COPHP and the Role of Racism in Public Health

The people of the masterís of Community-Oriented Public Health Practice (COPHP) have made a commitment to transform our educational program. Knowing weíre embedded in a large department in a large school in a large public university in the United States, we recognize the magnitude of an effort to overcome generations of institutional racism.

Since our first cohort entered in the fall of 2002, our program has been influenced and shaped not only by the faculty leadership, but also by the values and priorities of our students. Over the years, student cohorts have increasingly recognized the role of systemic and structural racism in undermining the publicís health. Our 2013 entering class was particularly engaged and formed a COPHP entity called the Committee on Oppression and Racism in Education, or CORE. CORE members organized a collective to move the program toward anti-racist practice and analysis.

In response to a CORE request, we staged our first two-day Undoing Institutional Racism (UIR) workshop in fall 2014, sponsored by The Peopleís Institute for Survival and Beyond. UIR workshops typically include about 40 participants, as well as facilitators who help us understand the history and purposes of racism, connections between racism and poverty, and how racism is perpetuated through power dynamics in our institutions. For the last two years, every single first-year student, along with a number of faculty and staff, has spent a full weekend participating in the training.

After that first workshop, faculty and CORE students strategized about next steps. We decided to first change a number of ways in which we frame and portray the problems of power, privilege and racism in public health work. To this end, we:

  • Revised the admission process to include CORE participation and criteria.
  • Added an anti-racism commitment statement to our course syllabi.
  • Added classroom climate questions to our student course evaluations.
  • Committed to annual Undoing Institutional Racism trainings for all program participants.
  • Created space for CORE at regular faculty meetings and faculty retreats.
  • Employed CORE students and graduates to review cases to ensure they didnít carry implicit bias.

For example, at the last faculty retreat, we invited CORE students to create an exercise to illustrate how microaggressions play out in the classroom and to help faculty work through how to manage those.

CORE students have been actively engaged in the Seattle community, joining the Black Lives Matter movement and working with EPIC (End the Prison Industrial Complex) to stop the new Seattle-King County youth jail construction.

The School of Public Health has now appointed two COPHP alumni, Omid Bagheri and Tara Bostock, to teach an all-school class for graduate and undergraduate students during fall, winter and spring quarters called Racism and Public Health.