Events and News

Co-Director's Message

JUNE 2020

Dear Colleagues,

The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have drawn new international attention to systemic racism in the U.S. and have again forced us to confront the fundamental contradiction of American democracy.  We are a country founded on the principles of freedom and equality. 

Yet we began with the murder of the Native Peoples of North America, were built on the institution of slavery and have excluded and oppressed generations of immigrants. This painful history is with us every day.

While meaningful progress has been made throughout our shared history, these recent deaths, like nothing in my lifetime, turned the attention of an expanded number of Americans to the problem of violence against racialized populations, and in particular Black Americans. These tragedies, moreover, occurred in the context of a global pandemic, the proportions of which were inconceivable a few months ago. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has once again made clear the broader health inequities that exist by race in the United States, and the deep roots of these inequities in structural and systemic racism.

But in the past few weeks, I have been motivated by the non-violent civil disobedience of the Black Lives Matter movement, and by other voices who have supported this movement. While we remember the lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and so many others, we must also acknowledge that few structural changes came about after their lives were cut short. The current movement, which has reached more Americans than before, makes this a unique opportunity for progress.

We at the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences have been reflecting on the events that have transpired in our country. In some ways, we as health researchers and social scientists are acutely aware of how social injustice leads to health inequities. Many of us have devoted our academic work to demonstrating the links between race, inequality, and health. At the same time, it has also become clear to me that we can do more, and we must do more. This is a conversation we have been having since the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. What can we do each day to make things better, both as people, and as a Center?

I am encouraged by Center staff and fellows who participated in #shutdownstem and took the time to reflect on how they can act as allies in the fight against systemic racism. People in our community have spoken up and challenged us to spend 10, 20 or 45 minutes each day for a month to further educate ourselves and take specific actions to make progress towards ending racism. We are working to ensure that our seminars and working groups are more inclusive and that everyone feels welcome, valued, challenged and supported. It is a first step forward for us in this longer journey.

We have also started conversations about what more we can do as a Center to facilitate population-based research to improve health equity. Our belief is that the use of data and research to document and describe health inequalities is an important and necessary step on the road to educating Americans about the pervasiveness of these inequalities, but it is not enough. We need to go further than describing inequalities - data and research must be used in ways that point to both causes and solutions. Our goal is to develop equitable partnerships with communities of color to ensure that our research is relevant to lived experiences and has the highest potential for impact. We invite our Stanford colleagues and the community at large to join us in these efforts in doing population health research to inform, develop and test efforts to reduce health inequities. Both myself and my Co-Director Melissa Bondy want to hear from you if you have suggestions or comments. We encourage you to reach out to us directly. We look forward to partnering with you over the coming months and years.

David Rehkopf, Sc.D., MPH
Co-Director, Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences

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