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Health Equity and Social Justice – Our Racial Examen

Message originaly sent February 24, 2021

"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."

- Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement 

This month I want to reflect on where we are and where we are going as we work together to promote heath equity and social justice within and beyond the Parkinson School.  

Loyola University Chicago programs and people have a longstanding commitment to social justice, which is fundamental to Jesuit institutions, and I would suggest, fundamental to civil society.  Recent announcements from the President’s and Provost’s Offices outline Loyola’s newest initiatives such as the Anti-Racism Initiative, Institute for Racial Justice, and search for the newly created position of Vice President of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  Loyola’s Anti-Racism Initiatives bring students, faculty, and staff together to address structural racism and work toward lasting change.  

Our Parkinson Commitment

The Parkinson School plays a pivotal role in addressing health inequity at the intersection of social justice, population health, and healthcare delivery.  Some of our long-standing initiatives include: the Veggie Rx program, Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence, Family Lifestyle Program (FLiP), Stop the Bleed Training, Social Enterprise Building in Maywood, and Loyola Community Grand Rounds.

One of our newest initiatives is the COVID Equity Response Collaborative: Loyola (CERCL).  This team of public health, medicine, nursing, law, and social work students and professionals came together in partnership with Cook County public health officials and community leaders in Maywood and surrounding areas to urgently address disparities resulting from the pandemic.  They have received funding to provide free testing and to support contact tracing training.  The Village Free Press recognized CERCL as one of its 2020 People/Organizations of the Year. I know that this collective activism will continue after the pandemic ends.  

Our Parkinson faculty are also committed to research and scholarship in the area of health disparities.  One tangible example is the call for Health EQ proposals, which provides pilot funding to catalyze programs and research to improve healthcare delivery and address underlying social determinants of health.    

We are proud to be research partners in the Chicago ITM, a consortium of Chicago area organizations and academic medical centers including UChicago, Rush, Advocate, Illinois Institute of Technology, and Northshore University HealthSystem.  Part of the CTSA (Clinical and Translational Sciences Award) program funded by the National Institutes of Health, the ITM is among the federal government’s premier research initiatives. The ITM connects researchers and community partners with resources to discover new ways to prevent and treat diseases and accelerate their translation into practice. Addressing health equity is a top priority.

Our students have been active, too.  Last summer they came together to urge the school and University to do more to address bias and racism and made recommendations.  The Public Health Club has been convening a series of speakers and conversations on topics of social justice, health equity, resilience and what this means in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To advance the school’s support of our students, we recently launched the Robert and Betty Parkinson Social Justice Scholars Award.   Through this generous gift, we are able to acknowledge exceptionally-talented students across our undergraduate and graduate programs who are dedicated to being “persons for others” and have demonstrated financial need. 

Summer 2020 – Confronting Biases

Last summer, thousands in Chicago joined in the national outrage over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.  This event brought into clearer focus and renewed urgency the need to re-examine biases and address institutional racism.

Following our Town Hall and listening session with students, faculty and staff, I outlined some immediate next steps for the Parkinson School which included:

  • Declaring our position on racism on the Parkinson website and social media channels. 
  • Reviewing our hiring processes to ensure we are using best practices to minimize the effects of implicit bias or any institutional forms of discrimination.  As a first step in building a common understanding, all staff and leadership participated in implicit bias training in November.  I am proud to say we were the first school within the Loyola community to come together and learn as a group.  
  • Instituting a review of school-wide curriculum to evaluate how issues of racism, health equity, and social determinants of health are addressed in our courses and identify areas where we can continue to strengthen this discourse and/or address gaps. As a first step, over 50 faculty completed a survey to provide baseline data for our Examen.

Spring 2021 – Our Racial Justice Examen 

Cultivating and growing an esprit de corps, inclusive culture is one of our key strategic priorities.   Now we turn to conduct our racial justice Examen—a deep reflection on our school’s racial justice practices and needs. The Examen is a practice from Jesuit education and Ignatian Spirituality that allows for special attention through intentional reflection to our daily, lived reality.  This process will take effort, and may be uncomfortable at times, but it is important to discern where we are at this moment and where we have opportunities to improve.  While these Examen conversations may push us beyond our comfort zones, know that your honesty and perspectives are welcome as we embark on this reflection together.

The Examen includes Data and Dialogue phases.  Because I believe it is fundamental that we embark on this learning together as a school, we will use the upcoming Academic Council Meetings with all faculty and staff to share and convene conversations: 

  • March 5 (Data Themes); 
  • April 9 (University Dialogue Themes);
  • May 7 (Parkinson Objectives).  

You will receive background reading and information in advance. We will contact student leaders to invite students to join in our dialogue process, too.  Thank you to the faculty and staff who have partnered with me to form the Parkinson Racial Justice Examen Task Force:

  • Chair - Jenna Donovan, Undergraduate Exercise Science and Healthcare Administration Academic Advisor
  • Chris Dominguez, third-year, Undergraduate Public Health major and Healthcare Administration minor
  • Briana Lemon, Master in Public Health Program Coordinator
  • Linas Mitchell, PhD student in Applied Social Psychology
  • Olivia Myers - Undergraduate Exercise Science and Healthcare Administration Program Coordinator 

We are also fortunate to have Amy Nelson Christensen, a professor in the Education department, who is directing the University Examen, liaison with us and guide us in our dialogue and reflection. From our Data and Dialogue conversations, we will complete our written Examen report and recommendations for the Provost’s Office. Action items will be incorporated into our Parkinson Strategic Plan.

With gratitude and shared purpose to make our school and world a more just place, 

- Dean Elaine


PS – Please continue to follow University guidelines regarding social distancing; wear a mask to protect yourself and others in the Loyola community and beyond.