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School of Public Health Addresses Diversity Issues at Town Hall

By Leah S. Yared and Ellen Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

Students and administrators at the School of Public Health say there has been a more concerted focus on issues of diversity in the last few years, notably in the form of more school-wide discussions and concrete initiatives.

Last month, HSPH held a town hall event in which administrators outlined steps they are taking to improve diversity and inclusion efforts. Among the initiatives are a new online bias-reporting system, training programs regarding implicit bias, and a greater emphasis on increasing diversity among students and faculty.

Associate Dean for Diversity Meredith B. Rosenthal said roughly 18 percent of domestic students at HSPH are underrepresented minorities, ranking higher than the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but behind the College.

Rosenthal said student activism at HSPH, as well as national activism in response to the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, played a role in bringing issues of diversity to the forefront.

HSPH’s first town hall on these issues came out of the aftermath of the events in Ferguson, Rosenthal said.

“That first town hall was really brought together by students who wanted to hear from the administration what we were going to do to address injustice on our own campus, and also to have a voice, a leadership role, in the community and in the nation,” she said.

Several HSPH students said there have been many concrete changes over the years. Yvette Efevbera is a Public Health student who worked with a student group in 2010 that sought the creation of a school-wide committee of faculty and students. She said that, three years later, the HSPH Dean’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion was created.

Rosenthal added that HSPH has built up its “pipeline programs” in the past few year—programs designed to reduce barriers and encourage underrepresented minorities to pursue a graduate education in public health.

“I think they have been listening to students demands,” Jaquelyn Jahn, an HSPH student and chair of the Dean Advisory Committee’s Student Voices subcommittee, said. She cited the town hall meetings as evidence of HSPH’s progress.

At the committee’s request last year, the school hired an independent group to hold a campus climate survey, Rosenthal said. The survey found that nearly half—44.7 percent—of black or African American respondents said they “strongly disagree” with the statement “I trust the school’s leadership to meaningfully address inequities on campus.” For white respondents, only 24.9 percent answered the same way.

“Now we actually have evidence of some of the challenges,” Efevbera said.

Students also said they were pleased with the selection of an African American female, Michelle A. Williams, as the School’s dean—the first African American female head of a Harvard faculty. Efevbera, an African American, said she was “inspired” by Williams’s qualifications and success, but believes the work does not end with the selection of an African American dean.

“I really think these challenges are a result of structures and systems that are in place, not just a single person,” Efevbera said.

Moving forward, students said they wanted to see policies that address classroom microaggressions, a mandatory implicit bias seminar for instructors, and increased diversity in the student body and tenured faculty.

“I think the school is making significant progress, but that it has a ways to go,” Jahn said.

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at leah.yared@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.

—Staff writer Ellen Zhang can be reached at ellen.zhang@thecrimson.com.

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