Given all of the amazing opportunities SMA has afforded me, it is a privilege to continue the tradition of supporting the next generation of social mission advocates as the director of the Social Mission Alliance’s Health Justice Fellowship and chair of the Social Mission Alliance Advocacy Advisory Council.
I am honored to be this month’s guest editor as we turn our attention toward the US Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action in college admissions and the growing trend of anti-Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion legislation in higher education. DEI programs not only bolster representation in our future healthcare workforce while enriching training for all students, they benefit surrounding communities by pushing anchor institutions to leverage their resources for the direct benefit of marginalized groups. Whether pathway programs to higher education, inclusive employee recruitment policies, increasing wages and benefits for low-wage workers, outreach initiatives that facilitate healthcare access and supplement health education, or collaborations that improve the built environment in ways that promote health living, these initiatives are often spurred and led by institutional champions from underrepresented backgrounds.
As someone who has personally benefited from DEI efforts in higher education and witnessed the benefit of these initiatives on surrounding communities, I see the anti-DEI sentiment as part of a generational struggle over the present and future of this country. How we understand our collective past justifies the decisions we make as a country in the present day. Our understanding of the underlying cause of a problem sets the limit on what we can fathom as a potential solution. Health professional education’s recognition of systemic racism within our nation’s history and the structural determinants of health they inform open new possibilities for interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaborations to address them. Whether institutional policies or educational curricula, to ban DEI efforts is to deny a healthy life to various groups whose current plight are informed by histories some would choose to erase.
As advocates for a socially conscious system of health professional education and a health system accountable to the needs of all of society, we must continue to push for justice in the face of mounting opposition. We must keep an eye on the changing landscape as we persist in innovating new ways to force equity into inherently inequitable systems. Whether working to direct institutional resources to promote community health among those most oppressed, supporting the development of a healthcare workforce prepared to treat everyone in this country, or making the way to diversify the coming generation of healthcare leaders who will guide the way, everyone has a role in this struggle.