Diversity and Inclusion at SPH

December 20th, 2015

Dear Colleagues:

Building on today’s Dean’s Note, we present here an 11-point plan towards excellence on diversity and inclusion at the School of Public Health. The program we outline here both builds on existing efforts and takes these efforts to the next level, with the dedication of targeted resources over the coming years.

Our suite of programs is informed by recommendations, published in 2008 by the then-Association of Schools of Public Health, intended to address the role of the public health practice community in eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities. Our approach involves engagement by the public health community in both formal and informal efforts to elevate the visibility of diversity and inclusion as a core part of the School’s culture. Formal efforts refer to what is explicitly taught in planned educational experiences and includes both information and skill-building. Informal efforts, reflecting work around what has been described as the “hidden” curriculum, center around culture and climate, and convey information on how to perceive and respond to individuals from different social groups, as well as general rules for acceptable behavior. The definition of informal curriculum corresponds to definitions of informal organizational culture, a powerful determinant of behaviors and attitudes of organizational members. We also map out longer-range strategies that intend to ensure the recruitment, support, and retention of a diverse community of faculty, students, and staff. We organize our activities in three areas: creating a culture of inclusion, changing the conversation, and creating a more diverse community.

Creating a Culture of Inclusion

In line with the introduction above, we think that one of our central responsibilities is to create a culture of inclusion, where all members of our community feel valued and respected, and where we can have conversations about challenging issues around diversity in safe spaces.

  1. Targeted teachings. A dominant theme emerging from the "Listen and Learn" series organized by Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Yvette Cozier was that faculty must do a better job in leading discussions around issues of diversity and inclusion, and present a curriculum that reflects the students and communities served by SPH. To this end, we will be working with faculty and students in all departments to improve in this area, first through “targeted teachings” aimed at building awareness among both groups of the implicit biases that can be introduced into the classroom by both faculty and students. We will accomplish this by offering formal bias training for faculty and staff, beginning with department chairs and expanding to all faculty and staff over the next year. Such trainings are intended in particular to help all of us become more adept at productively raising and managing difficult topics (e.g. race) that arise during class discussions. For our students, we will begin this process during student orientation. As we did last August, we will continue to offer a session led by Professors Cozier and Godley introducing students to topics including race, class, and social justice. These topics will then be woven throughout the new core curriculum. We do this at a unique moment in time for SPH, when we are overhauling the core curriculum that will be required of all our MPH students. We will take this opportunity to embed core competencies around diversity and inclusion into the curriculum, as well as expand the examples of frameworks used to consider health outcomes. The revised core classes will be piloted beginning in January, providing us the opportunity to implement, evaluate, and revise these enhancements prior to Fall 2016, when the core curriculum is fully implemented.
  1. Effective teaching strategies to promote inclusion in the classroom. We will make resources available to teaching faculty designed to further develop and enhance classroom skills in the area of diversity and inclusion. This will include faculty luncheon workshops, learning modules, and webinars designed to help faculty productively raise and lead discussions of difficult topics (e.g. race, class, sexuality) in the classroom, manage and defuse tensions among students that arise in classroom conversations and in group work, and thoughtfully integrate diverse topics and scholars into curricula.
  1. Diversity and inclusion seminar series. We will organize and encourage programming at SPH designed to highlight diversity and inclusion, with the aim of enhancing the learning experiences of SPH students and others at Boston University. We will aim to weave topics related to diversity and inclusion through existing fora, particularly the Dean’s Seminar Series and the Public Health Forum Series, but we will also launch a seminar series explicitly designed to highlight diversity and inclusion. In addition, in an effort to avoid duplication, we will identify and highlight to our community existing supplemental programming and events sponsored by the rest of the University, including the Howard Thurman Center, the College of Arts and Sciences (e.g. the Department of African American Studies), and other schools (e.g. Law, Social Work, School of Theology) and coordinate with colloquia sponsored by the BU Diversity Task Force planned for the Charles River Campus.
  1. SPH Reads. An important step in building community around the issue of diversity and inclusion needs to involve School-wide engagement around a common goal or understanding. To this end, we will be asking the SPH community to unite around a single book and examine it from many perspectives. “SPH Reads” will involve assigning a book to all incoming SPH students, faculty, and staff beginning in Summer/Fall 2016, with the goal of addressing the topic throughout the semester/academic year in various settings (e.g. core classes, Practice Plunge, Dean’s Seminars, the Racial Justice Talking Circle). Each incoming class of students will only be required to read the book assigned to their respective cohort, but are welcome to participate in subsequent book offerings. The first book (TBD) will be assigned in June 2016, with the second in December 2016 for the January semester. Please do send book recommendations to Dean Cozier. We note that this complements a less formal activity that is currently available to all faculty and staff. Rob Schadt, in the Office of Teaching and Digital Learning, has created a book group that reads and discusses books focused on issues of diversity and inclusion. Past readings have included Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele, and we expect that this effort will continue to be a resource for faculty and staff.

Changing the Conversation

Complementing the goal of creating a culture of inclusion, we aim to change the conversation by creating spaces for members of the SPH community to freely and constructively discuss issues of diversity and inclusion.

  1. Language of Inclusion. School Assembly discussions. Beginning in the spring of 2016, we will dedicate time at school assemblies to discuss issues that would be beneficial to faculty and staff. One such topic that will be discussed is preferred gender pronouns (PGP), a consciously chosen set of pronouns that allow a person to accurately represent their gender identity in a way that is comfortable for them. Each year SPH attracts a diverse group of students, and it is becoming increasingly common for individuals in the wider world to choose alternative sexual and gender identities which may include name changes, style of dress, and even personal pronouns. Recognizing alternative gender pronouns is the most basic way to show respect for individuals, helps gender-non-conforming people feel more comfortable with their gender identities, and provides the opportunity for faculty to set an example for other students.
  1. Affinity Groups. We will continue to create and support spaces within SPH to hold/continue the conversation on diversity and inclusion. These affinity groups are open to all community members (faculty, staff, and students) and have a clear sense of purpose, including a mission statement that contributes to the larger mission and core values of the school. Existing spaces or “affinity groups” for students include Students of Color for Public Health, International Student Organization, and the recently created SPH LGBTQ Alliance. These groups provide a safe space for members to debrief and also perform community service and sponsor cultural activities. For example, Students of Color for Public Health hold an annual toy drive for the children of the Ruth Barkley Apartments (formerly the Cathedral Housing Development). Each fall, the International Student Organization holds a Cultural Show and Dinner, with proceeds going to charity. Another group, the Racial Justice Talking Circle (RJTC), started last spring and is open to all SPH students, faculty, and staff. Another group open to SPH students is the Minority and International Scientists Organization (MISO), which welcomes all STEM and non-STEM graduate students (on MED and CRC) to network, eat, and socialize. The key points of contact for these Affinity Groups are: Lola Akintobe, president of the Students of Color for Public Health (Yvette Cozier, faculty advisor); Chinar Singh, president of the International Student Organization; Brenna Lash, president of the SPH LGBTQ Alliance (Julia Lanham, faculty advisor); Dallas Pride and Colbey Ricklefs, organizers of the Racial Justice Talking Circle; and Jasmine Kwasa, president of the Minority and International Scientists Organization.
  1. Cultural events. We are fortunate to live in Boston, presenting us with a unique opportunity to take advantage of a breadth of activities that are directly relevant to issues of diversity and inclusion. We will therefore work to capitalize on these activities, highlighting them and making them available to all members of our community, centrally students who may be newer to Boston and less familiar with these resources. Some of these events may include highlighting alternative representations of dominant narratives, including Urban Nutcracker and Black Nativity. We shall be communicating these throughout the year and organizing opportunities for our community to collectively experience these events.
  1. Online discussion space. We have heard from the SPH community the need for a digital discussion space dedicated to issues of diversity and inclusion. We currently have an active Facebook page where in addition to communicating with each other, the outside world is able to follow our activities. Similarly, we have a growing web presence through Twitter. Over the next year we will be exploring the logistics and feasibility of creating an online discussion space where, for example, conversations begun around the SPH Reads, the Book Group, or the Racial Justice Talking Circle can continue within a monitored forum.

Creating a More Diverse Community

While we work to create a culture of inclusion and change the conversation around diversity, we must at core work towards ensuring we foster a more diverse and inclusive community that more accurately reflects the communities that we study and serve. We intend to leverage and enhance existing efforts as well as create new programs aimed at meeting these goals.

  1. Mentoring of students. One of our main goals is to mentor all students at SPH throughout their time with us and to help them move successfully into their careers in public health once they leave the School. Within this framework, we must be aware that it will take several types of programs to meet the needs of a diverse student body. We already have thriving student mentoring activities run through our Office of Education, including efforts coordinated by our Careers Office. In addition, in Fall 2016 we will launch an SPH Alumni Mentoring Program (StAMP) that seeks to connect MPH students with SPH alumni and create successful mentorship relationships. StAMP aims to provide students with professional guidance while providing alumni a way to remain engaged with their university. The program leverages our global alumni network to the end of improving the student experience at SPH, furthering SPH’s commitment both to student development and alumni engagement.
  1. Pipeline efforts. We will redouble our efforts on approaches that aim to attract more underrepresented students to SPH, using both short-term and long-term approaches. One of our major challenges is that unlike other professional schools (e.g. medicine, law), most students (and adults) are relatively unaware of public health as a potential career path. Therefore, our long-term efforts include creating a high school pipeline of students. Our current efforts include the “New Faces” program overseen by Dean Harold Cox in the Practice Office in conjunction with the medical and dental schools. This program invites area high school students to campus for the practicum poster presentation, where we are able to highlight a broad range of public health topics and projects. In addition, we are able to engage our students of color to facilitate break-out sessions with the visitors, providing an opportunity to be seen as “role models.” Further, during National Public Health Week (happening next year from April 6 to April 12), the Practice Office coordinates SPH students to visit local high schools. Finally, Dean Cox and Dean Cozier are looking into strengthening existing ties with the Boston Area Health Education Center (BAHEC), a health careers program for youth in the division of child and adolescent health of the Boston Public Health Commission founded in 1978. We are also looking into creating opportunities to bring students from the neighboring Blackstone community to SPH, where they can meet faculty, hear about research projects, and interact directly with students. Finally, the Charles River Campus has recently partnered with the “College Advising Corps,” a nonprofit whose aim is to increase the rates of college enrollment and completion among low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented high school students across the country by placing young college grads in public high schools as advisors.We also want to enhance our undergraduate pipeline of underrepresented students. This includes working with the Posse Foundation, which identifies public high school students with high academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Another pipeline opportunity involves the Dartmouth College Native American Program. This represents fertile ground for SPH to make inroads with Native American students as we have with African American students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). We will be working with Jonathan Cote and the admissions department to reach out to the Dartmouth Native American community.Other ongoing SPH efforts in the undergraduate pipeline include the successful, ongoing Summer Institute in Biostatistics Program (led by Professors Lisa Sullivan and Jackie Milton), the undergraduate “4 plus 1” program, and the public health minor for BU undergraduate students. The undergraduate BU Students for Public Health organization and the Summer Training as Research Scholars (STARS) program are both offered through the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. Together with the associate dean of education and the associate dean of research and faculty development, we will pursue funding through the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program from the National Institutes of Health. IMSD is a student development program for institutions with research-intensive environments. The goal of the program is to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in biomedical research who complete PhD degrees in these fields. The program offers an opportunity to develop new or expand existing effective academic developmental programs, including student research internships, in order to prepare students from underrepresented groups for competitive research careers and leadership positions in the biomedical sciences.
  1. Underrepresented faculty/faculty development. Recruitment and hiring of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty needs to be an ongoing activity, taking what has been called a “surveillance” approach. That is, as an institution, we must always be on the lookout for opportunities to engage outstanding URM faculty internally and externally. These engagements may take the form of a visiting faculty scholars program, hosting researchers during their sabbaticals from their home institutions. The method of simply initiating searches once a position is formally opened is destined to fall short because of the dearth of candidates reached by traditional outreach methods, and compounded by the relatively short length of the search process. In addition to surveillance activities, we must also create a pipeline of doctoral students and postdoctoral associates who can be involved in ongoing research and can be helped to successfully transition into junior faculty positions. We will take several actions in this area. First, we have created an SPH Dean’s Fund to target URM “opportunity hires.” All departments will have the opportunity to recruit URM faculty who meet their scholarly goals with financial support from the Dean’s Fund. This Dean’s Fund will be managed by Professor Michael McClean, associate dean of research and faculty development, in partnership with Dean Cozier. Second, we aim to create opportunities to invite URM faculty to become familiar with us by inviting them to present their research to the SPH community. This can occur as via the Dean’s Seminars, the Public Health Fora, or talks sponsored by individual departments at SPH (e.g. Giis Van Seventer Lecture Series, Epidemiology Tuesday Talks). For example, the Department of Epidemiology will be hosting departmental talks featuring scholars such as Renee Johnson and James Collins early in 2016. We will encourage other departments and centers to do the same, aiming to increase the visibility of URM faculty on our campus towards the goal of increasing URM faculty as permanent members of our community.Third, we will launch efforts to secure funding that will allow us to better fund URM faculty, ensuring that we maximize opportunities for URM faculty success during their time at SPH. This will include efforts to encourage minority supplements linked to existing NIH funding, and applications for targeted funding that specifically is concerned with issues of diversity and inclusion. These include, for example, currently available funding for resource centers for minority aging research and administrative supplements on sexual and gender minority populations.Fourth, but not least, we are working towards ensuring we maximize opportunities for success for all faculty, making sure that all our promotion processes are transparent and fair. To that end, we have over the past year updated our appointment and promotion guidelines and clarified our faculty expectations. Under the leadership of Professor McClean, we are also developing a School-wide faculty mentoring program to complement efforts that already happen within departments.

We are well aware that creating a diverse and inclusive community, one that represents the communities we serve and is characterized by a culture of inclusion, takes time. The 11 steps we outline here are not meant to be the only steps we take, and we anticipate that we will develop other events and capitalize on other opportunities over time. However, they represent, we hope, a comprehensive first step towards our aspirations. We are also aware that this current document includes only limited programming for SPH staff. Over the next few months, we will work closely with the incoming Dean of Administration to further identify efforts aimed at increasing the diversity and inclusion of SPH staff. We look forward to engaging the whole School community in these activities starting in 2016, and, as always, we welcome feedback and thoughts on how we can indeed be our best selves on this, and in all areas.

Warm regards,

Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH
Dean, Professor
sgalea@bu.edu

Yvette Cozier, MPH, DSc
Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion
ycozier@bu.edu