As one of the oldest colleges in America teaching the healing arts of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tuina, shiatsu, cupping, gua sha, hara diagnosis, and other techniques, our college was also founded in an era when the term “Oriental medicine” was commonly used to describe what many now call East Asian Medicine. For OCOM, the medicine we teach is based on the Chinese classics and also informed by years of development in other Asian countries and influenced by other Asian cultures including but not limited to Korean, Japanese, Tibetan and Vietnamese.

In recent years, our profession in America has struggled with naming conventions for some of our older accredited colleges and programs, and for our professional organizations that also have the term “Oriental” in their names. On the OCOM campus, there was a workgroup convened in 2013 to look at the use of such terminology. While outcomes from that group recommended that our print, publications, web presence, and communications style guide encourage the phrase “Chinese medicine” for describing what we teach, there was no agreement on the use of the term overall and the name of the college was not changed.

In 2015, the OCOM Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved a survey of students and professionals on the attitudes toward the term “Oriental” as a descriptor of the profession and the medicine. In 2016, the results were presented at a student research conference.

Also in 2016, a bill was passed and signed into law by President Obama that removed the term “Oriental” from all federal use. This bill stimulated further national debate in our professional organizations and colleges and, over time, several accredited schools have made significant changes to their names to remove the term. 

In 2018, a presentation of the 2016 campus survey results was given to the President’s direct reports. In part because of the historical lack of consensus on campus and that attitudes toward the term continued to evolve, another campus survey was ordered.

The 2018 administration-driven OCOM survey on the use of “Oriental” in the OCOM name was conducted; and the results were presented later that year to the Program Committee of the college’s Board of Trustees. During that meeting, summaries of results from both the 2016 and the 2018 surveys were discussed with board members.

Opinions on a college name change and on maintaining the term “Oriental” continued to vary greatly. The committee discussed gathering additional input, and began to assess the cost and possible paths to implementing a change to the name. No clear options emerged and no recommendation was made to the full board. The issue of changing the institution’s name was put on hold pending further input, with a recommended pivot to use limited resources for new program development and implementation.

However, out of the work in 2018, a decision for another incremental step was made: to update the titles for the college’s new programs, eliminating the term “Oriental” from degree titles except for the DAOM. The new degree titles for first professional degrees, as approved by the Board of Trustees and presented to our accreditor for approval in 2018, are DACM, MACM, and MAc.

Further, the term “Chinese medicine” is still preferred in OCOM official communications and publications. College administrators, staff, and some students have continued to raise the issue of and concern over the use and public perception of the term “Oriental” in the college name. These concerns were discussed with student leaders in a June 15, 2020 meeting and by the President with the full Board of Trustees on June 25, 2020.

Throughout these many conversations, no consensus over what should replace the name has emerged, but unease with the term “Oriental” among the OCOM community has been persistent. With support from the Board of Trustees, our current President is revisiting the college naming convention. As part of that effort, we are asking our internal audiences (students, faculty, staff, alumni) to weigh in. Information gleaned will be presented to the trustees for further consideration.