Statement on the Federal Executive Order on Diversity Training

The University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health is committed to training socially responsible public health researchers and practitioners who share a commitment to serve and protect the health and well-being of all people in our city, our region, our nation and the world. This goal of educating for service in a diverse and inclusive society quite simply cannot be accomplished without recognition of and attention to the role played by social determinants of health in producing disparities and inequities in a host of health status outcomes. Among the most powerful of the social determinants of health is structural racism and its associated stress. By structural racism we mean those elements of social, cultural, political and economic life that function to perpetuate inequalities in power, access and opportunity with or without the presence of overt, conscious individual racial bias. If we hope to remedy disparities in health status outcomes, we must develop, implement, and evaluate interventions, policies and systems changes that acknowledge and confront the legacy of slavery and the structural underpinnings of health inequities. When we do our jobs well, our students graduate with a keen understanding of these principles, and we have seen first-hand that they go on to make the world a safer, healthier and more equitable place.

Because we feel so strongly about the importance of educating future health professionals about historical and modern mechanisms of structural racism and their direct connection to health inequity, we were outraged to learn about the content of the Executive Order issued by the White House on September 22nd. This order is clearly designed to silence the voices of educators who dare to acknowledge that racism in our society is not a thing of the distant past, “soundly defeated on the blood-stained battlefields of the Civil War.” The Executive Order cynically cloaks itself in praise of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and other champions of racial equity, while it twists and distorts the laudable goals of diversity, equity and inclusion to present them as “divisive” and “malign”.

In the face of this cynical and vicious attack on free expression of ideas, we could simply choose to put our heads down and continue with our work, knowing that the picture painted of diversity training in the Executive Order is nothing more than a crude and distorted caricature. We could choose to carry on and not make a fuss, knowing the truth that our diversity and equity initiatives do not, as suggested in the order, portray people or our country as “irredeemable” or claim that a person’s race or sex makes them “automatically an oppressor.” We can hope that the result of the November 3 election will make this all go away.  But we believe that ignoring this attack on our academic freedom would be a mistake. This order is antithetical to our principles as scholars, educators, and citizens and we must speak out. Already we have seen the chilling effect this Executive Order has had both inside and outside of academia, with institutions and organizations cancelling diversity trainings for fear of losing federal support for research and programs.

We in the UIC School of Public Health choose to stand up and speak out against what we recognize as overt censorship. We have a shared understanding that public health professionals are expected not just to understand health inequity and its causes, but also to take action to attack those causes at their roots. This important process is dependent on robust discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion, because it is silence on these issues that makes our academic institutions and individual stakeholders complicit in racist processes. While the Executive Order calls such discussions divisive, we have seen that these opportunities bring people together.  They foster empathy, understanding and shared meaning, and allow us to grow personally and professionally. With critical reflection as part of public health education, we all can become better members of society and better teachers and scholars.  We urge all who care about the principles of equity enshrined in the U.S. Constitution to join us in speaking out against this harmful and misleading Executive Order.

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Wayne H. Giles, MD, MS
Dean of the UIC School of Public Health

Dr. Linda Forst
Senior Associate Dean

Rashid Ahmed, PhD
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

David DuBois, PhD
Associate Dean for Research

Jeni Hebert-Beirne, PhD
Interim Assistant Dean for Community Engagement

Supriya Mehta, PhD
Interim Associate Dean for Global Health

Kaye Oberhausen
Assistant Dean for Advancement

Karin Opacich, PhD
Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Public Health

Nadine Peacock, PhD
Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion

John Slavick
Assistant Dean for Student Affairs

Lorraine Conroy, PhD
Division Director, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

Arden Handler, DrPH
Interim Division Director, Community Health Sciences

Dr. Ron Hershow
Division Director, Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Lisa Powell, PhD
Division Director, Health Policy and Administration

Christina Welter, DrPH
Director, DrPH Program in Leadership

Maggie Acosta
Research Specialist

Ashley Bieniek-Tobasco, PhD
Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

Yvette Casteneda
Research Associate

Frank Cervone, PhD
Executive Director, Information Services

Aeysha Chaudhry
PhD Student

Saima Chaudhry
Grants and Contracts Associate

Kamil Czarnowski
Director of HR Operations

Mayra Diaz

Sara Giloth
Director of Donor Relations

Sylvia Gonzalez
Project Manager, Center for Healthy Work

Alexis Grant
Community Engagement Fellow

Christopher Hollenbeck
IT Manager/Staff Committee Chair

Jyotsna Jagai, PhD
Research Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

Elise Levin
Research Specialist

Alyson Lofthouse
Senior Associate Director, Global Health Program

Kimberly Miller
Director of Finance and Administration

Miguel Negrete
MPH Student

Fabiola Ochoa

Robert Schroeder
Director of Communications and Marketing

Robin Sylvester
Director of Research Services

Alisa Velonis, PhD
Assistant Professor of Community Health Sciences