History of Social Justice at The SPH
Commitment to Antiracism Initiatives From Founding Dean, Dean David Bangsberg
Oct 26th, 2020
Dear SPH faculty, staff and students,
Even while remote, it was a pleasure to host student orientation, attend standing faculty meetings, and see my student coffee schedule fill as a welcome fall ritual. The spring and summer provided many moments that reminded all of us that we still have important work to do to advance antiracism in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.
Social justice is the bedrock of our field. As a School, we also strive to exemplify social justice, antiracism, decolonization, and health and social equity in all we do, while also recognizing with open eyes that we still have much work to do. We begin this year by standing with the American Public Health Association and the Association of Schools & Programs in Public Health in declaring racism a public health crisis. As Dean, I am committed to building and sustaining an anti-racist SPH that confronts racism in all its forms and works to dismantle oppressive structures and systems that allow racism to persist.
As one expression of that commitment, I dedicated resources to a new position in our School – Associate Dean for Social Justice – and I am pleased that Dr. Dawn Richardson has accepted. In this role Dr. Richardson will help move us closer to an SPH that prioritizes antiracism and equity and works in accountable partnership with communities to dismantle oppression and marginalization within our School and beyond. There will be errors along the way that will be part of our learning and reinforce our deep commitment to this work. We ask that you join us in this journey.
I also must acknowledge that I enter this work as an able bodied, cisgender, white, heterosexual male born and raised in Portland. I am a person who has and continues to benefit from much privilege, at all levels. I also recognize that I live on and own land stolen from native sovereign people through systematic genocide. Many of the colonial systems and practices that allowed my ancestors to steal that land remain in our institutions today, including the SPH. These colonial legacies preserve the power status quo amongst those of us born and raised with an inequitable share of privilege, opportunity and influence. Dr. Richardson and I have discussed that acknowledgements such as these can ring hollow if not accompanied by transparent action and accountability, and as your Dean I commit to delivering both.
Several of our Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+, persons living with disability, as well as some of our straight, white and traditionally privileged, faculty, staff, students, and community members have privately and publicly pointed out that my privilege has obscured my ability to see and discern realities experienced by others not in my position. Some describe this as being called out. Being called out can be uncomfortable, especially for someone who devotes their life to advancing public health. The expectation of daily psychological comfort, however, is by itself an extreme privilege that many BIPOC, LGBT+ and other marginalized and oppressed people do not have. By engaging in these discussions with curiosity and humility, I have learned that I was not being called out, but rather being called in to advance a more equitable distribution of opportunity, influence, and power. I humbly accept the invitation.
It is essential that all who enjoy the benefits of privilege allow ourselves to be called in in order that BIPOC, LGBTQ+, those living with disabilities, and other oppressed people are not expected or required to do all the work. We all must be part of the solution — most notably those not marginalized — and if we are not, we are part of the problem.
I ask you to join me in being called in to do this work individually and as a School. I also invite you to learn that being called in confers responsibility and accountability: it is a sign of trust that you will use this experience to take meaningful action and effect change. We must recognize that it is an opportunity to be seen not as an expert but rather as a whole person with strengths and weaknesses shaped by the sum total of life experiences and societal systems and structures that work to build and reinforce white supremacy. Being called in is also an opportunity to further build upon and expand that trust, both individually and as a School. If we all approach this work with transparency and humility combined with a commitment to asking and responding to hard questions with action, it will make us better and more effective in achieving our collective mission: to educate and nurture future public health leaders, and advance public health scholarship and practice in collaboration with our communities — all with a goal of promoting health and social equity for all.
Thank you for your engagement and collective commitment to achieving this shared goal. We are up to the task.
David Bangsberg, MD, MPH
Oregon Health & Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health