Dean Rimer on Inclusive Excellence
Welcome! Since the beginning of the UNC School of Public Health (named the Gillings School of Global Public Health in 2008), over 80 years ago, our faculty, students and staff have sought to create and enhance a diverse and inclusive environment, even as we contributed to the social and physical conditions to support health for all. Diversity and inclusion are central to our mission to improve public health promote individual well-being and eliminate health inequities across North Carolina and around the world. In 2011, our school’s leaders created a statement about our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Read it here. In this section, I provide a detailed description about some of our history and activities that show our commitment to increasing diversity, inclusive excellence and reducing inequities. Here’s a very short version.
Short take. Our faculty, staff and students have been committed to increasing diversity and reducing health inequities from the earliest days of the School. There should be no question about it: we are committed to reducing health and other inequities and increasing diversity and inclusive excellence. We do not tolerate discrimination, bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct. In my blog, Monday Morning, I write frequently about these issues, including a post on the toppling of Silent Sam, the confederate monument on UNC’s campus, in August 2018.
We’ve been working to advance health equity and reduce disparities for nearly as long as the School has existed. In 1945, a joint public health training program was established with North Carolina Central University (then the North Carolina Negroes College). Close partnerships with NCCU continue to this day. At a time when the South was segregated, people in this school were not intimidated by prevailing customs. That spirit is part of our school’s DNA. In the 1960s and 1970s, our faculty were among the most ardent supporters of desegregating what was still a segregated North Carolina.
In 1965, John Hatch, DrPH, who became a Kenan Professor of Health Behavior, was one of the courageous leaders who started the first rural community health center in the U.S. – in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, with Jack Geiger, MD, while Hatch was an assistant professor at the Tufts University Medical Center. It became a model for others across the country. Hear the story in their words. Watch a video about the Delta Health Center.
SPH2020, a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion. In 2010, our School’s leadership engaged in a strategic planning process, SPH2020, in which we asked faculty, staff, students and alumni to weigh in about their vision for the Gillings School in 2020. Hundreds shared their thoughts, and a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force was formed, creating a report that would serve as our roadmap going forward.
We’re still leaders. For example:
- O.J. McGhee, MA, Instructional Media Services manager, has served as chair of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Black Caucus from 2015 to 2018.
- Our National Health Equity Research Webcast each fall highlights some of the nation’s most pressing issues in diversity, inclusion and health equity and emphasizes justice- and community-led approaches to fostering health equity research.
- Dirk Davis, MPH, PhD candidate, Health Behavior, and May Chen, MPH, PhD candidate, Health Behavior, created the LGBTQ Health Disparities Research Collaborative in 2017 as a place where students and faculty can discuss critical issues surrounding LGBTQ health.
- Peggye Dilworth Anderson, PhD, professor of Health Policy and Management, was honored in May 2018 with the University Diversity Award.
- In spring 2018, I was appointed to the North Carolina Governor’s newly formed Commission on Inclusion, which advises and identifies policies and measures for the state to promote inclusion and address discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on prohibited grounds.
- In February 2019, we celebrated the 40th year of the Minority Health Conference, the largest and longest running student-led health conference in U.S.
Where we are today. Over the past several years, we have come together as a community to reflect at various times on current events that have shaken members of our community. We’ve supported students leading Black Lives Matter and other social justice campaigns, taken new steps to increase the diversity of our faculty, staff and students, revised our leadership statement about diversity and inclusion, and hosted major events as part of the yearly Minority Health Conference and National Health Equity Research Webcast. We are proud that the Minority Health Conference is the largest and longest-running student-led health conference in the U.S. In 2022, we will celebrate 43 years!
Becoming more diverse and inclusive. Like most universities and schools, we are not where we’d like to be, and we continue to work even harder to get there. We are not standing still. In recent years, I have written blog posts and spoken out on issues such as zero tolerance for discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying. To repeat, we do not tolerate these behaviors, and they violate UNC policies.
For years, our campus was roiled by the presence of confederate statue, Silent Sam, and we saw its toppling in August 2018. I also wrote about that. Just to be clear: I do not believe that confederate statues belong on public university campuses. Advancing health equity for transgender people and responding to crises that affect our international community members are two of many topics about which I’ve engaged with students and written about this year. As I said in my blog, we do not always know the stress and pain endured by people surrounding us. It’s important to make space, in and out of class, for students, staff and faculty members to share the challenges they are facing.
I’m delighted that Jeffrey Simms, MSPH, has accepted the role of interim associate dean for inclusive excellence, filling the position created by Kauline Cipriani, PhD, who served as the School’s first associate dean of inclusive excellence for three years. Simms will continue implementation of the Gillings School’s IE action plan, which is a collaborative, living document that guides the efforts of the Gillings community in working toward inclusive excellence. It is a framework for action to provide training for public health professionals in an environment that fosters participation of all its members and perpetuates sustained equity and inclusion. Simms is working with our faculty, staff and students, and with others across campus, including Carolina’s new Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, Leah Cox.
Our Inclusive Excellence team works to support the recruitment and retention of a diverse community of faculty, students and staff and to develop a climate in which everyone feels welcomed, wanted and supported. Trinnette Cooper, MPH, manager of inclusive excellence and outreach, is an excellent resource and is available to meet with students by appointment.
We take seriously our accountability for increasing inclusive excellence and track metrics for faculty, staff and students. We’re also being systematic about ensuring that all MPH students meet critical competencies in this domain.
This is an amazing, welcoming, inclusive and civil community. We continue to take steps every day to create a more equitable Gillings School where people of all backgrounds, identities and interests thrive.
–Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, Dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor