DLSPH Blog – Diversity and Equity

October 6/2017


 The DLSPH Blog is a digital platform that will explore issues that impact public health and health systems scholars on a biweekly basis.For blog ideas, feedback or comments, contact: communications.dlsph@utoronto.ca

It has always been my understanding that equity and social responsibility are core values of a School of Public Health.  And this certainly seems to be the case if you review the core values articulated on the Dalla Lana School of Public Health’s website.  However, what is less clear to me is whether or not – or, more hopefully, how – these are articulated in the day to day activities of the School.

When our previous Dean, Professor Howard Hu, asked me to co-chair a Committee on Equity and Diversity last fall, I happily agreed. This was an opportunity to take stock; what are we doing well as a School and where could we improve? With co-chairs Professor Arjumand Siddiqui and Dr. Uttam Bajwa, we set to work.

One of the first things we discovered is that there is very little routine collection of data on equity and diversity indicators. Are our recruitment programs enhancing diversity by supporting underrepresented groups through application and selection processes? Are our faculty and staff made aware of their rights and responsibilities related to discrimination, harassment and professionalism?  Are our teaching materials free of stereotypes, overgeneralizations and biases? Do they include diverse social and cultural examples?

It was very difficult to definitively answer these questions.  Another thing that we discovered fairly quickly is that there had been a 1999 Report on Ethno-racial Diversity (co-chaired by Blake Poland and Elaine Power), which had made a number of recommendations, but there was very little documentation of how, or whether, these recommendations had been implemented or monitored.

Armed with this background, we recruited volunteers to the Equity and Diversity Committee.  Because most committees struggle to find any willing participants, we decided to open the recruitment to all members of the DLSPH community.  We were overwhelmed with interest — close to 70 individuals, from students to staff members to faculty to alumni, stepped forward to participate in one or more of the five sub-committees that were struck.

After months of work, the group agreed on an equity and diversity statement, based on the University of Toronto Governing Council’s Statement on Equity, Diversity and Excellence.  With Interim Dean, Professor Steini Brown’s support, DLSPH adopted the statement.

As Stephanie Nixon, one of the co-Chairs of the committee tasked with developing the statement, explains, this statement is unique because of its emphasis not only on unearned disadvantage (oppression and marginalization) but also unearned advantage (privilege). Most framings focus on the former, which makes it very difficult to actually change underlying structures. Our statement is clear about the relational nature of equity, by recognizing that the same structures which provide a worse experience for some, also treat others unfairly by providing them with better, unearned opportunities.

Click here to read DLSPH’s Statement on Diversity, Equity and Excellence

So with a newly minted diversity and equity statement, what’s next?

In my opinion, the work in bringing this statement to life is just beginning.  A great deal of material was collected by the various sub-committees, which we now need to learn from and build upon.  We need to develop a strategy to assess where we are at with respect to diversity and equity as a School. We need to learn from the very best schools of public health. And we need to commit to ensuring that equity and social responsibility are not simply listed as core values on the DLSPH website, but guide our community’s day to day activities.

– Professor Rhonda Cockerill, IHPME Acting Director, with thanks to Dr. Uttam Bajwa, Research Associate in the Office of Global Public Health and Education and Training; Professor Arjumand Siddiqi, DLSPH; and Professor Stephanie Nixon, Department of Physical Therapy and DLSPH.