Message from the Dean

June 5, 2020

Confronting the U.S. racism plague during a pandemic

For four long months, the news was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. After three murders of African Americans in Louisville, Georgia, and Minneapolis, all that has changed. What it is like to be black in America has once again reared its ugly head and we must confront the very graphic reality of how bad things remain. These events have led to peaceful protests across the country and in cities around the world, but we have also witnessed violent confrontations between police and protesters. Dr. King once explicitly noted in a 1967 speech at Stanford, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

While communities seek to quell the violence and hopefully respond to the questions and demands of our citizenry, we in academia may participate in many different ways both professionally and as community residents. We are all profoundly impacted by the plight of our communities and we recognize the need for significant changes in policies and behaviors.

We now find ourselves in a situation where three major crises have converged upon us at once: (1) the COVID-19 pandemic, (2) the subsequent economic crash, and (3) the social unrest, which is driven by 400 years of racist institutional policies and aggregate individual behavior—each differentially impact people of color. In every one of these events, there have been critical mistakes made; different decisions could have eased the stress and improved outcomes. Ultimately, we as individuals are responsible for holding our leaders accountable and doing what we can to change systems, structures, policies, and mindsets. The impact of our collective failure to adequately do so is now described daily in our newspapers and constantly on television and in social media.

Never in my lifetime have the significance of key elections loomed so large in the future of our community and country. While we must continue to take advantage of the new investment in our public health infrastructure in response to coronavirus, we also must engage in the political processes playing out, as this too will directly affect population health, equity, and social justice issues. I encourage each of you to take up that gauntlet and advance a common good agenda.

At SPHIS, our vision as a school of public health is to be a leader in advancing health equity and social justice to ensure optimal health and well-being for all. We are advocates. Our faculty, staff, students, alumni and partners support changes to structural factors to improve opportunities, especially for marginalized populations. We value equity and inclusion. Recognizing that advantages and barriers exist and that we do not all start from the same place, we seek to cultivate a community where everyone is safe, welcome, valued, and has access to the same opportunities.

We have developed several new courses that directly address the COVID-19 pandemic, its disparate economic impacts, and the social justice issues that plague our communities. In other courses, we will be infusing new material to ensure that we are engaged in discussions about these critical issues. We are also receptive to providing new forums for those interested in establishing a dialogue. We must support each other as we struggle with how best to process all this in our own way while contemplating our individual strategies to contribute to a better tomorrow.

Be healthy, be safe, be engaged—for if we are not engaged in our own ways, we are complicit in the systemic support of our country’s racist ways and lack of preparedness.

####

May 2020Craig Blakely

Let me first start by offering my personal congratulations to our May 2020 graduates. Whether you are an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student, you’ve invested a lot of energy in preparing for your future career. This accomplishment is typically celebrated with a graduation ceremony surrounded by faculty, friends, and family. However, COVID-19 restrictions postponed our usual commencement ceremonies until December and UofL provided a virtual graduation celebration at uofl.edu/hereandbeyond2020. That said, we are still are celebrating our students and their accomplishments! View the list of SPHIS graduates, commencement award winners, and watch a fantastic video that our faculty and staff made for our 2020 graduates.

In the past few months, I’ve witnessed what we can accomplish when we are working together toward common goals for the common good. I’m proud to be part of the SPHIS community and appreciate the responsiveness and flexibility of our faculty, instructors, students, staff, and administration. Be sure to read about the ways the SPHIS community is involved in COVID-19 efforts— by conducting new research, volunteering to do contact tracing, and responding to media inquiries. We have alumni who are on the frontline working in health departments. We have also been successful in raising money to provide emergency aid to our students.

As a school, we established a small group to process and share evolving guidelines related to COVID-19. We are communicating regularly with employees and students and ensuring they have the resources and support needed. The university virtually convenes our leadership team regularly and, as a group, we have made several key decisions:

-- We moved to remote and online instruction, which continues through the summer semester.
-- We implemented a pass/fail policy for the spring semester.
-- Our faculty and staff are working remotely
-- We have postponed or canceled university-sponsored events.
-- International and domestic university-sponsored travel is suspended.
-- Students living in residence halls moved out if they were able and most of those remaining on campus housing were relocated to singles with private bathrooms. 

The university aims to return to some form of on-campus life by fall semester. Be advised that this step may include a number of new strategies, making life very different from what we knew just six months ago. That said, we are also preparing for the real possibility that such a move would not be prudent.

Due to the lack of public health infrastructure (that has been actively dismantled the past 15 years), we were woefully unprepared for this infectious disease crisis. We hope that the work that is aggressively occurring globally will lead to an effective vaccine sometime next year; and that there will be little pushback to rapid population vaccination campaigns seeking herd immunity as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we have two choices: (1) continue the stay-at-home social distancing that is in place and has saved tens of thousands of lives or (2) move toward a more targeted restrictive policy that can identify those infected and keep them at home and away from the rest of us who can carefully restart our economy. This latter strategy requires human capital and physical capacity to implement adequate case tracking, contact tracing, and lab testing to ensure containment of the virus until that time when vaccine herd immunity can “trump” this disease.

I hope that every member of the SPHIS community is actively taking the necessary steps to protect your physical and mental health and that of those around you. Stay connected and reach out if you need help.

Be safe and stay healthy!

Craig Blakely signature

 


Dr. Craig Blakely
Dean

Stay connected TwitterFacebookLinkedInYouTubeInstagram