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Becoming an antiracist school of public health

For more than 80 years, Berkeley Public Health has championed equity and justice around the world.

But in 2020—when vigorous calls for racial justice in the U.S. were sparked by the murder by police of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, and racial disparities in health outcomes tied to the COVID-19 pandemic—it was clear that more needed to be done both around the world and at home in Berkeley.

Against that background, Dean Michael C. Lu issued a call to action for the school to become an antiracist institution.

In response, a steering group of 23 faculty, staff, and students, led by then Executive Associate Dean Amani Allen and Chief of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging & Justice (DEIBJ) Ché Abram, launched ARC4JSTC (Anti-racist Community for Justice and Social Transformative Change), a “comprehensive, multiyear antiracist change initiative encompassing faculty and workforce development, student experience, curriculum and pedagogy, community engagement outreach, and business processes.”

Over a two-year period, the project resulted in the establishment of an Antiracist Pedagogy Faculty Leadership Academy that has trained more than 100 faculty from across the UC Berkeley campus, a series of antiracism trainings for staff and non-faculty academics, and an elective course on antiracism for students.

It has also led to the development of a schoolwide antiracism strategic framework and the creation of antiracism competencies that will serve as a guide for ongoing efforts, as well as adoption of course syllabus language stating a commitment to antiracist pedagogy. It spurred a reexamination of many of the school’s practices and policies, from student admissions to faculty recruitment to staff hiring to supervisor training to pay equity to purchasing, contracting, and more. Most recently, the project is training faculty and staff on restorative justice practices to prevent and address discrimination and microaggressions.

“ARC4JSTC had a ripple effect on the possibilities of what an antiracist public health institution can offer to students, staff and faculty,” said Dr. Andrea Jacobo, coauthor and recent UC Berkeley DrPH graduate. “The faculty who were a part of the leadership academy have integrated antiracist principles into their curriculum and have empowered students to be active in the process. Students have continued to be vocal about maintaining antiracist praxis at the core of the curriculum in their respective concentrations. What we started is a moving train that continues to build as we move forward.”

Berkeley Public Health’s journey towards becoming a more antiracist institution is documented in a paper published in a special  June 8, 2023, issue of Preventing Chronic Disease entitled “Public Health, Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, and Pharmacy: Combating Racism Through Research, Training, Practice, and Public Health Policies,” published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“While we have a long way to go, our school came together to acknowledge the work that needs to be done and start the journey toward becoming an antiracist institution,” said Dr. Allen, the paper’s lead author. “We’ve learned more about ourselves in the process, both our strengths and our growth edges. The charge before us now is to not be content with the successes we have had but to forge ahead into those uncomfortable places. That is where the magic happens.”

“Berkeley Public Health students, staff, and faculty have acknowledged the importance of anti-racism praxis in making changes within and beyond our campus,” said coauthor and former UC Berkeley public health undergraduate student and recent epidemiology and biostatistics MPH graduate Navya Pothamsetty. “ARC4JSTC’s initiatives like faculty workshops, focus groups, and, most recently, published research on transformative change, are a strong foundation for continued progress towards the goal of becoming a more antiracist institution.”

Schools of Public Health “have a moral, ethical, and disciplinary imperative to support training, research, and service activities that serve our collective mission to promote health and well-being for all,” concludes the paper. “Ensuring our institutional health as a diverse, equity-minded, inclusive, and antiracist-striving organization is fundamental to those efforts.”

“While we’ve still got work to do, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in the past three years,” said Lu. “ARC4JSTC has transformed our culture and climate, and helped us become a better version of ourselves.”

Authors include: Amani M. Allen, PhD, Ché Abram, MBA, Navya Pothamsetty, MPH, Andrea Jacobo, MPH, Leanna Lewis, MSW, Sai Ramya Maddali, MPH, Michelle Azurin, MPH, Emily Chow, BS, Michael Sholinbeck, MLIS, Abby Rincón, MPH, and Ann Keller, PhD, and Michael C. Lu, MD, MS, MPH, all of UC Berkeley School of Public Health.