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 don’t 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 Nation’s 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 aren’t just “nice things to
– The US has consistently framed diversity
programs as something that benefit the few. It’s
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 I’ve 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, I’ve 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 won’t 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….