Racism is a Public Health Issue: Our Call to Action

Please Note: Diversity, equity, and inclusion are values we have prioritized and strategized in our Strategic Plan for 2025. Once our steps/actions associated with elevating these goals are formalized, we will be sharing them with our community partners and stakeholders.

Dear CPH Faculty, Staff, and Students:

On June 1, in response to the recent loss of innocent Black lives and systemic racial injustices, the College of Public Health released the following statement:

“We are heartbroken and angered by the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others before them. The amount of pain in the Black community is impossible to fully understand, especially during the time when COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color. Racism is an ongoing public health crisis we must address. Inequity and injustice create poor health. We cannot have health for all until we have justice for all.”

The crises that we face today are not merely isolated tragedies or the result of an infectious disease pandemic that may eventually pass.  Rather, these events reveal the manifestations of deep-seated injustices long endemic to human society and have laid bare many inequities and our society’s moral and ethical failings.

Those of us in public health know all too well the consequences of racism. The recent tripartite crises of the pandemic, economic devastation, and police violence have converged in ways that reinforce what many of us already know.  Police violence kills Black Americans at over three times the rate of White Americans. Majority Black counties have three times the rate of COVID-19 infection and six times the rate of COVID-19-related mortality than their White counterparts.  Less than 50% of Black adults in America currently have a job.

We need to do more than simply assuage concerns or reaffirm our values. We cannot let this moment and the call for justice fade.  We MUST take action for our nation, our state, our university, and our College by proclaiming to the world that we unequivocally reject racism. We must counteract racism by growing and valuing a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion that is created by each of us when we commit daily to values of compassion, mutual respect, justice, inclusion, courage, and authenticity.

We have a duty to elevate the discourse on race, class, and human dignity. We invest our time, energy, love and purpose into the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia. Let us, as a community, rise to meet this challenge. It is our mandate to realize a healthier, more equitable world for all that we envision, including those in our home that is UGA’s College of Public Health.

There are many wonderful quotes that define and inspire our charge. I have listened to Springsteen’s “American Skin (41 Shots)” and find it even more relevant today than in 1999 when it debuted. Of particular note, it is just over 8 minutes long.

Let me close with a quote from Sesame Street. Last year, Sesame Street celebrated 50 years on television for children and has embraced difficult topics such as death, homelessness, HIV, addiction, and racial injustice so parents and children could have those conversations. Few shows have made as profound a cultural impact.  Last week they posted:

Racism has no place on our Street—or on any street.  Sesame Street was built on diversity, inclusion, and especially, kindness.  Today and every day we stand together with our Black colleagues, partners, collaborators and the entire Black community.  We stand with our friends around the globe to speak out against racism, to promote understand, and to create a world that is smarter, stronger, and kinder.

Let this be UGA’s College of Public Health.

Marsha Davis, Dean
Tim Heckman, Senior Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs, and Director, Institute for Gerontology
Erin Lipp, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
Jessica Legge Muilenburg, Assistant Dean for Assessment and Strategic Planning
Grace Bagwell Adams, Assistant Dean for Outreach, Engagement, and Equity
J.S. Wang, Department Head, Environmental Health Sciences
José Cordero, Department Head, Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Chris Whalen, Director, Global Health Institute
Stu Feldman, Interim Department Head, Health Policy and Management
Nate Hansen, Department Head, Health Promotion and Behavior
Curt Harris, Director, Institute of Disaster Management

Posted June 16, 2020.