By Dustin Roberto

UNM College of Population Health forms Committee Focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

New Mexico is among the most diverse states in the country, carrying a unique history and mixture of cultures that predate the founding of the United States. The University of New Mexico’s College of Population Health (COPH) embraces New Mexico’s cultural background and has prioritized the need for inclusion, diversity, and the voices of the community, staff, students and faculty. That’s why a newly formed committee is hard at work focused on welcoming individuals of all races, ethnicities, gender, religions, sexual orientation, age, disability status, and socioeconomic background to the COPH.

The COPH’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Committee was developed under the leadership of COPH associate Dean Lauri Andress, PhD, JD, MPH, with the guidance of Tracie Collins, MD, MPH, MHCDS, dean of the COPH, in July 2023 to strengthen the COPH’s commitment to inclusive values in service to New Mexico communities. The DEIA Committee aims to integrate structural and cultural competency including local involvement in public health practices to enhance methods that establish a path to improve health equity for populations that have been historically underrepresented.

The State of New Mexico is home to nineteen Pueblo tribes, three Apache tribes (the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe), and the Navajo Nation. Since entering statehood, it has been a majority-minority state with a large Hispanic and Mexican American population. Further, other minority groups including African Americans and Asians, add to this diversity composing 3% and 1% respectively of the population.

Communicating the principles and values of DEIA were advanced as a critical goal. To convey the importance of DEIA, the COPH constructed a website and established a DEIA Honor Code & Pledge.

Several meetings and assemblies were utilized to help ground the DEIA’s activities in its inaugural year. First, the committee began by meeting with UNM’s DEI leadership, including Assata Zerai, PhD, UNM Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and professor of sociology, and Valerie Romero-Leggott, MD, UNM Health Sciences Center Vice President and Executive Officer for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  Following this, in the fall of 2023 the committee met with subject matter experts on student demographics, admission, recruitment, retention and graduation rates; disabilities in higher education; best practices for inclusive hiring practices; and faculty annual evaluations and DEIA metrics.

One of the more innovative acts of the DEIA Committee is building knowledge and practices regarding structural issues and change to impact the COPH educational offerings and research settings. Known as structural competency, this kind of pedagogy represents the capacity for health professionals to recognize and respond to the role that social, economic, and political structural factors play in community health.

These structural forces place groups at greater risk disproportionately for death and disease. DEIA programming aims to move beyond cultural issues and extend the COPH thinking and action to include how socially unjust structural opportunities and resources have shaped the population health of marginalized communities.

To meet this goal, four DEIA committee convenings were held in 2024 to facilitate a process of gathering information about historical and present day structural conditions that have given rise to colonialism, marginalization, and the loss of opportunities and resources for New Mexico’s vulnerable groups. The four convenings were meant to ensure a rapid uptake of knowledge within a short period of time and produce greater comprehension on social economic, and health issues for communities external to the COPH that have been witness to past and present-day oppression. 

The DEIA convenings helped to establish a connection where the COPH faculty, students and staff members are in touch with community perspectives and needs. Post event, the DEIA Committee will issue a series of short reports that indicate what is known, gaps in knowledge, and next steps in the pursuit of structural issues and changes that they can contribute to working with external community groups and organizations.

The four DEIA convenings were:

  • Cultural Humility & Native Americans
  • Black Health & Social Issues
  • Innovations in Neurodivergent and Accessibility Accommodations
  • Hispanic/Latinx Issues & Spanish Language

The COPH DEIA committee recognizes that communities across New Mexico face ongoing health challenges that have been created based on historical and present-day injustices. Through its DEIA Committee, the COPH accepts the responsibility to reflect its global values and invites people of all backgrounds to feel welcome and know their voices will be considered in discussions on education, research, and institutional practices. By embedding diversity and inclusion into the heart of its fundamental mission of research, teaching, and public service, the COPH builds upon the land grant vision of an institution that provides for the advancement of all.

Categories: College of Population Health , Diversity