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Creating Diversity in Public Health

Leadership: A National Priority for

Health Equity and Environmental
Dr. Britt Rios-Ellis
Dean, College of Health Sciences and Human Services
California State University, Monterey Bay
Co-Director and Founder, Center for Latino Community Health,
Evaluation, and Leadership Training
2015 National Environmental Justice Conference

Education and the Environment

There is an old saying that the
course of civilization is a race
between catastrophe and
education. In a democracy such as
ours we must make sure that
education wins the race. John F.
Kennedy, 1960
Educations leads to longer lifespan
and lower rates of morbidity(Lleras

What Does Our Environment Have to

Do with Who We Become?
We discuss place-based health, but
not place-based training and
"What we are finding is that these
stereotypes actually reflect
something much deeper, and that
local context shapes us in dramatic
ways. Place does shape people at a
fundamental level, (Plaut, 2014).

Environmental Issues
Neighborhood dictates quality of
schools, career role models, social
network contexts, neighborhood
safety, expectations in terms of
behavior and educational
The lack of available peers as role
models in environmentally related
careers dictates the lens through
which questions are asked and
programs are developed.

Zip code, not genetics, predicts
a longer lifespan of up to 20 to
30 years. (Mikulich, Cassidy, &
Pfeil, 2013).
Income however, overrides zip
code with a 10% increase in
income raising educational
attainment regardless of race.



Educational Attainment by
Race/Ethnicity/Nativity, 2006-2010


Perceptions of Discrimination Increase with Age and Permeate our Learning


Who is a

Few Role Models

Defining Academic Darwinism
URM faculty are still severely underrepresented
URM students and their families dont often see a
reflection of themselves within their faculty
PEDS data show markedly low levels of URM
faculty: 5% African American, 3.6% Latino, and
0.4% African American
Particularly low representation in R-1
environment where research solutions to health
disparities are presented and funded

Finding an Occupational Home

Occupational stress levels are high leading to
reduced productivity, and low retention of URM
URM and first generation-educated students
report higher stress, depression due to racism,
and microaggressions, and higher physiologic
manifestations such as high blood pressure
URM faculty are used to represent but are not
mentored and fully integrated
Dissatisfaction with family/work/life balance

Barriers to Academic Success

Faculty and students of color need to know
what is expected of them in order to facilitate
academic success and leadership.
Reviewing or relearning something should
not be viewed as remediation but rather
framed as a meaningful part of achieving
academic goals.

A Vital Part of Our Nations Health

URM are needed to change the current
paradigm and develop relevant solutions to
address contemporary issues
Diverse lenses are needed

Cultural and gender capital, persistence

strategies, and demonstrated resilience are
valuable to academic understanding

Addressing Discrimination
Academia presents a discriminatory
environment due to unclear expectations, a
Darwinistic survival of the fittest atmosphere,
an un-level playing field, curve grading, and
exclusionary practices that inhibit the
development of a sense of belonging.
Recognize that the youth of today are dealing
with race/ethnicity in very different ways than
we were taught within our PC culture.

Addressing Discrimination
Women report that gender biases leading to credit
and opportunity given to male colleagues over
female counterparts is equally damaging as
Minority students and professors, even when they
are the majority, often feel tokenized by

History of Diversity in US
Diversity programs arent just nice things to
The US has consistently framed diversity
programs as something that benefit the few. Its
convenient and perpetuates an us vs. them
There is a need for diverse perspectives in the
biomedical and behavioral sciences if we are to
solve contemporary problems associated with
health disparities.

Leaders committed to diversity will stay
places where they can make a difference, as
they see their commitment to good science
intricately tied to diversity among URM.
Young Latino professionals should be
encouraged to challenge their own
perceptions of geographic diversity.

Good mentors are those who create a sense
of belonging, direct programs that attempt to
avoid URM isolation, and sincerely believe in
URM ability.
A good mentor knows you need more than
one mentor and will refer you to other
Mentoring has not been historically valued
within the biomedical and academic culture.

Effective mentorship programs work with
students families and their support systems.
Mentors must be leaders so they have the
leverage needed to create transformative

Cultural Responsiveness
Need to move from cultural competence to
cultural responsiveness.
Cultural responsive practices are both
morally and economically sound.
Cultural responsiveness translates to more
efficient health care and government service.

Cultural Capital and Assets

Institutions need to honor and highlight
cultural assets and not work from a cultural
deficit model.

This includes recognition that URM, particularly

first generation-educated URM, are highly
resilient and persist against heavy odds.

Culturally-relevant education and integration

of families is critical to URM success and
familism and collectivism are vital to
professional and institutional success.

I apologize for not reaching out sooner. I feel like Ive been going non-stop ever since I
left L.A. in 2007 (after completing my Ph.D. at USC and on to law school in Utah)! I
went from law school, to getting married and having a baby all in a span of 3 years.
And then studying for the Utah bar was no joke. I practiced mostly tribal and SSI law
for underserved populations. Then I worked with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs in Salt
Lake City. And in 2012, we moved to Baltimore, were I started working at CMS and I
really enjoy working at this Agency! We were in Baltimore for 2 years, and we had
another child. Four months ago, I transferred to our office in Dallas so we could be
closer to extended family. I finally feel like I have time to breathe and reach out to folks
to say hello. With family and work, Ive had very little time for anything else. But, I
finally made time! I was reminded to reach out to you when I received an email about
your speaking in DC. I am involved with a workgroup at CMS designed to recruit and
retain Hispanics within CMS, and one of our DC contacts forwarded your speaking
event to our group. You have no idea how happy I was to see your name on the
speaker list! Unfortunately, I wont be able to make the trip out, but would love to hear
about the strategies you propose.
I shall always remember, quite fondly, all the opportunities LHPP gave me way back
when, and your guidance and passion have always been evident. You showing us a
way to be better prepared to meet the challenges we, as Latinos, will face in the future
was a great starting point to my career. Thank you!

Questions? Comments.


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