The past two years have been heart wrenching, but they have also been a call to action. In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by the police, and the nation reacted with an outpouring of anger, grief and frustration. In May 2022, a white supremacist opened fire in a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, killing 10 individuals.
These events – and so many in between – compel us to constantly evaluate ourselves and our work. As individuals, we must ensure that we are part of the solution to name and dismantle hate in all of its various forms. As a department, we must look both outward and inward to consider both our responsibilities and our opportunities to be part of not only conversations, but also actions.
Racism is a population health issue. Racism is a fundamental driver of all of the factors that we think of as the social determinants of health – wealth, housing, employment, education, and social support systems, to name a few. In addition, racism itself contributes to poor health outcomes, via stress and weathering, distrust in health systems, and implicit bias in health care decision making. As population health scientists, it is our duty to understand how racism impacts health outcomes, and to address racism and racial inequities in the health care system through evidence-based approaches.
We also have an obligation as an academic department to strive toward a diverse faculty, staff and student population, and to ensure that all members of our department are given the support they need to succeed in their careers. Diversity in our academic community is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the best thing to do, as diversity contributes to innovation and improves our science. We want the next generation of population health scientists to reflect the diversity of our national population, and to be prepared to take on the challenge of addressing racism and racial inequities.
I am proud of our department’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee, which is working to advance EDI across our broader mission of research, education, community impact, and in its synergies across the University of Utah. In the past two years, these are some of the steps we have taken to advance EDI in our department:
- I chaired the PHS EDI committee from 2020-21, and then appointed Dr. Melissa Watt as our inaugural Director of EDI.
- We formed five sub-committees to evaluate the department's current practices, develop appropriate solutions to advance EDI priorities, and implement and monitor change.
- We undertook a comprehensive outside assessment of EDI in our department, and have discussed the findings via meetings with our community and are beginning to make changes to reflect suggestions from the report.
- We have reviewed and updated our policies with an EDI lens
- We have changed our recruitment and hiring procedures to ensure that EDI is appropriately valued when assessing candidates, and to minimize implicit bias
- We have undertaken efforts to foster a sense of community and belonging, which for many had been fractured during the COVID-19 pandemic
We realize that creating an inclusive, anti-racist department that works toward health justice is a long-term endeavor. It will take commitment, perseverance, and humility. We are committed to this process, and hope you will join us.
For more information on our EDI initiatives, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.