Racial Justice at DLSPH and Beyond

October 28/2015

The sweeping changes in Canada’s leadership and the Racial Justice Matters conference put on by our students — both just last week — prompted me to think about Canada’s identity  —often  described as a cultural mosaic or a mix of ethnic groups that coexist within society — and how we can elevate this co-existence to a more equitable configuration.

Social justice and equity are core values of the School. We promote the inherent dignity of every human being and the just distribution of resources, needs and access to the benefit of society, including the right to health. By definition, equity in health refers to the absence of systematic disparities in health between groups with different levels of underlying social advantage or disadvantage.

The manifestation of wealth, power, or prestige, or the social determinants of health — including income, education and housing among others — have a powerful influence on health.

Ethnicity or race is also a barrier to health.  For example, DLSPH Professor Steven Narod’s recent study that found black women with breast cancer are more likely to die even when their tumours are found when they are small and theoretically easier to treat.

Racial injustices and discrimination negatively impact health in direct and indirect ways and, as such, are important public health issues, which is why I was so pleased the theme of the 8th Annual Dalla Lana School of Public Health student-led conference, was Racial Justice Matters: Advocating for Racial Health Equity. I commend the bravery of conference organizers, led by co-chairs Meena Bhardwaj, Eden Hagos, Navita Singh and Anjum Sultana, for stimulating a discussion about how we can act on racial health disparities and systemic racism as professionals and as a public health community.

The conference stimulated our Office of Faculty Affairs to look at DLSPH’s faculty community with a cultural mosaic perspective.  We estimated that approximately 20 per cent of our core faculty members are “visible minorities,” with a recent upwards swing.

But we aim to go beyond inventorying visible minorities and cultivate a truly global faculty whose partners, education, research and service initiatives promote health equity for all people. Here are some of the ways in which we aim to pursue this:

  • The Institute of Global Health Equity and Innovation created the Conversations that Matter initiative that legitimizes “unasked” questions, including “how does race impact health?”, and uses the art of dialogue to engage in creative activities that transcend existing boundaries. Visit the new IGHEI website for more information;
  • Assistant Professor Andrea Cortinois is helping set-up a new Global Human Migration, Health Equity and Innovation initiative which will represent DLSPH’s academic response to the Syrian refugee crisis and support U of T’s humanitarian efforts, in collaboration with Ryerson University, the Ontario College of Art and Design and York University. Stay tuned for ways you can get involved;
  • And our Research and Faculty Affairs Offices will be looking for opportunities to create pathways and approaches to mentor promising young visible minorities scholars.

I strongly encourage our entire community to participate in these initiatives and think about ways you can address racial health inequities, locally, nationally and internationally.

Best regards,
Howard Hu