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December 03, 2020

Drexel University to launch Center on Racism and Health

$9 million gift supports research into racial health inequities

Health News Research
Drexel Racism Health Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Drexel University's new Center on Racism and Health will focus on structural racism and racial inequities in urban contexts. The research center was established with a $9 million gift from philanthropists Dana and David Dornsife.

A new research center at Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health will pursue research into the racial inequities that produce poor health outcomes among minorities.

The Center on Health and Racism has been established with a $9 million gift from alumna Dana Dornsife and her husband, David. The two philanthropists are the largest benefactors in the university's history and have a long record of humanitarian efforts.

Race has historically been a pivotal factor in health care access and quality for Black and Brown communities, resulting in disadvantages that predispose these groups to higher rates of practically every health condition.

On average, marginalized populations have shorter lifespans, higher maternal and infant mortality, a greater burden of physical and mental illness, and earlier onset and progression of diseases. The demographics of the coronavirus pandemic have again exposed these inequities, showing higher rates of illness and more severe outcomes among Black Americans.

The American Medical Association last month formally recognized racism as a public health threat, unveiling new policies to alleviate the effects and disparities it causes.

At Drexel, the new research center will advance multidisciplinary, anti-racist public health research and scholarship rooted in historical context, contemporary theoretical frameworks and rigorous, innovative methods, the university said.

"All over the world there are renewed calls to address racism as the public health crisis that it is," said Ana Diez Roux, dean of The Dornsife School. "The Dornsife School has a responsibility to respond to this crisis. We are thrilled that this gift will allow us to elevate and expand critically needed research, training and policy work in this area at Dornsife and at Drexel more generally."

The center also will provide anti-racist, public health educational and training opportunities for students and public health professionals. It will forge local, national and global partnerships to foster engagement in anti-racist practice and advocacy that advances health equity and racial justice.

Specifically, the center will focus on structural racism and racial inequities in urban contexts, examining how they intersect with population health challenges such as police brutality and climate change. Local work in Philadelphia, in partnership with Drexel's recently established Center for Black Culture, will aim to provide a global perspective on similar issues seen in other cities.

"Grounded in the lived experiences of those most directly impacted by racism, this Center will provide an opportunity for innovation and impact in addressing the root causes of racial health inequities in Philadelphia and beyond," said Sharrelle Barber, an assistant professor in the Dornsife School.

In the past, Drexel scholars have led numerous studies examining relationships between race and health outcomes. One study published in July found that lifetime discrimination may increase hypertension risk among Black people, while another found that underserved Philadelphia neighborhoods appear to have a higher risk of chronic kidney disease. 

The Center on Racism and Health will now give researchers a home to dive deeper into the structural and social determinants of health inequities. 

The $9 million gift will allow the university to hire two new faculty members whose work focuses on racial inequities and health.

"David and I are thrilled to continue our journey with Drexel as we grow the capacity of the Dornsife School of Public Health to improve population health for all and, especially, to be a force for good in the struggle for racial justice," Dana Dornsife said. "The new Center on Racism and Health is another step on the School’s exciting trajectory to becoming a global leader in public health research, education, training, practice and policy."

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