Transformation, In Progress

After more than two years of intentional action toward antiracism, equity, justice, and inclusion, how has the school changed?

The most consistent and powerful influence on the social determinants of health is and has always been racism. Racism denies human rights and is a centuries-old public health challenge as deadly as any disease.

Following George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, and the resulting worldwide racial justice movement, more than 250 cities, counties, and states across the U.S. declared racism a public health crisis, finally bringing its destructive forces to the forefront of the collective American conscience. 

Acknowledging its role in the institutional pattern of racism, SPH dedicated itself to more fully living its guiding value that health is a human right. To expose and dismantle racism’s influence wherever it exists, including within its own walls, the school put the experiences of Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), and American Indians at the center of its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

An Upstream Approach

Addressing racism requires going upstream to identify the systemic factors that perpetuate it, determine solutions to mitigate it, and, if possible, prevent it from happening in the future. 

Camara Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, past president of the American Public Health Association, uses an allegory to examine racism in the U.S. and to show how people can take action to reduce its impact on health: A gardener has two packets of seeds — one for plants with pink blossoms and one with red. The gardener has two flower boxes, one with “rich, fertile” soil and the other with “poor, rocky” soil. Preferring red flowers, she plants them in the rich soil and plants the pink flowers in the rocky soil. As the seeds grow, the red flowers become visibly stronger and more colorful than their pink counterparts. “Gazing at the two boxes, [the gardener] says, ‘I was right to prefer red over pink! Look how vibrant and beautiful the red flowers look, and see how pitiful and scrawny the pink ones are.’” 

Dr. Jones argues that to address institutionalized racism, “We have to break down the boxes and mix up the soil, or we can leave the two boxes separate but fertilize the poor soil until it is as rich as the fertile soil.”

Tracking Change

Since launching its Strategic Plan for Antiracism (SPAR) in July 2021, SPH has consciously worked to “set things right in the garden” by going upstream and embedding antiracism, equity, and justice attitudes and practices in everything it does. To hold itself accountable, the school also developed a model for gathering, analyzing, and reporting data related to its antiracism efforts through its website, an annual report, and a biennial climate assessment.

“The work is never done. We will always be working toward being more inclusive and justice centered.”

Lauren Jones

These tools collectively show positive shifts in the school’s culture and climate compared to responses in a 2020 survey. For example, in 2022:

  • 32% more respondents of the climate assessment felt that SPH makes decisions that reflect a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • 21% more respondents felt that SPH is inclusive and welcoming to BIPOC and American Indian people.
  • There was a 6% increase in BIPOC and American Indian staff (22% total in 2022).
  • There was a 5% increase in BIPOC and American Indian faculty (24% total in 2022).
  • There was a 2% increase in BIPOC and American Indian students (29% total in 2022).

“The survey results tell one story, but we know it’s not comprehensive,” says Lauren Jones, SPH director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We will continue to seek and welcome input from our community about this work, especially those on the margins.”

As SPH continues to implement its Strategic Plan for Antiracism, it knows that the magnitude of this process requires constant assessment and adjustment to ensure the plan reflects the changes we want to see and remains an authentic reflection of the school.

“The work is never done,” says Lauren Jones. “We will always be working toward being more inclusive and justice centered.”

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