Actions to Confront Anti-Black Racism

Racism is a deep, systemic, and longstanding problem in America and we, as a public health community, must use every tool we have to confront it in all its forms. As we examine our efforts as individuals and as institutions to confront racism, one thing is clear: We must do more. There is a long history of violence against Black Americans in this country; the shooting of Jacob Blake is just the latest manifestation. We not only must condemn these acts of racism, we must take action that will, now and over time, reduce its pernicious effects on the lives, health, and well-being of Black Americans. Racism manifests itself in many ways in our nation. The history of anti-Black racism is both long and deeply destructive. From our vantage point in public health, the most obvious effect of systemic racism is the meaningfully worse health outcomes experienced by Black Americans in nearly every stage of life. As a School dedicated to improving the lives and health and well-being of people in our community and around the world, we must be part of the solution to end racism in America.

In response to feedback from our School’s community, we will take a series of actions in coordination with others at the University. The decision to concentrate on the initial actions outlined in this letter has been guided by two principles:

  1. We will focus on ways our School can address the systemic and structural factors within society that perpetuate racism and bias, with an initial focus on anti-Black racism and being inclusive of the intersecting identities that make up Blackness.
  2. We will prioritize School initiatives that complement Brown University’s actions to address racial injustice because we are stronger and more effective when we work together.

We have developed the following actions because they represent an important set of next steps. They are not the last steps that we will take but we believe that they move us in the right direction. We have aligned actions with the School of Public Health Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan and build upon the foundational changes the School has made and reported on annually since the launch of its Office of Diversity and Inclusion in 2017.

First and foremost, we must promote a diverse and inclusive School. This will not happen if we make incremental changes. It is time to be bold and aggressive. We propose a series of actions, outlined below. We will measure whether these actions are making a difference. And if they are not, we will modify our course and do better.

We aim to substantially diversify our faculty. While we compare favorably to other schools of public health, that is not our benchmark. We will take the following actions effective immediately:

  • Require specific procedures to increase the diversity of faculty applicants. We will broaden our pool of applicants, and think more creatively about how we identify and recruit new faculty. To that end, we will implement concrete steps in each stage of search processes that will lead to a more diverse pool of applicants. The Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs will engage deeply with each search committee to ensure that our outreach maximizes the opportunity to bring new voices to our School, and to support the search committee’s diversity representative to ensure access during the selection process. Some of these changes to the search and selection process were piloted first in 2017 and were grounded in evidence. Beyond that, we will work to ensure that the process reduces the potential for  biases during the selection process that could impact talented and qualified faculty from historically underrepresented groups.
  • Require all search committee members to complete unconscious bias training. There is evidence that unconscious bias training can help improve the ability of individuals to evaluate candidates more fairly. Since 2019, the School has required all search committee members to complete such training. We will update our training requirements to emphasize content that focuses on preventing unconscious racial bias.
  • Require that all applicants for faculty positions provide explicit and detailed plans to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, including challenging racial injustice. Starting in 2020, all faculty applicants will need to describe their commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion using concrete examples as a part of their formal written application.
  • Substantially diversify our trainee pipeline with action steps that include outreach efforts to a more diverse group of postdoctoral candidates, and make additional efforts to support those candidates once they join the Brown community. By the end of the 2020-21 academic year, the Office of Faculty Affairs will create a detailed plan to ensure a far more diverse postdoctoral trainee pool and to retain diverse postdoctoral trainees into the faculty pipeline.

Currently, the proportion of faculty who come from historically underrepresented groups is greater than that of most of our peers. This is not good enough. We are committing to a goal of doubling the number of faculty from historically underrepresented groups over the next five years. Each year, we will return to our community and share progress as well as failures and seek input into how we ultimately reach this goal.

Further, we will promote diverse leadership of the School. As we bring in new leaders, we will focus on recruiting a diverse pool of administrators.

We must continue our efforts to recruit, hire and retain diverse staff and to support an inclusive environment in the School. These efforts are fundamental to the success of our School. We commit to the following goals:

  • Increase the diversity of our staff and improve the inclusivity of our work environment so staff from historically underrepresented backgrounds feel a greater sense of belonging. We will implement an approach to diversifying our staff similar to what we outlined above for faculty including greater outreach, effective anti-bias training and approaches to recruitment, and greater emphasis on non-traditional candidates who may be overlooked in the hiring process.
  • Ensure an inclusive environment. We will support anti-racism, unconscious bias, and bystander intervention training, and work with staff to support more events that highlight how we can each create an inclusive environment.

Our School’s mission is to train the next generation of leaders of public health. To do justice to this goal, we must train a diverse group of students to take on these future leadership roles. We strive to have a more diverse student body and so commit to the following goals:

  • Change the composition of public health leadership. To begin to change the composition of public health leadership, the School recently launched the Brown-Tougaloo Health Equity Scholars  program with a commitment to recruit, matriculate, and graduate more Black students. This program will enroll five Tougaloo scholars each year into our School’s MPH program. We are committed to substantially expanding this program to other Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
  • Appoint faculty diversity representatives (similar to the process in faculty search committees) to sit on the School’s admissions committees. The Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs will support the committees’ diversity representatives to ensure equity during the selection process.
  • Work with University units to develop and implement new strategies to recruit and matriculate a diverse group of students. The School will also continue to strengthen work with units across the University including the Graduate School, the Initiative to Maximize Student Development, and the Leadership Alliance. This includes continuing to invest and actively participate in programs such as Fall Preview Day and Super Monday where potential applicants and those offered admission are invited to visit Brown and meet faculty and students. In addition, we will increase participation and attendance at specialized diversity outreach fairs, such as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and the Morehouse College Public Health Fair; seek additional fairs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions in 2020; and look for additional fairs attended predominately by historically underrepresented talent.
  • Ensure an inclusive environment. We will support anti-racism, unconscious bias, and bystander intervention trainings for students.

Over the next five years, we commit to a goal of achieving a critical mass of students from historically underrepresented groups. Each year, we will present data on our progress and lay out approaches and modifications to reach this goal.

A major strength of our School is our extraordinary group of scholars. We believe that supporting scholarship in the areas of racism is also critically important. We commit to the following goals:

  • Identify additional funding sources for research on racism as a public health challenge. The School has completed work with the Office of the Vice President of Research (OVPR) and University Foundation Relations to provide new information on over 150 federal, foundation, and corporate funding opportunities focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and health for faculty, postdoctoral trainees, and graduate students. This includes opportunities to support research and train the next generation of academic leaders committed to addressing racism, violence, policing, and incarceration as public health challenges.
  • Enhance support for uptake of NIH diversity training grants and supplements to recruit and retain diverse talent in research at our School. In the past three years, the School has provided additional support for students, postdoctoral trainees, and faculty who wish to use NIH diversity grant mechanisms. These mechanisms can be powerful ways to support underrepresented groups by covering tuition, stipends, health insurance, and research costs. The School will commit to providing additional support to individual investigators and trainees with the application process, including providing paid peer review of the application.
  • Develop a research cluster on race and public health to bring together scholars from various backgrounds to tackle racism as a public health crisis. A new School Research Cluster focused on race, racism, and public health was announced in August 2020. This cluster will facilitate research collaborations among faculty, staff, and students within and outside our School in the pursuit of important scholarly projects tackling racism including anti-Black racism as a public health priority.

We commit to further strengthening teaching and learning about race and racism in public health:

  • Engage expert consultants to support ongoing efforts to improve public health pedagogy. The School has worked with Dr. Benjamin Reese to help shape teaching through workshops and other means, beginning this fall. The workshops will explicitly focus on course competencies, content, and approaches related to race, racism, and racial bias in public health. Dr. Reese is a leading scholar of these issues, former Chief Diversity Officer at Duke University, and a licensed clinical psychologist. He is also adjunct professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Community Medicine and Family Health, and Psychology and Neuroscience.
    • We will seek Dr. Reese’s guidance on workshops to help faculty more effectively teach about race, racism, and racial bias in public health.
    • Faculty will also have an opportunity to discuss specific issues related to race through individual or small group coaching sessions starting this fall.
  • Develop new courses and enhanced course content on a public health approach to fighting racism. The School will expand curricular offerings that reflect a strong focus on addressing racism. This includes courses on methodological issues, population health challenges, and racism—all of which produce disparate outcomes for historically marginalized populations. We are also supporting the development of new courses on race and public health for curriculum review this fall with the goal of launching the first of these courses this upcoming spring.
  • Enhance and amplify community education on racism, including anti-Black racism. We currently have a series of programs that are focused on educating our community about the consequences of racism and strategies to combat it. This includes programs like the School-wide Learning & Engaging Around Diversity (LEAD) Reading Group . We commit to expanding these programs to ensure that our broader community is learning the cutting-edge research around racism and its consequences as well as learning ways to combat it.
  • Despite these efforts, we know that incidents of bias will continue to occur. We are committed to identifying these incidents and learning from them. We will support our community in developing an enhanced understanding of the University’s policies, procedures, and systems for preventing and reporting discrimination, harassment, and bias including anti-Black racial bias. The University has developed a Bias Incident Reporting System. We will provide training on how and when to use this system and will help amplify the University dissemination of the annual Bias Incident Report.

So many people have put extraordinary work into our School’s efforts, and this document represents their collective commitment. I am deeply grateful to the current and incoming students, staff, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and alumni for sharing their ideas on how we can collectively help address racism in American society.

Let’s be clear that this plan is a start. It will get us far—but not far enough. We will need to continue to learn and make changes to this living plan and enhancements to improve our approach. That will require everyone’s input and commitment. Realizing equality is a journey that began years ago, today we take more steps forward.  But the journey here is long, and we will get where we need to go by working together.

To that end, let us all commit our energies, ideas, and efforts to combatting racism locally and globally. We are a School committed to creating an inclusive, welcoming environment where all of us can thrive. It is time to do the hard work needed to make that commitment a reality.

Ashish K. Jha
Dean, Brown University School of Public Health