BU health school faculty 'strongly encouraged' to take bias training

The Boston University School of Public Health (SPH) is offering four “Bias Training” classes this year for faculty and staff as part of an 11-point plan for promoting diversity and inclusion.

According to the school’s website, the 11-point plan is based on recommendations contained in a 2008 report published by the Association of Schools of Public Health, and was formally unveiled last December.

The very first item on the list relates to the implementation of bias trainings, which will affect both students and employees.

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All faculty and staff, particularly department heads, are “strongly encouraged to sign up” for one of the four sessions being held this fall, SPH asserts in an online update announcing the schedule, though the school does graciously disclaim that “individuals need only sign up for a single session.”

Students, meanwhile, will undergo their own version of bias training during freshman orientation, a process intended to complement the new core curriculum being implemented this year, which incorporates “core competencies around diversity and inclusion” into the standard SPH education.

“We do this at a unique moment in time for SPH, when we are overhauling the core curriculum that will be required of all our MPH students,” the school notes, elaborating that its new approach will “embed core competencies around diversity and inclusion into the curriculum.”

The teaching of diversity is nothing new at SPH, where students are asked to submit to a “Diversity and Inclusion Oath” each year.

“As a student and member of the BUSPH community, I vow to live by this oath,” the statement reads, going on to list various commitments such as creating “an inclusive community for all by challenging biases and acknowledging privilege,” acknowledging the diversity of others, and “[acting] as an agent of social change in the school, community, field of public health, and beyond.”

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SPH also says it is working to promote the “Language of Inclusion” by recognizing students’ preferred gender pronouns, asserting that the practice “helps gender-non-conforming people feel more comfortable with their gender identities.”

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In addition, the school also sponsors numerous “Affinity Groups,” such as Students of Color for Public Health and the SPH LGBTQ Alliance, explaining that “these groups provide a safe space for members to debrief and also perform community service and sponsor cultural activities.”

The final portion of the 11-point plan involves efforts to create “a more diverse community” by increasing minority representation among both students and faculty.

For students, the school boasts that it is launching “several types of programs to meet the needs of a diverse student body,” as well as “[redoubling] our efforts on approaches that aim to attract more underrepresented students to SPH.”

To that end, the school is reaching out to students of color at local high schools through breakout sessions with SPH faculty and administrators, and is also working with various interest groups in hopes of establishing a “pipeline” for incoming minority students, particularly Native Americans.

The last point on the list calls for increasing the recruitment and hiring of “underrepresented minority (URM)” faculty, which SPH is attempting to achieve by employing a “surveillance” approach, the details of which are somewhat less ominous than the term suggests.

First, SPH has established a Dean’s Fund, which provides financial support to departments for “opportunity hires” of URM faculty, and which the school eventually hopes to supplement by dedicating additional funding for URM faculty, thereby “ensuring that we maximize opportunities for URM faculty success during their time at SPH.”

Additionally, SPH is making a deliberate effort to invite URM faculty from other schools to present their research on campus, as well as working to “maximize opportunities for success for all faculty” in its promotion practices.

“Our goal at SPH is to systematically attempt to build a culture of excellence around diversity, inclusion, and sustainability, to do so with intentionality, and to build it in a way that institutionalizes a culture of inclusion,” BUSPH dean Dr. Sandro Galea declares in a Dean’s Note regarding the 11-point plan. “Simply put, aspiring to a more diverse and inclusive community is the right thing to do, independent of the operational importance of achieving diversity in our community and its centrality to helping us achieve excellence in all we do.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ShanGolden