Dean's Office

Donna J. Petersen, ScD, MHS, CPH
Donna J. Petersen

Dean's Message

Dear College of Public Health faculty, staff and students,

I want to thank the many of you who wrote to me and shared your stories after a series of messages hopefully left no doubt that the leaders of your College and of USF Health are serious about addressing the systemic structural racism that prevents us from achieving our nation’s highest goals in health and in quality of life. A society that is unjust cannot progress and we know from decades of data that health equity can never be achieved if we can’t achieve race equity.

Your stories were heartfelt and heartbreaking and I deeply appreciate you taking the time to write them to me. In each of your stories, I heard a growing strength, a growing optimism, borne of frustration yes, but also reflecting a sense that maybe this time – finally – we won’t slide back, that George Floyd’s murder somehow touched the right chord in our national consciousness adding more and more voices to the chorus calling for real change.

The Minneapolis City Council has now voted to disband the Minneapolis Police Department, recognizing that it was irreparably broken. Other cities are now acknowledging that they too have problems with racist police, with police brutality, with police routinely lying, with overpolicing in black communities, with militarized policing. Many men and women join the police force with the best of intentions and admirably protect and serve, but sadly, others do not.

Addressing the biases in law enforcement and in incarceration are important because of the finality of the worst outcome – the murder of black men and women. But these biases are perpetuated by the same biases that exist in our education systems, our housing systems, our transportation systems, our social service systems, our employment systems and our health care systems. And make no mistake, just as in law enforcement, many men and women join these professions and organizations with the best of intentions and do extraordinarily good work, but sadly others do not. Thus the need to address the fundamental toot causes of these biases – 400 years of persistent, systemic, structural and pernicious racism.

While we work from home toward a plan to get back to campus in the wake of a global pandemic, please know that we are also working on a series of events, conversations, programs, and pilot projects to commence this fall around this most central of issues. A group of our faculty are penning a statement clearly describing racism as a public health issue. Groups of student leaders are planning coffee hours. USF Health is exploring a series of events, using existing platforms to amplify these issues and to encourage debate and dialogue toward deliberate reforms.

In all of this, our desire is to lift all voices, to create opportunities for serious introspection, and to collectively determine the best ways for us to contribute to real change – through our curricula, our research, our service and our partnerships with our community.

I welcome any ideas you may have and if you are so inclined, keep sharing your stories. They are powerful and inspiring. The tide may finally be turning, but only if we help it along.

Donna J. Petersen, ScD, MHS, CPH
Welcome from Dean Peterson