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Dean's Commentary with Cathy Bradley and black and white mountain background

The Need for Public Health & Inclusivity in Divisive Times

minute read

Written by Dr. Cathy Bradley on October 31, 2023

I write about inclusivity this month as part of my R.I.S.E. (reach, inclusivity, surpass, expand) vision for ColoradoSPH. Writing about inclusivity in the abstract or ideal is an easy task. There are aspirational definitions, one of which I include below:

Inclusivity means making sure everyone feels welcome, valued, and respected, no matter who they are or where they come from. Inclusivity is about creating an environment where everyone can be themselves and contribute their unique perspectives and talents.”

However, writing about inclusivity in real, concrete terms is much more challenging. It is especially challenging during times of extreme unrest, war, hate, and widespread suffering that seem intent on deepening divisions and causing further anguish.

With the escalations of violence and terror around the globe and locally, most are struggling with how to best hold true to our aspirations for inclusivity. Me included. These acts make our world less certain, and when we are less certain, we are inclined to withdraw instead of reaching out. However, it is precisely during such moments that the role of public health professionals becomes more critical than ever. Our mission is to address suffering, promote tolerance, foster inclusivity and equity, and offer solutions that are data driven, evidence-based, and guided by practice. The need for inclusivity has never been greater as we rise to the challenge of reaching communities in need.

But what does it mean to be “inclusive” when our hearts are broken, our fears heightened, and our perspectives are influenced by our own experiences, sources of information, and depth of knowledge?

Here are some of my thoughts about inclusivity during a time of deep division and the role of the Colorado School of Public Health:

  1. Seeking solutions. As public health professionals, we are driven by the desire to reduce suffering and harm, not increase it. Our commitment lies in identifying solutions and supporting compassion. We seek pathways for progress.

  2. Inclusivity takes courage and humility. To be inclusive, we must create an environment where everyone can be themselves and contribute their unique perspectives and talents. The foundation of courage is humility, and a true act of courage is one that is motivated by concern for others. It is much easier to ostracize those who view the world differently than to listen to their perspective. Listening does not imply agreement or complicity, but what you hear might inform your thoughts and the solutions you generate.

  3. Inclusivity is learning. Inclusivity is about choosing to listen and through listening, we learn how to reduce suffering and harm. In public health, our greatest core value is our fierce dedication to improving the human condition.

In times of unrest and division, the concept of inclusivity seems like an ideal that is difficult to realize. Yet, in these extremely difficult moments, the inclusivity becomes more critical. We must remember that we, as public health professionals, are on the side of healing. We must not lose hope in our unique ability to reduce, and importantly, prevent suffering – even in ways that may seem small. Engaging in dialogue and listening does not equate to agreement; instead, it allows us to broaden our understanding and generate more comprehensive solutions. Inclusivity is an essential and powerful guide that helps us move toward being more connected.

In other public health matters… I frequently state that public health is “evidence-based, data driven, and grounded in theory” and it is important that we contribute to the national discussion on these matters. As another shining example, Andi Dwyer was recently a panelist on the President’s Cancer Panel and spoke on the use of technology and patient navigators to reduce inequities in cancer care. Andi is an incredible champion for equity in cancer care.

Our country experienced yet another inexplicable and devastating mass shooting in Maine. Ashley Brooks-Russell’s team in ColoradoSPH’s Injury and Violence Prevention Center found that almost one-third of middle and high school students in Colorado have access to a gun, and a significant percentage of those students have access in under 10 minutes. In response to these seemingly never-ending injuries, Emmy Betz leads the Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative, which has the audacious goal to “create a future with zero firearm-related injuries or deaths in the United States.” Work from this initiative has resulted in Colorado leading the nation in storing guns outside the home. It is these measures that chip away at firearm injury and reduce the pain caused from a uniquely American problem.

On a lighter note, I recently received a COVID and flu vaccine in the same visit. I react strongly to the vaccine, so while I appreciated the convenience of a two-for-one visit, I had to plan time for the reaction. Getting the vaccines later in the afternoon was helpful for recovery. I was ready for my 8 a.m. meeting the next morning, and I was even able to walk my dog, Sam, for a couple of miles beforehand. The vaccines were especially important before my travel to Washington, DC, for the Patient-Centered and Outcomes Research Methodology Committee meeting where we set standards for methods used in patient-centered research, ensuring that research conducted in this area passes standards for rigor.

Be sure to check out our newsroom to read more about the ways we inform the national discussion on matters that change our society. Most importantly, stay well, stay connected, and stay inclusive. You can control more than you think and we are needed now more than ever.

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Cathy Bradley, PhD
Dean & Professor, Colorado School of Public Health
Deputy Director, University of Colorado Cancer Center

Topics: Deans Notes