DEI Progress Update

By John R. Finnegan Jr. | October 28, 2020

Dear SPH faculty, staff, and students:

Last Tuesday, more than 180 School of Public Health (SPH) faculty, staff, and students gathered online for our October Community Forum to engage in a conversation about our school’s strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) (view the event slide deck). Thank you to all who attended! Your feedback, insights, and questions will be used to advance our collective commitment to make diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice core to our school’s mission.

During the forum, Lauren Eldridge, associate director for DEI, presented information about the strategic plan, including goals, timing, and how we will organize efforts across the school. More information can be found on our newly revised Diversity and Inclusion website.

Following Lauren’s overview, Dr. SooJin Pate, a consultant from Strategic Diversity Initiatives, presented preliminary findings from the school’s comprehensive climate assessment. More than 400 faculty, staff, students, and alumni participated in the assessment. Its goals were to:

  1. Take the “cultural temperature” of SPH around DEI issues in order to understand what it’s like to work and learn here based on one’s role and various social identities.
  2. Identify the school’s strengths and opportunities for growth around DEI.
  3. Provide recommendations that will serve to inform the strategic plan.

We learned a lot from this initial analysis, such as the critical need for continued accountability and steadfast commitment to DEI by leadership and all SPH community members. Many people noted their excitement to see this work come to life and are interested to know how they can contribute. Some participants also identified gaps in resources and information, such as how to report an incident of bias or discrimination.

Overall, we discovered that the culture and climate of our school is multi-layered and complex, and what one group or individual perceives as working well, others may experience very differently. For example, 72% of respondents who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that “SPH prioritizes members from BIPOC communities in promotions and advancement opportunities” compared to 57% of other groups. Variations like this example occurred across intersectional groups and individuals, academic divisions, and school units. However, a common message rang through: We have a lot of work to do to become the school we aspire to be, and nearly everyone stated that DEI should be the most important or a top priority for SPH.

This assessment is critical to better understand our school’s culture and climate so we can determine responsive approaches that will drive real and lasting change. In paraphrasing Dr. Pate: The changes we seek need to be seen and felt. It is our collective wisdom, commitment, and perseverance that will help us achieve our goals.

Below, is a current summary of progress and steps forward in the change we need in our school.

DEI Progress Updates, October 28

Strategic Plan

(Reflects progress on Action 1, SPH DEI Commitments)

Our DEI strategic planning process led by Lauren Eldridge with an SPH committee composed of faculty, staff, students, and alumni is continuing to make progress. Over the next few months, the committee will review the climate assessment results and develop the first draft plan. Next month, we will share the full climate assessment report with the school, and early next year, the draft plan will be shared with all SPH faculty, staff, students, and alumni for review and input.

View more information about the strategic planning committee, timeline, and core principles on the Diversity and Inclusion website.

October Community Forum
View the slides from the October Community Forum titled “Clarifying & Living Our Values: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at SPH.” Thanks to our presenters, breakout session facilitators, event coordinators, and all who participated in this event!

New DEI Coordinator

(Reflects progress on Action 2)

On Nov. 2, Gayle Smaller Jr. will join SPH as our new diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator, reporting to Lauren Eldridge. Gayle has served in positions at Augsburg University, the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, and most recently as an academic advisor in the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program in the U of M College of Liberal Arts. He received bachelor’s degrees in African American studies and theater from UW-Madison, and completed a master’s degree in administrative leadership at UW-Milwaukee. Gayle was born in Minneapolis and is passionate about equity, justice, and the development and utilization of human potential. Read more about Gayle online.

DEI Faculty & Instructor Training

(Reflects progress on Action 12)

In partnership with the U of M College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), we have developed anti-racist pedagogical training for SPH faculty and instructors. The SPH Educational Policy Committee has chosen this workshop series as the required training for the 2020-21 academic year for all SPH faculty and instructors. Learn more and register for an upcoming workshop.

NOTE: If you are unavailable for the currently scheduled session 1 dates, please contact Annie Mason, CEHD program director, at to set something up.


Health In All Matters Podcast

(Reflects progress on Action 14)

Series 2 of our Health in All Matters podcast launched on Oct. 15. Titled “If not now, when? Racism: A 400-year public health emergency,” this series will be distributed bi-weekly and focuses on racism and public health — their complex history, pivotal present, and awakened future. A primary audience group for this series includes high school and college students and teachers. Each episode, such as Episode 1: Flashpoint, will include sample discussion questions, a transcript, and resources to help spark conversation and deeper understanding. Please tune in and share this podcast with others.

In addition to these updates, the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Governing Council adopted 19 new policy statements on Oct. 24, one of which covers the topic of structural racism as a public health issue. Through APHA, you can also access transcripts and materials from its continuing webinar series, “Advancing Racial Equity,” and related resources on the effects of racism on health and well-being.

I am grateful for and deeply appreciative of our community’s commitment and dedication to this work. It is central to public health, as well as the life of our school.

Please stay safe and well.

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

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