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A Statement from Director Giselle Corbie-Smith

June 2, 2020

It has taken a while to write this statement. I had to sit with and work through my own grief, anger, and anguish before I could reach out to support others. While I’m not there yet, I speak to say that on the backdrop of stark and distressing disparities evidenced in the COVID-19 pandemic, these public episodes of violence have become so common that it requires shining a light on structural oppression as a root cause. Our commitment to equity in this community of researchers and collaborators is a source of strength and power in the midst of the incredibly challenging times that we are in now. The violent deaths of George, Ahmaud, and Breonna, and countless others, which have not been publicized, weighs heavy with an obligation to advance equity and justice.

Many of my colleagues have asked what they can do. I say we all need to commit to use our power and privilege to advance equity. I offer the following suggestions:

  • Commit to self-study on systems of oppression and how to be an ally. Often those with the most privilege and power feel “helpless” in the face of stark oppression. In addition to the human side of this that we all may battle, the specific privileged experience of feeling emotionally overwhelmed stems from not having to witness or experience “isms” daily—from being direct beneficiaries of systemic oppression. We all need to commit to recognizing and understanding modern day systemic and internalized oppression.
  • Commit to using frameworks, praxes, and theory that center the voice of those at the margins. To ensure that our research and teaching doesn’t maintain and perpetuate oppression, we need to leverage our positions of power to consciously decide to make sure that those that have been marginalized by existing systems of oppression are at the center of all that we do and that their perspectives and world view drive our work towards equity.
  • Commit to authentic engagement and collective action for structural change. Inequities in the US are rooted in over 400 years of policies and practices that reinforces a human hierarchy, where some are assigned greater value and unearned advantage than others. We have seen structural violence play out in the first half of 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic and culminating in the violence of the last week. Advancing health equity will require more than one research study or demonstration. We will need a decisive, long-term strategy to systemically ensure equity is at the heart of all of our policies and practices.

We are gathering resources to support these commitments and invite you to share credible resources so we can continue to expand this list for your use. To share, please submit resources in this form.  We will compile collected resources here on the website and through our social media.

Giselle Corbie-Smith, MD, MSc
Director, UNC Center for Health Equity Research
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill