Reflecting on the year to date, it is hard to comprehend how much our lives have changed in the past months. Our country has been rattled by a global pandemic and the tragic killing of George Floyd. While these are sad and frightening times, both events pose challenges and opportunities for us as educators, researchers, public health practitioners and health care providers to lead the way in combating disparities and promoting health and well-being for all people.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, our faculty, staff and students responded through activities such as testing, contact tracing, developing disease models and offering telehealth appointments in order to continue serving patients. You can read more about their efforts in this issue of PHHP News.
With George Floyd’s death we are again called to act. As a nation, we have witnessed centuries of racial injustice and the development of institutional racism that underlies the disparities faced by people of color in our country. At the same time we feel sympathy for victims, we may also feel a sense of helplessness to correct a pervasive pattern of racial injustices.
Nevertheless, there are actions that we can take and must take. First, we must understand the roots of racism and confront the fact that biases, implicit as well as explicit, affect us all. We must use our training to identify factors that contribute to the disparities in health, education and income that perpetuate the divisions in our society between the have and have-nots. We must then take steps to modify those pernicious conditions through programs and policies.
Last month UF President Kent Fuchs announced several actions for the university community designed to address racism and inequity. These include training for all students, faculty and staff on racism, inclusion and bias; speakers, seminars and courses focused on the Black experience, racism and inequity; a presidential task force to document the history of UF in relationship to race and ethnicity, particularly African Americans and Native Americans; and intensifying efforts to recruit, support and retain students, faculty and employees of color.
As scientists and leaders in public health and health care, we can take the lead on the development and evaluation of programs designed to redress disparities. Our findings can form the basis of knowledge regarding what does and does not work. However, having an empirical basis for change will not be enough.
We all must serve as role models in our disciplines and advocates for social justice who are dedicated to improving the lives of those members of our society who have suffered injustices for too many years.