Creating an equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment is paramount to student, staff, and faculty experiences at the Hudson College of Public Health. With this in mind, past HCOPH Dean and new Senior Vice President and Provost Dr. Gary Raskob appointed Dr. Lancer Stephens, associate professor for health promotion sciences, as the associate dean for sovereignty, equity, diversity, and inclusion for the college. As a Native American tribal member, Stephens explained that it was important to him to include sovereignty in the title to acknowledge the strong relationship the college has with tribes and to be a constant reminder that we all have the right to be who we are without judgment or persecution.
This initiative includes faculty and students across the HCOPH. “I knew this initiative and developing its vision would require multiple sources of input, not just my own, to be successful,” says Stephens. His first call was to Dr. Deirdra “Dee” Terrell, associate professor, biostatistics and epidemiology, who has also worked in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion for multiple years on local and national scales. “Dee and I have known each other since arriving on campus as doctoral students, and we have a relationship where we can speak freely and openly,” comments Stephens. “This is vital because a lot of ideas were discussed, and Dee helped to bring balance and focus.” Noting the extensive work being conducted, Dr. Bratzler, HCOPH interim dean, appointed Dr. Terrell as the SEDI faculty liaison to recognize her commitment to the students and the vision of the SEDI office.
In addition to the Faculty Liaison, the Hudson College of Public Health Student Association recently appointed Moriah Contino to be the SEDI and Interdisciplinary Programs student liaison. The president of HCOPHSA, Whitney Kerr, is excited about the new position and the office. “When I heard that Dr. Stephens and Dr. Terrell were spearheading a SEDI office for our college I felt this was very important for the student association to connect with the office on a regular basis,” says Kerr. "I want all of our students to enjoy their time here and feel like the college is a safe space for their personal and professional growth.” Kerr aims to ensure that HCOPHSA is a resource for students and creates a learning environment where everyone feels welcome, respected, and supported.
The newly decorated SEDI office can be found on the first floor of the HCOPH in Room 156. This is a space where students, staff, and faculty within the college can go if they have an issue to discuss or are simply wanting to have a conversation and be heard. The plan is to have established weekly office hours with Stephens or Terrell. They are also looking into conducting routine listening sessions. The goal is to provide a safe space where anyone can go to talk or vent about relevant issues. Stephens mentions that this is something neither he nor Terrell had when they were students. “Just knowing that the space is there means a lot and can be a huge benefit,” says Stephens. “My hope is that no student ever comes in with a problem, but we are here to help if they do."
The office also includes a library with books to help students see the world from other perspectives and develop leadership skills to empower everyone. “Any book that can help give a student a different perspective and build respectful relationships is a good book,” Stephens remarks. “If you go through life only looking through your own cultural lens, you’re missing a lot of the world. As public health professionals, connections to communities are paramount for our success, and the best way to connect is to go to that community and get involved. Reading can help you prepare for this.” Students are encouraged to take books from the office, return them, or pass them along to others. If there are any books that you would like to see in the SEDI library, the office is currently accepting book donations.
“We want it to be known that this college is accepting and welcoming,” says Stephens. “Everyone should feel like a part of the SEDI office. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your background is; all are invited.” The office is dedicated to helping students and giving them the tools to do incredible work going forward. To stay up-to-date with the SEDI office and SEDI initiatives, visit https://publichealth.ouhsc.edu/Diversity-Inclusion