Dear School of Public Health community:
Let me start by acknowledging and thanking the many students, alumni, faculty and staff who have reached out to express their outrage about recent events and to encourage action. I share your commitment to racial equality and social justice and your belief that the School of Public Health (SPH) has an important role to play.
I know that we are all deeply disturbed by the recent and repeated killing of African American citizens in our nation. We are sad, hurt, infuriated, exasperated, and, many are traumatized. There is a long history of racism and discrimination in our country. Regrettably, racism in general and structural racism in particular – embedded in laws, policies, and practices of society and its institutions – is not only history, but remains a strong and oppressive force, an ever-present daily threat, negatively affecting and devaluing the lives of black and brown people in America. The protests by community members, Black, Brown and White, that have ensued embody the outrage that so many feel. We have all heard the quote of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which says, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” We stand with the families of Mr. Arbery, Ms. Taylor and Mr. Floyd, among others, who call for action and who protest peacefully for change. As we consider our next steps in this moment, we should also remember Dr. King’s quote, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” The current outcries and demands for dismantling structural racism can serve as an inflection point, a time in which action to address racism and discrimination as key determinants of inequity in health is accelerated. We cannot afford to be silent because there is much that we can and must do to advance racial justice.
In public health, our charge is to promote the health and well-being of the population and to call out observed inequities and disparities. Public health scholars, including some of our faculty, have been on the forefront calling out racism and discrimination as key determinants of the disproportionate burdens in Black and Brown populations. To be clear, racism and inequities they produce are public health issues; they are central to our work, which is grounded in social justice. These inequities are the result of racism and discrimination, past and present, and the structural and cultural norms that allow them to persist. We can and must work together to help shape the future for the better. This moment demands that we redouble our efforts to promote anti-racism research and practices that promote racial equality. We should not and cannot go back to business as usual. We must champion the cause of social and racial justice, as public health calls us to do.
The School of Public Health at Georgia State enrolls the highest percentage of Black/African American public health Bachelor’s and Master’s students among the 60+ ASPPH member schools and programs of public health who report this data. We have an important role to play in creating learning and sharing spaces that are welcoming and nurturing for racial minorities, and supportive of promoting equity and inclusion. We must lead. I call on our community – faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends – to come together to identify steps that we can take to strengthen our commitment to racial equity and inclusion, and to equity and inclusion of all people. We must and will strengthen our curriculum to address racism, deepen and elevate our commitment to research on racism, and regularly host forums that allow for more open dialogue about challenges, opportunities, and progress. I announce today the establishment of a SPH Task Force to identify and recommend actions that SPH can take to enhance our impact on anti-racist practices in our curriculum, research, student recruitment, hiring, and community engagement. Dr. Collins Airhihenbuwa, Professor of Health Policy and Behavioral Sciences and scholar on race and culture, has agreed to serve as chairperson for this effort. Next week we will host a SPH Town Hall on Racial Equity and Inclusion (more detail to follow). I hope you will join us.
Together, we can make a meaningful contribution to creating a brighter future and a better world. I look forward to your engagement and contributions in advancing these efforts.