29th Minority Health Conference

Our amazing students

mhc_brown_krieger_taylor.jpgThis past Friday, Feb. 29, I welcomed participants, guests and speakers to the 29th Annual Minority Health Conference. This year’s conference may have been the best yet, with more than 620 participants, dozens of terrific posters and exhibitors and a fascinating line-up of speakers and sessions. The planning committee did a fabulous job! I am not aware of any other student-run conference that attracts this level of participation and attention. I’ve been to a lot of professionally-run conferences, and this is as well-done as the best of them but with a great deal more enthusiasm and passion. It was awesome to walk into the Friday Center, teaming with people of all ages and colors, vibrant in energy and excitement. We are so grateful to Bodil and George Gellman for their financial support of the event. It was great to catch up with folks like Professors Small and Browne.

mhc_smith_che.jpgThe conference highlighted what we in public health now recognize—that health cannot be separated from our environments, economies, policies and the very fabric of our lives. Nor can we ignore the growing disparities in this country. It was really important, though, that the conference organizers focused not just on deficits associated with the lives of minorities but also their assets and strengths.

Unfortunately, as Dean, I often have to leave conferences after giving a welcome, because I have to get to another meeting or event. But I always try to stay for the keynote lecture for the Minority Health Conference, because I learn so much. This year was no exception.

Dr. Nancy Krieger, Professor of Society and Human Development at Harvard School of Public Health, gave a wonderful talk on the science of racism. It is not an oxymoron to talk about science and racism. As Dr. Krieger’s talk elucidated, we still need good data to show the consequences of racism on people’s health status. Data often are the first step to more just policies. Dr. Krieger applied rigorous epidemiologic methods, some quite innovative, to understand factors that explain deepening disparities in the U.S. As she said, “death is inevitable, but premature mortality is not.” She is a great role model of someone who is an impeccable scientist but also a powerful, effective advocate for social change.

Public health and our school especially have a fundamental role to play in understanding and overcoming health disparities. Bringing science to bear is only part of our job. To paraphrase Goethe, “knowing is not enough. We also must apply.”

As I looked out at the nearly full auditorium, mostly with students and young people, I was encouraged that our future is in their hands.

Bringing it home

The conference and recent experiences led me to issue this strong statement. Our school has zero tolerance for racism. If any of our staff, students or faculty experience racism or other discrimination in the school, please report it to your chair or unit head. If you are not comfortable with that, see me.

Paula’s wisdom

Regular readers know that I am a spinning regular, and that I resonate with Paula’s aphorisms as she does a superb job leading classes. Today, she said. “You only have one body so take care of it.” That’s especially good advice during this nasty flu season. (And now, unfortunately, I speak with authority!)

Happy Monday and take care!

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