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Dean Hakim Addresses Systemic Racism and Public Health

Dear MEZCOPH Faculty, Staff, Students & Alumni,

It is with profound sadness and outrage that we have witnessed the incidents of violence against black people over the past several months. Most recently the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody has generated anguish in all of us, and across the nation and the world. That anguish leads us to a question that continues to burn in so many hearts: how do we stop systemic violence against the black community?

These events have yet again highlighted the persistent nature of racism in our country. Due to that structural racism, our fellow Americans from Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other marginalized communities suffer from direct and indirect risk factors that lead to measurably inferior health outcomes.

In the public health field, we use scientific research to analyze and address the health of our communities. Based on research, on hard numbers, we know that shortly after COVID-19 arrived in the United States, significant disparities in infections, hospitalizations and deaths were reported in Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. Members of those communities comprise a high proportion of the essential workers in many economic sectors like the meat packing industry, agriculture, and manufacturing – all workplace environments that facilitate the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Death rates from COVID-19 have been higher in Black and Indigenous populations. Relentless daily emotional stressors, lack of resources, micro and macro aggressions, inferior built environments, increased exposure to environmental contaminants, and poor access to healthcare all intersect to create conditions that facilitate the development of chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illness. All these chronic disease conditions are associated with the increased severity of COVID-19.

The senseless killing of George Floyd by a police officer has led to righteous anger across the country. The College shares in this grief and distress, but we must express outrage towards these injustices in peaceful ways. We believe that the authorities must show respect and restraint in responding to protestors. As public health professionals, we know that these protests will increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission in these communities. When large crowds gather, close together and often without masks, that proximity will inevitably lead to greater transmission in future weeks.

As a College of Public Health, we recognize the importance of racism as a fundamental determinant of health that needs to be addressed by everyone in our MEZCOPH community. We must always remember the connection between our immediate efforts to stop the pandemic and our long-term efforts to improve health equity. Our College of Public Health condemns racism and strives to be anti-racist, yet we can do more.

We must commit ourselves to exemplify the values that we stand for every day. Our values of Fairness, Trust, Equity, Social Justice, Excellence, Innovation, Commitment, Collegiality, Diversity, Open Communication, Participation, Consensus and Enhancement encapsulate the essence of the movement that we see happening across the nation. It is all too easy to slip into complacency in times of calm. But these disparities exist whether we face them every day or only when horrific events shock our senses.

As Dean of MEZCOPH, I commit the College to support the activities of the Committee on Inclusion and Equity as we continue to create an environment where everyone can thrive within the College. 

  • We commit to actions that diversify our faculty and student body to ensure that all perspectives are represented. 
  • We commit to support our diverse students and faculty.
  • We commit to ensuring that the curriculum at MEZCOPH addresses diversity and inclusion, culture competency, health equity, social justice and the negative impact of racism on the health of our communities. 
  • We commit to use our position in the community to make sure all voices are heard through our research, student engagement, and community development projects. 
  • We further commit to ensure that our community stands united in doing everything we can to uphold our values and be representatives of anti-racist social change and advance the well-being of all people.

I feel such deep sadness at our long and slow history in addressing hatred, racism, and injustice. Though I hold onto hope of a better future in which dignity, respect, and equality are essential - not optional - for every one of us, I know that this future won't happen by simply wishing things to be different.  Change is coming. We support this change. We will work together to shape this change. We will work to realize the core values that our College of Public Health already holds.

Thank you all for your support of our public health mission during these challenging times. I am personally focusing on how to use my leadership position to be an ally by deeply listening, learning, and supporting all of you.

Best Wishes for Your Health and Safety,

Iman


If you are experiencing distress and seeking support,
these are some useful resources:


For Students

- Counseling and Psychological Services (https://health.arizona.edu/counseling-psych-services)

- Dean of Students (https://deanofstudents.arizona.edu/support/student-assistance)

- Student Wellness (https://studentsuccess.arizona.edu/student-wellness-retention)

- African American Student Affairs (https://aasa.arizona.edu)


For Faculty and Staff

- Employee Assistance Counseling (https://lifework.arizona.edu/counseling-coaching/employee-assistance-counseling)

- Life & Work Connections (https://lifework.arizona.edu)

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