Yale Daily News

As the country grapples with an unruly pandemic that has disproportionately affected people of color, the Yale School of Public Health has rolled out a racial justice concentration this fall in an effort to make its own strides toward equity.

The new U.S. Health and Justice Concentration at the Public Health school aims to equip students with the tools to advance health justice and analyze how public health research methods could better serve all patients. The school is also adding classes as part of an ongoing effort to study systems that perpetuate health injustice, and to examine how privilege and power create inequality within medicine.

 “The launch of the concentration this fall could not be more prescient as our society continues to struggle with the dual public health crises of COVID-19 and police violence,” said Mayur Desai, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the YSPH.

Although the rollout of the academic track coincides with a broader cultural movement, U.S. Health and Justice has been in the works for quite some time, according to Desai.

“The initial idea for the new concentration emerged from conversations with Master of Public Health students in the YSPH Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences in 2017, having secured the necessary approvals, the planning for the new concentration by a school-wide committee of faculty and students began in early 2019, led by Associate Professor Danya Keene,” Desai said.

Desai added that the School of Public Health also hopes the concentration will engage a more diverse body of students. The Emerging Majority Students Association, a student group dedicated to advocating for the interests of underrepresented groups at the YSPH, has expressed optimism about the new concentration.

“We would love to see this concentration not only increase discussion of diversity, equity and inclusion issues as they relate to health, but also attract faculty from varying fields and demographic categories,” wrote EMSA leaders Morgan Buchanan SPH ’21, Cailin Arechiga SPH ’21 and Michelle Sodipo SPH ’21 in a statement to the News. “While it is a valid fear that this training will be siloed in the U.S. Health and Justice Concentration, we are confident that this will not be the case. Public health is inherently interdisciplinary and this material is relevant across all courses.”

Keene, an associate professor heavily involved in planning the concentration, affirmed this optimism and added that the School of Public Health will increase social and racial justice education beyond just the new concentration.

“This concentration is certainly not meant to ‘concentrate’ all of the social justice into one place,” Keene said. “All Masters of Public Health students at YSPH are required to take a core course in Social Justice and Health Equity.”

Faculty and students alike are hoping that the continued implementation of racial and social justice education into the curriculum will help draw more students, postdocs and faculty to the YSPH.

According to Trace Kershaw, Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the concentration will help students “integrate social justice in all aspects of the work they do.”

“We all need to understand how our policies and practices perpetuate injustice, and we all need skills and tools to actively eliminate that injustice,” Kershaw said.

Classes at the Yale School of Public Health began on Monday.


Simi Olurin | simi.olurin@yale.edu

Simi Olurin currently serves as editor of the Yale Daily News Podcast Desk. Originally from Wilmington, Delaware, she is a double major in Political Science and Film & Media Studies.