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Harvard School of Public Health Launches New Structural Racism and Health Initiative

The François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights is housed by the Harvard School of Public Health.
The François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights is housed by the Harvard School of Public Health. By Zing Gee
By Cara J. Chang, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights launched an initiative to study and address structural racism in public health with a virtual symposium Tuesday.

The FXB Center, which is housed by the Harvard School of Public Health, created the Structural Racism Initiative for Diversity with Equity program earlier this year to research “racism as a determinant of health, as a root cause of health inequalities,” per the event’s website.

To generate this research, the center hired a class of fellows, including three social epidemiologists, a researcher in medical sociology, and a public health researcher and activist.

FXB Center Executive Director Natalia Linos said in an interview that she was excited about the diversity of the cohort, noting that four of the five identify as people of color.

“I hope that our model of bringing a group of scholars of color to work together and create a kind of community can be a model for academic centers,” Linos said.

The FXB Center has been conceptualizing STRIDE for a couple years, according to Linos. The initiative was inspired by the center’s director, Mary T. Bassett, who served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for four years and worked to highlight and address structural racism in the city’s health care system, Linos added.

“The FXB Center is the center that does work on health and human rights, traditionally doing work globally,” she said. “[Bassett] said it’s time for us to think about health and human rights in this country, in the United States.”

Tuesday’s STRIDE symposium, “Anti-Racism in Public Health Policies, Practice, and Research,” was the first in a series of discussions featuring Harvard professors as well as public health experts and advocates.

HSPH Dean Michelle A. Williams welcomed participants to the symposium, citing the past year’s “national reckoning around structural racism.”

“This reckoning led my colleagues and I to declare that racism is a public health crisis and to examine what we can do in academia,” Williams said.

The symposium, which Linos said aimed to draw out the ties of the present to the past and of the local to the global, began with a conversation on the history of racism affecting health and health care.

In that conversation, professors Evelynn M. Hammonds and Khalil Gibran Muhammad discussed slavery, Reconstruction, and redlining.

“In order to understand how racism became deeply embedded in American institutions, you have to look at it historically, and public health and medicine are certainly institutions where this has certainly been true,” Hammonds said.

The next two panels explored the similarities between the experiences of ethnic minorities in the United States and those around the world.

The first panel of the symposium covered the effects of structural racism in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. The speakers, who included scholars from the HSPH, Drexel University, and the National Health Service Race and Health Observatory in the United Kingdom, discussed racism’s systemic damage to public health as well as the need for innovation and grassroots leadership to dismantle it.

The second panel, “Anti-Racism in Public Health Policies and Practice in the U.S.,” with scholars from the HSPH, Georgia State University, and the American Medical Association, discussed the effects of racism on data collection and analysis in the United States and ways to encourage anti-racist education nationwide.

After the symposium, Linos said she was “very, very pleased” with the event’s turnout and audience engagement in the question-and-answer sessions.

“Our hope with this kind of work is that we bridge different audiences,” Linos said. “We also want to make it accessible to community groups, who want to use some of this data for advocacy; we also want impacted communities to feel like they’re part of the conversation.”

—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at cara.chang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.

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