Message from the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging
While the work of advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is everyone's responsibility, I'd like to share some of the key resources we have in place at Yale School of Public Health. Dean Sten Vermund created the leadership position of associate dean for DEI in July 2019. I am honored to serve as the inaugural officeholder and lead the school's efforts in these critical areas.
In November 2020, YSPH welcomed Leigh Roberts as our first DEIB administrator. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with and learn from Leigh, who brings two decades of experience in higher education and DEI to YSPH. Our efforts cannot be successful without the active engagement of individuals across the YSPH community. Thus, Leigh and I work closely with YSPH's DEI Committee, which I chair and includes students, staff, faculty, and alumni.
Representing alumni on the DEI Committee is Kathe Fox, Ph.D. '81, president of the Board of Directors of the Association of Yale Alumni in Public Health (AYAPH), and Lynne RosenwaldBannister, MPH '77, a member of the AYAPH's Emerging Majority Affairs Committee (EMAC). Student members of the DEI Committee include our YSPH Diversity Ambassadors and Graduate School liaisons. These students and the members of YSPH's various student affinity groups play a crucial role in building community and supporting students from minoritized backgrounds. In addition, we work closely with YSPH's Office of Public Health Practice, which, among its many responsibilities, helps to develop and sustain equitable partnerships with community-based organizations whose work is grounded in anti-racism and health equity. Finally, our efforts have been bolstered by a new endowed DEI fund, made possible by a generous donation from Dr. Pilar Vargas and her husband, YSPH Dean Vermund.
In October 2020, Yale President Peter Salovey announced the next phase of the Belonging at Yale initiative, which serves to "delve into our history, assess and build on our current actions, support members of the university community, and create a stronger Yale for the future." At YSPH, we have developed a five-year action plan that aligns with President Salovey's vision and the recommendations of the President's Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. In addition to this action planning, we engage in a variety of DEIB-related activities, four of which are highlighted here.
First, we successfully launched two new academic concentrations focused on health equity and social justice: U.S. Health and Justice (led by Associate Professor Danya Keene) and Climate Change and Health (led by Professor Robert Dubrow).
Second, we continue to investigate and adopt best practices for recruiting and retaining students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds. This includes reaching out to and developing relationships with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions, as well as professional organizations, such as the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE), which support the careers of people of color.
Third, in July 2021, we welcomed Dr. Ijeoma Opara, Ph.D., LMSW, MPH, an outstanding scholar and teacher with expertise in how racism is embedded in our institutions and systems and its deleterious effects on health. As we strengthen our focus on social justice and structural determinants of health, Ijeoma Opara, Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, brings research focus on HIV/AIDS, STI, and substance use prevention for urban youth, racial and gender-specific prevention interventions for Black girls, and community-based participatory research with urban youth. Most recently awarded the 2022 YSPH Distinguished Student Mentoring Award, she is praised by students for being a compassionate and inspiring mentor with the ability to install passion in YSPH students.
Fourth, we are engaged in studying YSPH culture as it relates to issues of DElB. We are learning how students and faculty experience YSPH as an essential step in cultivating an anti-racist and inclusive culture for the YSPH community. Findings from these studies will inform our efforts to identify areas of improvement and actions we can take to help strengthen the DEIB culture at YSPH. I hope that through these collaborative activities and many more to come, the Yale School of Public Health will finally establish a culture in which diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are infused in all aspects of our community, our curriculum, and our work in public health research and practice. I invite you to join me in furtherance of this goal.
Mayur M. Desai, M.P.H. '94, Ph.D. '97 Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.