Columbia Mailman School Commits to Becoming an Anti-Racist Institution

November 10, 2020

As mass mobilizations against the killings of Black and transgender people filled streets this summer, Dean Linda P. Fried announced a schoolwide initiative called FORWARD (Fighting Oppression, Racism, and White supremacy through Action, Research, and Discourse) to propel the School’s efforts to transform into an antiracist, multicultural, and fully inclusive institution. FORWARD aims to build a strong pipeline of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and Middle Eastern and North African students into Columbia Mailman School and from there into the field of public health. The program will also focus on recruiting faculty and staff from these groups; deepening ties with local, marginalized communities; and creating a more robust, school-wide research effort into health inequities and racism.

FORWARD is fueled by Action Corps, groups comprised of more than 100 student, faculty, and staff volunteers. The FORWARD Accountability Cabinet, a permanent multi-stakeholder advisory body to the Dean, will develop measures of success and continually assess progress towards the goals, as well as provide oversight of the Action Corps. The Cabinet is co-chaired by Charles Branas, chair of the Department of Epidemiology, and Raygine DiAquoi, assistant dean, Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion.

FORWARD builds on the School’s longstanding focus on racial justice and equity. In 2016, it created the Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion, which launched the RISE mentoring program for students of color and first-generation graduate students. FORWARD’s work has been advanced by a set of early commitments made by Dean Fried over the summer, including mandatory racial awareness, anti-bias and inclusion training for all students, faculty, and staff this fall; additional funding for student mentoring and scholarships; and support to help recruit and nurture promising faculty.

Many members of the School community provided feedback and support in the development of FORWARD, the articulation of its goals, and the School’s initial commitments. The Black and Latinx Student Caucus were strong advocates for change and thoughtful partners critical to the on-going process. 

“Racism is a social determinant of health; thus, public health is inherently an antiracist endeavor. Our field has committed to addressing how structural racism engenders and perpetuates health inequities and FORWARD helps us fulfill this promise,” says DiAquoi.