By Deane Morrison
A new Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Team (EDIT) has formed in the School of Public Health (SPH), and after getting its feet planted this last academic year, it’s ready to blossom.
“We all need an EDIT,” says Susan Rafferty, chief of staff for SPH. “There’s so much to learn from others’ perspectives.”
The team, which now has approximately 20 members, promotes an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance through monthly meetings in which members discuss and plan events. The meetings also give them a chance to practice hosting meetings or receive training. Some activities the team has hosted are proactive, such as the book club that meets to discuss “The White Racial Frame,” by Joe R. Feagin, and staffing the welcome tables during National Public Health Week events. Others come in response to national or local developments or incidents.
“We had just started as a team when the election happened,” recalls Rafferty. “Some people were fearful about their immigration status, same-sex marriage and other rights. We created open space sessions for people to talk and be linked to resources if necessary.”
“One division brought in an immigration lawyer after the travel bans were first announced,” says EDIT team co-leader Melissa Wuori, an executive accounts specialist. “We brought in resources—for example, the Disability Resource Center, the Aurora Center, and Boynton.”
SPH’s EDIT team also takes part in events sponsored by other groups. So far, those have included a presentation on common misconceptions about Islam hosted by SPH’s Epidemiology & Community Health division and a lecture on implicit bias hosted by the School of Nursing.
“Past employee engagement survey results show that people feel respected individually, but they were not as certain about the school and division commitment to equity and diversity issues and inclusion,” says Rafferty. “Given that public health studies population health, it’s especially important for SPH students, faculty, and staff to understand and respect people’s differences and the inequities that exist.”
For one thing, even the best-intentioned among us can benefit from advice on how to avoid actions or remarks that hurt people in situations unlike our own. For example, the EDIT team has learned how even compliments can be stereotypical.
“It’s an iterative process. We’re trying to understand each other’s identities,” says Rafferty.
“Or privilege,” adds Wuori. She tells a story from her EDIT co-chair, Vic Massaglia, about the SPH Career & Professional Development Center, which he directs.
“Vic said they changed the language being used. Instead of having ‘walk-in hours’ they now have ‘stop-by hours’ because that language is more inclusive for individuals of all abilities,” she says. “Also, I’ve been corrected over my use of the term ‘man the tables.’ Now I say ‘staff the tables.’ It may seem like a small thing, but those small things add up, and it’s important to respect those we work with. We definitely have room for improvement.”
That room also reveals its existence in some of the pushback the team has encountered.
“Some people on the team shared that they had never been exposed to idea of white privilege,” notes Rafferty. “We accept each person where they are in their understanding and exploration of equity and diversity issues. Talking about diversity issues sometimes makes people uncomfortable, but learning comes from that discomfort.”
“I think it’s also that [people think] we’re not ‘qualified’ to talk about it because we’re not qualified counselors,” Wuori adds.
Onward and upward
The EDIT team has spent its first year in learning how to get involved with people and activities, communicate, and draw a broader mix of participation. And it is set to be more “planful” for 2017-18.
“We’re now trying to keep our feet on the ground and tackle more conversations and topics and have more of an impact,” says Wuori.
Rafferty likens the effort to a circle she hopes will expand and, like ripples, reach more of SPH.
“We’re trying to focus on action-based conversations [and activities],” she says. “Action focused on changing the climate in the School of Public Health.”