For underrepresented scholars, fellowship will fund Brown MPH to train new generation of leaders

A new Health Equity Scholars fellowship program from Brown’s School of Public Health and Tougaloo College is aimed at expanding diversity among public health leaders and addressing racism as a public health problem.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Leaders from the Brown University School of Public Health and Tougaloo College, a historically black college in Mississippi, are joining forces on a new initiative to make the next generation of public health professionals more reflective of America’s increasingly diverse population.

On Monday, June 8, the School of Public Health launched a Health Equity Scholars fellowship program, which will offer full-tuition scholarships for up to five Tougaloo College graduates annually to pursue master of public health (MPH) degrees at Brown.

Both in the classroom and beyond, fellows will focus on health disparities linked to social and economic factors, with opportunities to participate in mentorship programs and leadership training that will help these scholars address inequities in health care, social determinants of health, and the impact of racism on access to and quality of care.

Dr. Ashish Jha, a physician-scholar who directs the Global Health Institute at Harvard University and begins his tenure as dean of Brown’s School of Public Health this fall, said the program responds directly to anti-black racism as a pervasive public health challenge — brought into stark relief by the killing of George Floyd as only one of the most recent incidents of anti-black violence to sharpen calls for racial justice — as well as COVID-19’s disproportionate effects on people of color.

“Racism against black Americans is a profoundly important public health problem,” Jha said. “We need public health leaders to more effectively address these challenges. I am thrilled to partner with our colleagues at Tougaloo College to expand the opportunities to train a new generation of leaders who can bring fresh ideas and perspective to these long-standing challenges.”

Wendy White, an educator and researcher at Tougaloo College who studies health disparities and directs the Jackson Heart Study Education and Training program, said the goal of the program is simple: to expand diversity among the nation’s public health leaders and play a role in addressing racism as a public health problem.

“Our Tougaloo College students are introduced to the health disparities that exist in our world as early as high school, through summer enrichment classes sponsored by the Jackson Heart Study on the Tougaloo campus,” White said. “We are very intentional in preparing them to be health care advocates. This opportunity through the Brown-Tougaloo Partnership will build on their undergraduate learning experiences and further train them to be public health leaders who will impact the world.”

The scholars program builds on a decades-long relationship between Brown and Tougaloo College, which has enabled generations of students and faculty at both institutions to study with and learn from each other. Formalized in 1964, the Brown University – Tougaloo College Partnership has enriched both campuses through academic and cultural exchanges, collaborative research ventures and administrative engagements.

As part of that half-century history, the institutions previously established the Brown-Tougaloo Partnership in Public Health, which enables students to earn a bachelor’s degree from Tougaloo and an MPH from Brown. This Health Equity Scholars program and its full-tuition support will build on that legacy of working together.

Jha noted that while the program will launch in direct collaboration with Tougaloo, the School of Public Health will seek partnerships with additional historically black colleges and universities as well as Hispanic-serving institutions, and will seek to expand eligibility to students from historically underrepresented groups who earn degrees from any college or university.

The Brown University School of Public Health has a deep commitment through scholarship and teaching to address health disparities, he emphasized. In both research and educational programs, the school focuses on topics such as improved therapies for members of underserved racial and ethnic groups living with HIV, to the role of racism on public health, to community-based care approaches among sexual and gender minorities.

“The work of creating health equity is and always has been at the core of what we do at the School of Public Health,” said Dean Bess Marcus, noting its significance in the school’s strategic plan. “Students in this new program will gain the skills necessary to conduct research and bring about policy change that will impact the social determinants of health and improve health equity.”

In a June 8 letter launching the Health Equity Scholars program, Jha, White and Marcus wrote that the combination of systemic racism, the coronavirus pandemic and disproportionate economic devastation on people of color has made clear the need to respond urgently.

“This is a time for action,” they wrote. “We realize that the path to health equity in our country is long and has been paved by leading scholars and practitioners — this scholars program is one more step that we take together toward that goal.”