Dear JMU Health Sciences community,
The last several months have been a difficult time in each of our lives and in the nation’s history. Not only were we dealing with the effects of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, but the horrific deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many others prompt all of us, as a community, to further examine how systemic racism impacts our society and our students. In response to these events, the Department of Health Sciences faculty at JMU have decided to engage in reflection and serious inquiry related to our role in moving forward.
In addition to a justice system that disproportionately and unjustly impacts Black Americans, structural racism is recognized by all major professional health organizations as a public health issue that prevents our nation from achieving our highest goals in health and quality of life. Discrimination and violence can increase the risk of poor mental and physical health outcomes among Black Americans. In Health Sciences, we teach our students that health is impacted by the social determinants of health (SDOH) which can create barriers to health care access and equity. However, we must recognize that the SDOH are strongly impacted by the historical and current effects of systemic structural racism. Implicit bias in health care delivery only serves to widen health disparities rather than address the systemic racism that is one of the root causes of these disparities. The Department of Health Sciences supports the initiative JMU is undertaking to self-examine and address issues of racism on campus and remove painful reminders of slavery by changing buildings named for Confederate soldiers. As a department, we are committed to holding the university and ourselves accountable for taking action to address racism. Because we educate future health care professionals, we recognize our ethical responsibility to develop students who understand and recognize implicit bias, equip them with tools to practice social justice, anti-racism, and advocate for change in health care settings and communities.
Therefore, the Department of Health Sciences pledges to take the following definitive, applied and practical actions to address structural racism:
- Engage in self-reflection to identify individual actions and systems that have upheld systemic racism and discrimination, particularly as they impact our students.
- Listen to our students, faculty, and staff of color about their experiences in our department and university and amplify their voices.
- Identify ways to recruit students and faculty of color to expand the diversity of voices in our department, as a lack of diversity negatively impacts all of us.
- Evaluate our curriculum to identify ways in which discussion of systemic racism and cross-cultural communication in health contexts may be expanded.
- Expand the role of the Department of Health Sciences’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee to oversee and take actions described above.
In taking these first steps, we hope to contribute to genuine change and embody JMU’s mission to prepare students to be educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives. We welcome you to share any ideas you may have that will help us in this endeavor.