Eleven years ago, when Cerise Hunt, PhD, MSW, began her doctoral research into advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in postsecondary institutions, she realized it’s not enough to be an equity champion. Inclusive excellence must evolve from theory into action so that every student who steps onto campus – regardless of race, ethnicity or gender identity – feels welcome and can thrive.
Creating a diverse and equitable environment within a large organization is a complex task, and Hunt is excited to lead the efforts as Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH).
The new role takes on added urgency amid the calls for justice following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Tony McDade and others over the last year.
“At the Colorado School of Public Health, our whole mission is to promote equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice,” said Hunt, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health. “At the heart of our work, we have a whole plan to dismantle structural racism.”
‘Working in concert’
ColoradoSPH has made strides in advancing its DEI mission, said Hunt, who has directed the school’s Center for Public Health Practice since 2016. However, it has become apparent that “we need someone to help lead these efforts, to really ensure that we as a school are working in concert with one another as we try to advance our diversity, equity and inclusion mission.”
Hunt said coupling the work of the Center for Public Health Practice with her new role as associate dean is a “great match.” Health inequities occur, she said, when systemic barriers impede a person’s access to health care.
“We know that people of color do not have access to care, and that they do not receive the same quality of care,” said Hunt, adding that the highest COVID-19 death rates are among people of color. “A lot of those inequities are related to the bias of providers. So when we’re thinking about our public health community, it’s critical to ensure we are delivering our services in culturally responsive methods that do not perpetuate inequities.”
At the school level, the Colorado School of Public Health’s strategic plan has three main goals related to DEI:
- Build and maintain diverse faculty and staff;
- Provide programs that ensure an inclusive and equitable community dedicated to the development of public health scholarship and practice; and
- Advance health equity and foster a diverse, inclusive environment.
The plan includes a comprehensive mapping of the curriculum, looking at the classroom content related to social determinants of health, health equity, social justice and structural racism. Another component is self-education – providing ongoing anti-racism and by-stander training for faculty, staff and students to ensure an inclusive and equitable community.
Also critical to eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in public health is the cultivation of a diverse workforce, Hunt said. “As a school, it’s key that we’re doing our part to recruit diverse students and creating pipeline programs.”
ColoradoSPH will emphasize partnerships with undergraduate pipeline programs at CU Denver as well as historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges. “There’s a need to not only diversify our student body but our faculty and staff as well,” she said. “We want to really create that community and those networks for students, so they’re not isolated.”
As the school assesses its structures, policies and values, it will work in concert with the new CU Anschutz Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement led by Regina Richards, PhD.The campus is redoubling efforts to infuse diversity, equity and inclusion into all of its practices.
“Equity champions coming together representing the various CU Anschutz schools and colleges ensures that we are augmenting services – not duplicating efforts – in hopes of creating a culture of inclusive excellence for the entire campus community,” Hunt said.
Dismantling, then rebuilding
Unfortunately, as tragic events throughout the United States have made clear, the scourge of racism is alive and well, she said. “We are responsible for dismantling these structures and rebuilding with a focus on racial and social justice.”
And because Hunt is motivated by momentum, anything that stymies progress, such as the tendency to work in silos, must be broken down and recast in unified mission. It all goes back to moving beyond theory and into action.
“This position is about partnering with leadership within ColoradoSPH,” she said, “which is necessary to ensure we are moving forward and creating mechanisms to hold the entire community accountable for advancing our diversity, equity and inclusive excellence mission. We will identify metrics that will monitor our implementation efforts to ensure change will materialize.”
Photo at top: Cerise Hunt with Lori Crane, a professor in the Department of Community Behavioral Health, at an event promoting inclusive excellence efforts at the Colorado School of Public Health.