A comprehensive plan to achieve inclusive excellence
A recent op-ed criticized our school’s Inclusive Excellence Action Plan (IEAP) and suggested that it is reflective of an “illiberal” liberal trend that has overtaken universities, including UNC-Chapel Hill, and that threatens freedom of expression.
Our plan is not a liberal plan nor a conservative plan, Democratic nor Republican plan. We welcome all points of view in the Gillings School. Over the years, we have invited people with diverse perspectives to speak. We do not inhibit anyone’s freedom of expression. Our IEAP is solidly a public health plan to overcome inequities in health and health care in North Carolina, the U.S. and around the world, in keeping with our school’s mission.
After decades of rigorous study and volumes of data, we know that many health and health care inequities have their roots in structural racism. We will not bring about transformative changes in health and health care for all people without addressing those inequities. We will not succeed without attending also to our own lived experiences, beliefs and biases. This recognition now undergirds the work of government, non-profits, corporations and universities in the U.S. and many other countries.
Transforming institutions to achieve equity
Our institutions – including those of higher education, health care, and others – will not become more diverse and inclusive unless we subject ourselves to learning, truth-telling and introspection. We must look at the past with an eye to the future. That requires training. It is not radical that we expect our people to participate in eight hours of training per year. More and more institutions require such training, although they may not specify numbers of hours.
Our promotions process in the Gillings School is among the most rigorous anywhere, and we ask every faculty member going up for promotion to include a paragraph about how they have contributed to inclusive excellence. This is one of many factors considered, including the strongest evidence of outstanding research, teaching and practice and service. Our tenure guidelines were subjected to comprehensive university review after review within our school.
Public health has a special obligation to address diversity, equity and inclusion – inclusive excellence. The word excellence conveys that we are not sacrificing quality to achieve inclusion. They are interconnected. Our accrediting body expects us to report on these issues. As explained in the July 2021 updated version of our Inclusive Excellence Action Plan:
In 2016, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), the accrediting body for schools and programs of public health, released a new set of core competencies that identify structural racism, health disparities, and community engagement as central components of public health professional education. These guidelines require that students be able to discuss racism, structural bias, and health inequities at multiple levels of influence; describe the importance of cultural competence in public health; and apply an awareness of cultural values and practices to public health efforts (IEAP, p.7).
The Gillings School adopted our IEAP based on the strong support of – indeed the demands – of our own community, including faculty, students, staff, alumni and some members of our boards.
Consider the data
Since the U.S. (and N.C.) began documenting it, our state and nation have recorded profound disparities in health outcomes between white and Black people. (See most recent America’s Health Rankings latest Health Disparities Report.) With COVID-19, disparities intensified. Gillings School researchers have themselves documented these disparities extensively, as have researchers at other schools of public health. This documentation includes strong evidence of the cumulative and compounding deleterious health effects of the many forms of racism Black people confront in the U.S. The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), in recognition of this data-based reality, formally declared racism a public health crisis in 2020, as did the American Public Health Association (APHA).
I stand behind our plan. Our plan and our work around inclusive excellence are of the highest quality. For the past three years, we have been recognized with Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Awards. We are leaders within our association of schools and programs of public health. Our peer-reviewed scholarship on health inequities is published in some of the most prestigious journals. Our students are clamoring for leadership in this area, and they drove our developing an MPH concentration on Health Equity, Social Justice and Human Rights. A leading global research university should also lead in inclusive excellence.