Shaping Our School to Better Serve an Increasingly Diverse World

By John R. Finnegan|John R. Finnegan | January 17, 2017

Dear SPH faculty, staff, and students,

Sometime in the early 2040s, based on current US Census Bureau projections, America’s racial diversity will reach a point where no single group defined by race or ethnicity will compose more than 50 percent of the nation’s population. Race and ethnicity are but one aspect of a diverse society, but they have had an extraordinary impact on and uniquely shaped North American culture and history for more than four centuries. On the road to 2040, the challenges of equity, diversity, and inclusion will continue to be front and center in US politics, policy, and history and deeply affect public health’s missions in so many ways.

To better prepare for the future, our school will continue to:

  • diversify our students, staff, and faculty
  • build a culture that welcomes and supports diversity
  • develop our skills in how to engage in constructive learning about sensitive issues surrounding race, class, sexual orientation, gender, religion, institutional discrimination, and much more
  • engage the community and the public in discovery, learning, and translation of research to action in the arena of equity and population health.

No college is an island when it comes to this commitment. We consult and collaborate with many in this effort. Here are a few important partners:

The University’s Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) is a partner in the school’s strategic planning from exploration to action and integration with respect to our goals. OED has been helpful in all of these areas, especially in thinking through human resource, recruitment, and organizational climate challenges. Its focus is helping colleges develop their own capacity and competencies, with supporting resources.

Within SPH, the Health Equity Work Group (HEWG), since faculty founded it in 2005, has shaped health equity-related scholarship, learning, and community engagement through an action-oriented subcommittee structure, public education events (the annual Health Equity Roundtable has some of the highest community attendance of any SPH event), developing a minor for professional and doctoral students, networking with University and community organizations, and much more. They have provided the school a forum for discussion and reframing of the challenges of disparities, diversity and equity. This includes the goal of helping students and faculty learn how to work in an increasingly diverse society. The group has provided multiple training sessions for faculty in how to incorporate diversity issues into their courses, and also skill building in effective counter-behaviors to bullying and micro-aggressions.

SPH has also established the Diversity & Equity Advisory Leadership Team (DEALT) composed of faculty, staff, and students. The group meets quarterly as a think tank for SPH leadership considering recommendations on important issues, strategies, and plans to improve the school. An important related group is the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Team (EDIT). The faculty, staff, and students in this group serve as ambassadors for raising awareness around issues of social identity and are developing facilitation and conversation skills to build the school’s culture and capacity.

Last fall, SPH students themselves stepped up to form a new group: Diversity Matters. I attended their first potluck discussion in early December where we exchanged “food and ideas,” as the students promoted. The exchange was robust and enlightening on both scores!

Some final thoughts:

There isn’t a single leader, faculty member, staff person or student in this school who doesn’t have something to learn and to contribute toward shaping ourselves into better people in an increasingly diverse world.  Many have said (it bears repeating), that someday there will be just “us” – not “them,” not “those people” or “those others” – rather, just us.  For us in public health, it is a commitment that we make not only as individuals, but as professionals united in the cause of improving the health and wellness of all through discovery, learning, and engagement.

Stay committed, my friends.

John R. Finnegan
Dean and Professor, School of Public Health

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