The Need for Public Health is Now

By John Finnegan | June 1, 2020

Dear SPH community:

Today, we enter a new week that is far from ordinary. The past week has been incredibly challenging. We grieve, protest, and demand action for the murder of George Floyd and other Black people across the nation. We also experience fear, anxiety, and deep sadness as we witness destruction in our cities. Compounding this, we are living through a global pandemic and the worst unemployment in our history affecting some 40 million of our fellow citizens. These are simultaneous public health emergencies of enormous importance for what is yet to come: the coming together to shape a future in which everyone may thrive. It can happen if we want it badly enough.

Never in our history has there been such a need for public health to step up and contribute to the change we need as a nation. As a school, we have the determination, vision, and experience to confront injustice and inequity. Many SPH experts here and around the nation are already actively working to advance our understanding of topics such as structural racismculturally centered caredisparities in rural communitiesskin tone, and violent encounters between police and black men.

This work tells us that there are things we can all do right now to combat injustice and racism. We can work to understand its roots and symptoms, challenge ourselves to explore our own thoughts and feelings, find ways to build upon our work with community partners to make a lasting difference, speak up when we witness racial injustice, and most importantly, open our hearts and lead.

In public health, when a chronically occurring issue presents itself, we go “upstream” to identify the systemic factors that perpetuate it, determine solutions to mitigate it, and, if possible, prevent it from happening in the future. This strategy is central to our mission. It involves science, action, and an abundance of community.

As a School of Public Health, we commit to social justice, human rights, and the conditions of life that engender health, wellbeing, and the opportunity to thrive for all populations and communities. We reject the racism and injustice woven into the fabric of our institutions that have led to George Floyd’s death. This year, COVID-19 amplified the inequities that exist in our society — the results of long standing structural racism. What we work for now is new energy for resolute change.

This University has been a part of the institutional pattern of racism. During the Kaler administration and now in the Gabel administration, we as a University are facing that fact and an historical legacy of which none of us are proud. Acknowledging racism, calling it what it is, and taking steps to pull its remaining threads out of our institutional fabric is a good start. Another good start is using the convening function of the University to assist and support the spread of ideas and insights for the future we want. The entire University system needs to take part. Every college and school has a role.

As we enter this new week, please take care of yourself and others, find balance, and remember that the University offers resources that can help us through this (for students; for faculty and staff). In addition, SPH student, faculty, and staff groups are coordinating ways for our school community to pull together in the coming weeks, including the following events:

  • Processing space for Black SPH faculty, staff, and students: Wednesday, June 3, 2 p.m. (more details to come)
  • Webinar: Strengthening Our Community in Light of Tragedy: Friday, June 5, 10-11:30 a.m. (more details to come; hosted by the SPH Division of Epidemiology and Community Health)

Stay safe, stay well.

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

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