Oregon State University grant to improve equity of public health programmes

Oregon State University to improve equity of public health programmes receives $300,000

Oregon State University (OSU) is the recipient of a new grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to make public health academic programmes more equitable.

The 18-month “Transforming Academia for Equity” grant allots $300,000 to OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences; the university is one of seven institutions across the US to receive the grant.

Founded in 1972, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest public health philanthropy organisation in the US and works to improve health and equitable access to healthcare across the nation.

Oregon State University: the intended impact of the grant

Within the college, a ten-person team of faculty, graduate students and external partners will identify which reforms are necessary and implement them across the college and the university.

The team will serve as a guidance hub, connecting faculty, students and administrators across the university and providing opportunities for college leaders to be more transparent about their diversity, equity and inclusion work.

The grant will pay a portion of some members of the guiding team’s salary, along with stipends for other members, enabling them to allocate time to work on the grant’s reforms.

The funds will also enable the creation of a project coordinator position and pay for travel so members can meet with other grant recipients across the country.

Addressing “political” topics

The formation of the team follows a letter penned by public health graduate students to college leadership following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

The letter called for stronger anti-racist approaches at the college, increased instruction on health disparities, and “culturally competent care” for patients from marginalised communities.

Jonathan Garcia, Associate Professor and Director of OSU’s Global Health programme, believes that instructors at the college struggle with discussing political topics, despite them being crucial to addressing disparities within public health, especially for people from marginalised backgrounds such as immigrants and trans people.

He said: “As a land grant university, we have in our mission a goal of reaching every community throughout the state. We are really tapping into our vision and mission and trying to redress some of the harm that the university and the laws in this state have done to people of colour. Part of redressing that harm is making the university truly accessible and welcoming to people of all races, colours and walks of life.

“We need to learn how to have these conversations in public health. Public health is affected by the political determinants of health that determine access and rights, which are integral to providing health to all people and eliminating health disparities. It’s a part of white supremacy to say it’s ‘too political’ to talk about the experience of being a person of colour.”

Kate MacTavish, an Associate Professor and Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, says that including graduate students in the guiding team helps ensure their voices are heard: “One big lesson we’ve learned is this idea of ‘inclusive excellence,’ which is such a big goal at our university.

“It really means that you are engaging with those who will be most affected by policies and practices as you’re crafting those policies and practices.”

The two professors are also planning reforms to help faculty of colour succeed in the promotion and tenure process, which commonly requires developing an independent research programme.

For example, researchers in the OSU Extension Service engage in community-based work across the state but find it difficult to get their work counted as part of the promotion and tenure process, says MacTavish.

To find out more about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, click here.

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