Dear Harvard Chan School Community,
“I can’t breathe.” That was George Floyd’s final plea before his life was taken by a police officer kneeling on his neck… the very same plea uttered by Eric Garner before he died at the hands of police in 2014. The Harvard Chan School community shares in the despair and outrage over these killings—and the countless others that have not made headlines—that have rightfully sparked anger and activism all across the country.
We also recognize that the death of George Floyd is more than a grave injustice that must be condemned. It is a gut-wrenching consequence of what we in the public health community know all too well—and a reality that people of color are confronted with every day: Racism is a public health crisis.
That reality is apparent not just in the police brutality that disproportionately claims the lives of Black Americans, but in the legacy of slavery and discrimination that persists in countless social determinants of health. To understand how this manifests today, one need only examine the disparities in health care, pollution exposure, and access to green spaces, nutritious food, and educational opportunities that have long harmed health—and prematurely ended lives—in marginalized communities. While the COVID-19 pandemic has newly laid these inequities bare for all Americans to see, the underlying injustices have endured for generations. And all of us have a responsibility to acknowledge and address them.
A commitment to equality, justice, and inclusion are values that not only guide our school but also the entire field of public health. Our community stands united in doing everything we can to live these values—in both our personal and professional capacities—to be agents of anti-racist social transformation and advance the well-being of all people around the globe.
Students who are experiencing distress and seeking support may contact Colleen Cronin in Student Affairs at 617-432-1542 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Harvard University Counseling and Mental Health Services at 617-495-2042 (617-495-5711 after hours).
Faculty and staff members may contact Linda Picard in Human Resources at email@example.com, Jennifer Ivers in Faculty Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Harvard’s Employee Assistance Program at 877-327-4278 (877-EAP-HARV).
Michelle A. Williams, ScD
Dean of the Faculty, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Angelopoulos Professor in Public Health and International Development,
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School