Raeven Clockston is an alumna of the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH), where she was a leader both in and out of the classroom. Her work towards anti-oppressive practices and leadership in student council has led her to her current position as Equity Specialist in the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the ColoradoSPH.
As a student during the 2020 school year, she, like many of us, faced a year of unforeseen challenges and frustration as a multitude of social inequities came to light on a national and global scale. The COVID-19 pandemic and deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as a result of police brutality, were few of the many examples highlighting the disparities within our systems. During this time, Raeven and her colleagues came together to discuss their frustrations and reflect on their role as public health advocates. These conversations created the opportunity for the group to explore their positionality and involvement in social justice issues. Their fundamental belief that racism, discrimination, and social injustice are public health issues fueled the idea that ColoradoSPH has a responsibility to equip its students with the tools for teaching, supporting, and guiding others to engage in social justice and advocacy efforts.
Turning these frustrations into action, Raeven helped lead the group as they developed the ColoradoSPH at CSU Anti-Racism Student Action Group. This jump started the efforts that would pave the way for Raeven’s undertaking in leading an anti-oppressive campaign throughout her graduate career. The group created a manifesto and guidance documents to support the implementation of anti-racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts at the ColoradoSPH. Raeven’s leadership in the Anti-Racism Student Action Group influenced her peers to encourage Raeven to join the student council and continue striving for systemic reform. Ultimately, she knew her leadership in the student action group had armed her to take on a new position with the student council as vice president. Her role empowered her to advocate for meaningful changes in the school’s curriculum through the incorporation of anti-racist and anti-oppressive values.
Using the manifesto documents as a guide for systemic change, Raeven continued to promote their vision until it came into fruition. To add value to their tireless effort, the School began investing in the leaders advocating for change. Raeven was one of two students who were hired as the Coordinators of Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to focus on the integration of social justice. This was the first ever paid position to work collaboratively with faculty in implementing the change demanded by the students. Raeven led three student workgroups in executing various objectives to shift the program toward anti-racist practice. In addition, she facilitated Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) focus groups with students within the program to collect, highlight, and elevate their stories and perspectives. The stories that emerged became the directive for future efforts to ensure that these student voices will continue to be heard and centered following her transition out of the student role.
Following graduation, Raeven continues to shape the culture of the school by serving as the first ever Equity Specialist in the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at the ColoradoSPH. Her role for the past year and a half has been dedicated to increasing EDI initiatives and making structural changes to move the program in alignment with the core commitment of dismantling structural racism. Currently she is involved in developing the ColoradoSPH Search Advocate Training Program, supporting the ongoing Inclusive Excellence Learning Series, facilitating the ColoradoSPH Campus Community Read book club, and is a leader in the Inclusive Excellence Committee (IEC). Moving forward Raeven will continue to play an integral role in the implementation of ColoradoSPH’s strategic plan in the areas of EDI. The goal is to continue strengthening the ColoradoSPH community culture by fostering inclusive excellence, to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to the school’s academics, research, practice and service.
Can you describe your personal and professional journey to public health?
I was always interested in equity work, but I took a bit of a winding path into public health. At a young age I realized there were striking health inequities between Black, Indigenous, and communities of color compared to their white counterparts, and hoped to use nutrition as a vehicle to address some of these concerns in Colorado.
During high school I determined that my goal was to work in the nutrition and fitness space to increase food access; I wanted to address food apartheid. In 2015 I went to Colorado State University (CSU) to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science. During this time I began working as a certified personal trainer, and my lens on physical activity was centered around making movement more accessible. In my last year of undergrad in 2018, I met Dr. Chrissy Chard at the Multicultural Undergraduate Research Art and Leadership Symposium (MURALS) where I presented on work I was involved in to combat food insecurity among marginalized communities within northern Colorado. During my poster session, Dr. Chard mentioned the connection between my research and public health more broadly and brought the ColoradoSPH to my attention.
When did you realize public health was the field you wanted to pursue a career in?
I realized my interests were aligned with public health once I learned of the 10 essential public health services, the social-ecological model framework, and the social determinants of health. My path in nutrition was preparing me to influence behavior change at the individual level, but I wanted to examine things at a structural and systemic level to improve the health of populations. The pivotal moment was gaining an understanding of what public health was and matching that with my lived experience and goals as a professional. Regardless of where I go in this field, I know this is the profession that will allow me to make a meaningful impact.
As a student at the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) What was your concentration at ColoradoSPH?
Initially, I entered the ColoradoSPH concentrating in Global Health and Disparities because I was interested in addressing health disparities and inequities as a professional. As a student, I took a few epidemiology classes, including a class called Social Epidemiology which focused on the study of social exposures (i.e. discrimination, racism, ableism) and how they affect the community on an interpersonal level in addition to influencing health outcomes. Enrolling this class was a [pivotal] moment in my career that shifted my views on the field as a profession and inspired me to pursue Epidemiology as my graduating concentration.
You played a major role in the creation of the Colorado School of Public Health at CSU Anti-Racism Student Action Group, how did this come about?
In 2020 when COVID hit and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor occurred, as a nation we were reckoning with the real impacts of racism at all levels. A group of us felt the school had a role in guiding and supporting students to engage in the discussion and become effective advocates. The school was silent at a time when we were hoping for them to acknowledge our role in addressing racism as a public health crisis. We soon organized the Anti-Racism Student Action Group which started informally as peers discussing feelings of frustration. Through this, we discovered discrepancies in what we should be prepared to do and what the program was preparing us for in terms of curriculum and practice-based learning components. It was validating to have colleagues express similar feelings; it’s important of your colleagues with dominant social identities that show up, engage in the conversation, and learn. It became a more structured group when we had more conversations with faculty about our concerns. The shift making us more formal was when we came together to unify our visions and expectations for the program.
During your time as a student in ColoradoSPH, what inspired you to take on leadership roles in the student council?
I was encouraged to get involved in student council by some peers and a dear mentor and faculty member. Up until that point, I hadn’t seen our student council feel empowered to use their voice to push for programmatic changes. I went in with the hope that I could work collaboratively to make our curriculum more anti-oppressive and address identified gaps. We expanded the influence of student council in the ColoradoSPH at CSU program and strengthened the relationship between students and faculty.
Following student council, you were offered a paid position as the Coordinator of AntiRacism Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to focus on the integration of social justice. How was this experience?
The Anti-Racism Student Action Group created a manifesto document that outlined our vision for the program and the activities that the school could implement to move us in that direction. The paid student position came into play when we began working with faculty to change policies and procedures.
As a student coordinator, my role required strong facilitation and organizational skills that were necessary to track progress and achieve meaningful change. We had three working groups focused on specific goals and my role was to ensure each group had all the pieces needed to move forward.
The workgroups we launched focused on three main areas including (1) the development of a summer work packet that orients incoming students to the importance of EDI, (2) preparing students for their practicum with training to identify structural racism and oppression when they do community work, and (3) asking school applicants to respond to a question about the importance of health equity and their work in that field.
I served as a connection between the groups and the faculty by organizing meetings to have our ideas heard and implemented.
Following graduation, you are now the first ever Equity Specialist for ColoradoSPH. How did you come into this opportunity?
In my last semester of graduate school right before graduation, Dr. Chrissy Chard brought to my attention that the school was looking for a Public Health Equity and Practice Coordinator. I applied and was awarded the position and a large part of the role was to build up the Office of EDI. I’ve done this alongside Dr. Cerise Hunt, the Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at ColoradoSPH.
What were some challenges you had to overcome while leading your efforts?
The biggest challenge in a nutshell was shifting implicit and structural biases. Part of the challenge was initially getting the faculty in our program to broaden their lens and actively engage with the student perspective. Our institution is also interesting to navigate because of the tri-campus model; each campus has its own structure and processes. In order to change something at the school level, it’s important to get all campuses on board and in alignment.
What do you think is the most tangible thing that public health as a field could do to improve as a profession?
We could start by acknowledging the ways we’ve been complicit; the ways we’ve participated in these systems that serve to oppress disenfranchised and marginalized groups. Then, with that understanding, consider what the next steps are in changing our systems. We should center community voice and work collaboratively to build creative solutions. I’d like to see public health move beyond credentials to value the power and expertise that comes with lived experience. What advice would you provide to someone interested in public health? If you feel called to public health, please come, please do it! It comes down to using your voice and the power you have to move us toward achieving health equity; everyone should be able to attain the highest level of health possible. Embrace the change and the unknown, shift as you learn, change your path or your concentration. If the society we deserve doesn’t exist right now, one that is nurturing and just, then it’s our role to dream it into existence.
This article was written as a part of the Colorado Public Health Association's RISE Magazine