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School of Public Health releases draft plan for diversity, equity and inclusion

The finalized plan is set to be released by this spring or summer.
Image by Motasem Kadadah

In February, the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH) released a draft plan for diversity, equity and inclusion to students, staff, alumni and faculty members to provide feedback.

The draft plan, “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan,” will guide efforts and define action steps in the next five years. In January 2020, the strategic planning committee began work to create the draft plan. The committee will compile the feedback and present it at the next strategic planning committee meeting on March 17 to inform the next steps.

In the draft plan, the goal areas focus on students, leadership, staff, alumni and faculty members to establish change throughout SPH. For example, one of the action steps is to create a strong infrastructure for current students to connect with alumni, said Heidi Mastrud, SPH director of alumni relations.

“We have an alumni database, but we don’t know who has what skills. We don’t know who is connected to what communities,” Mastrud said. “So building that infrastructure is essential because then we can better partner with alumni so that the wisdom that they have can be utilized by many at the school.”

Lauren Eldridge, coordinator of diversity, equity and inclusion at SPH, started her role in 2017.

“When I came into the school, there were no other [diversity, equity and inclusion] folks working at SPH, so it felt like people across the school were doing a lot of disjointed programming and initiatives,” Eldridge said. “By 2019, I recognized that we needed to have a more coordinated plan for our resources, our energy and our people.”

After the police killing of George Floyd, there was an urgency for SPH to act by establishing three commitments in diversity, equity and inclusion, Eldridge added.

These commitments include increasing diversity in talent, driving change and accountability through antiracist and sustainable organizational structures, increasing representation and developing a core curriculum in health equity.

“The strategic plan, when it launches, will supersede the commitments so everything that is in the commitments will be either completed or reflected in the strategic plan,” Eldridge said.

Susana Carlos is a second-year master’s student at SPH and a member of the strategic planning committee. She said she primarily worked on the student goal area in the draft plan. In her role, she wanted to ensure the draft plan included better communication for students to reach resources and talk about their experiences, she added.

One action step in the student goal area is to create a network that will include trained staff, faculty and student leaders who can advocate for students.

Last fall, Dr. SooJin Pate, consultant and trainer at Strategic Diversity Initiatives, developed a climate survey and conducted interviews and focus groups with SPH staff, alumni, students and faculty members. The results provided insights to the draft plan.

Strategic Diversity Initiatives is an LGBTQ- and woman-owned consulting firm providing education and consultation on diversity, equity and inclusion to support organizations.

“We wanted a plan that addressed head-on the challenges of racism and racial inequity in higher education and in public health; so we wanted a plan that was actively antiracist,” read an email from Dr. Anne Phibbs, founder and president of Strategic Diversity Initiatives. “We also wanted a plan that was doable, and we wanted a plan that would position SPH as a [diversity, equity and inclusion] leader within the University of Minnesota as well as nationally and internationally.”

According to the survey results, 71% of white respondents agreed that they felt comfortable voicing a contrary opinion, but only 55% of Black, Indigenous and other respondents of color agreed.

In addition, about 25% of survey respondents shared experiencing or witnessing microaggressions, bullying, discrimination or bias, with most incidents coming from white faculty, staff and students.

The draft plan has an action step to implement a pilot system for bias reporting and clear procedures for what happens after the complaint is filed.

The strategic planning committee aims to finalize the draft plan in the next couple of months and launch it during the summer. In 2022 and 2024, goal accountability checks will be conducted to check progress and areas of improvement, Eldridge said.

“It’s hard to prioritize what’s next when these are very big, complex social issues that require systemic changes, and so I’m excited that this is in place,” Carlos said.

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