We confront diversity

While we look a lot like our peer schools of public health, none of us are sufficiently diverse, particularly, in terms of minority staff, students and faculty. Most of us are in the 18-22% minority range although a few urban universities are higher. We are about 18% minority (including Asian but excluding international students), a number that was touted as a real achievement for one school as reported in Monday’s New York Times.

What we are most concerned about is the fact that only about 10% of our students are African-American, and about 4% are Hispanic. We are not talking quotas, by the way. But when we look at a state that is now nearly 22% African-American and 7% Hispanic, we see a gap between where we are and where we should be (not that we are trying to mirror state precisely). Public health lives in a diverse world, and we are faced with huge health disparities we must overcome. We’ve looked a lot at our data and believe there are many reasons why we (and our peer schools) don’t have more minority students. Support for student scholarships is necessary, and we don’t have nearly enough scholarships. But it’s rarely only one thing that accounts for insufficient diversity.

mscedited1-copy2.jpgLast Thursday evening, our School’s Minority Student Caucus and Student Government convened a Town Hall to focus discussion on diversity at the school. The student-organized event gave people a chance to talk about the issues and to suggest actions. I was impressed by how the students had organized the event—thoughtful, polished and professional. Stephanie Baker, Yasmin Cole-Lewis, Patsy Polston and others did a terrific job! I am proud that we have a school where students and others could talk about their feelings openly, as one young woman said, without fear of retribution. Some students talked about how it felt to be in departments with few minority students. There were great examples of the good that can come when departments take on the issue and confront it.

mscedited2-copy2.jpgPeople said we should work more actively with historically black colleges and universities on recruitment; we should work harder at connecting with UNC undergrads; make sure our interviews reflect diversity when we meet students for the first time; get our alumni more involved; share best practices across the School. As our illustrious alumni,Professor Bill Jenkins said, “It’s not rocket science.” He went on to talk about commitment, effort, investment and everyone owning the problem.

mscedited3-copy.jpgThere’s a tendency for people to identify one program as the potential solution, the Holy Grail, to increase diversity. I am convinced that our diversity won’t change just because we add one more program. It will change if we add multiple programs aimed at removing roadblocks to diversity. I am committed to that. From what I have seen, we don’t need to worry about lowering standards, a specter often raised as a threat. There are plenty of great minority applicants. We need to encourage them to apply here and then find ways to support them, not only financially. We can enhance our excellence if we increase our diversity! We’re all in this together.

We can do this! Barbara

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