and UB. Dhimal was born in a refugee camp in Nepal; his parents had fled their home in Bhutan. He lived in the camp until he was 15, when the family was given an opportunity to relocate to the United States. They came to Buffalo and have been here ever since.

Dhimal did his undergraduate work at UB, and recently finished his doctorate in neuroscience. In July, he will become a first-year medical student in the Jacobs School.

“I am a minority,” he says, “and diverse people are the face of UB. The mural promotes the idea of inclusion and the dedication of people to work in the health care system and in research.

“Having my presence on the mural reinforces the idea that our differences, whether in upbringing, experiences or perspectives, collectively contribute to the richness of our shared environment,” he says. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a part of such a meaningful and impactful project.”

The mural was made possible by the artist, Julia Bottoms; the Vazquez family; the late Jonathan D. Daniels, MD’98, BA’92; the Medical Alumni Association; the Jacobs School’s Office of Inclusion and Cultural Enhancement; the Office of Medical Admissions; the Office of the Dean at the Jacobs School; the Office of Medical Advancement in University Advancement; the art committees of UB; the Jacobs School’s facilities team; and Jacobs School medical alumni, students and faculty/staff models for making the mural a reality.

Featured on the mural are Daniel Olutalabi, MD, and Yamini Mulla, MD, UB medical residents; Fabrizio Passalacqua, MD Class of 2026; Ifeoma Ezeilo and Seoyoung Han, both in the MD Class of 2025; Jazmin Corral and Jitendra Singh, PhD candidates; Narayan Dhimal, PhD, alumnus; Jessica Donhauser, MD, alumna and clinical assistant professor, Department of Pediatrics; and Parveen Attai, MD Class of 2027.

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