Dean's Message - June 2020

UMass Amherst SPHHS Dean Anna Maria Siega-Riz

Dean Anna Maria Siega-Riz

June 30, 2020

What a tumultuous month. While we celebrated the end of the school year and beginning of summer, our world continues to be plagued with the coronavirus and its ensuing ramifications of economic hardship, stress and social unrest. Those of us invested in improving the health of our population know that societal factors such as systemic racism and discrimination are among the root causes of many chronic diseases; for far too long these factors have impacted the health and well-being of our Black community members as well as those of Native American and Hispanic origin. The spread of COVID-19 and deaths caused by it have been disproportionately borne by these subpopulations, bringing to the forefront that we as a society still have much work to accomplish to eliminate these inequalities. 

The leadership of the SPHHS is committed to acting and not just making statements. It is why we created the Center for Community Health Equity Research; why we support the Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network with whom we sponsor a bi-annual Health Equity Summit; and why our outreach and engagement office has launched the SPHHS Health Equity Summer Fellowship Program in partnership with the Upward Bound program. This new initiative matches recent Springfield high school graduates of color with SPHHS faculty mentors in a paid summer internship program, addressing a critical need for underrepresented minorities in the health workforce. But we must do more and as such we will examine the policies and procedures in the school to remove systemic processes and/or criteria that perpetuates racism and discrimination due to sexual orientation, religion, or social class. We will encourage all to partake in their choice of activities provided at the University level such as those listed here or ones in our School: 

In the School we will begin our own program of events that will include but are not limited to: virtual webinar discussions, anti-racism book clubs, and greater infusion of anti-racism, social justice, and public policy advocacy in our curriculum. We hope that our various stakeholders, including alumni and community members, will join us in these efforts. Even in this 21st Century that we live in, with all its amazing technology and advancements, we are in dire need of being compassionate to all humanity. By protecting and supporting Black lives, we will improve the lives of all people of color.

Amid these turbulent times, I do want to take this moment to congratulate all of our faculty who have been promoted and tenured. Their hard work and persistence have paid off and we are so fortunate to have them teaching in our program, mentoring our students, and contributing to the scientific knowledge in their fields. 

Lastly, we have just heard from the Chancellor concerning the reopening of the University. This was a very complicated and delicate decision that was informed by the best scientific information available to date. I applaud all of those who were involved and thank the Chancellor for his leadership. While the decision to bring students back on campus and deliver only essential courses in a face-to-face format might not please all, it acknowledges the opinions shared by students and their parents, faculty, staff, and the community that he heard during the webinars in June. We look forward to having the students back on campus, and to enhance adherence to the The UMass Agreement, we are providing a SPHHS mask to all students, as well as to our faculty and staff for when they need to be on campus. We will also be creative in the development of programs and events that maintain social connection in the School while still allowing for physical distancing. Our faculty and teaching assistants are investing time over the summer to deliver their courses in a remote fashion using the numerous resources available to them at the University to sustain our high-quality education standards. Additionally, our student success and career advising offices are enhancing and developing new methods for delivering support services to the students. Finally, the School will take an active role in the newly created Public Health Promotion Center, aiding in contact tracing and providing faculty expertise and highly trained students to help guide campus health promotion activities. All of this pivoting reflects the dedication, passion, and excellence of our community to support the mission and vision of higher education as well as that of SPHHS and UMass.

I wish you all a restful and healthy summer!