The end of summer can be a melancholy time, but in academia it is an occasion for joy. Welcoming first-year students and faculty, along with returning members of our community, makes for a kind of second spring, as our school renews itself. It is a time to look to the future, but also to mark where we have been. SPH has undergone many changes over the last few years, building on the work our community has done over four decades to deliver a world-class public health education to our students. I would like to use this Dean’s Note to reflect on our evolution as a school, while anticipating, with excitement, the future. This is a time when the work of public health is more important than ever. It strikes me as fitting that, at the start of the academic year, we reaffirm why we do what we do, touching on the core values that animate our school, as we come together once more to build a healthier world.
Since joining the school four years ago, I have seen my role as working with the SPH community to make a great school even better, to advance our public health mission. At the heart of all we do is our core purpose, Think. Teach. Do. For the health of all. We think by generating knowledge, we teach by transferring that knowledge to the next generation, we do by engaging with key stakeholders and communicating our message to the general public, and by working within communities to create change.
In the area of think, we have worked to maintain and strengthen our position as a leader in scholarship and research by clarifying our faculty expectations rubric, creating a sabbatical program, and implementing an annual faculty review with clear guidelines and mentoring. In the area of teach, we have instituted changes to help support excellence in pedagogy, from creating an Office of Lifelong Learning, to renewing our MPH and launching a suite of new educational offerings, including the Executive MPH and a new hybrid MS in Population Health Research. We have shown our commitment to do by working to create a healthier world locally and globally. The hub for this work is our Activist Lab, which, since its creation, has helped students, faculty, and staff engage with the surrounding community through a range of projects, including our Life on Albany initiatives and our work with the Blackstone Community Center and the Boston Public Health Commission.
Buoyed by this progress, our school remains a leader in the field, with a dynamic and innovative educational program, a growing research portfolio, a track record of successful development campaigns, and a clear, internationally recognized voice on issues of public health consequence.
It is in this context of recent accomplishment, and excitement for the future, that we welcome our new students. This fall, we open our doors to 312 new students from 32 states and 18 countries. They join our 1,177 current students, our 315 faculty, 242 staff, and our global network of nearly 10,000 alumni living in 117 countries. As our community has grown, so has the need for what we do. In the last few years, we have seen many challenges to public health. The current administration has pursued a range of policies detrimental to the social, economic, and environmental conditions that shape health—from undermining reproductive rights, to demonizing immigrants, to blocking efforts to mitigate climate change, to doing little to address the inequality that informs a 15-year life expectancy gap between Americans at the top and bottom of the economic ladder.
Yet with these challenges, we have also seen new opportunities for addressing the structures that create poor health in our society, structures which have long seemed immovable. These opportunities have emerged from shifts in how we talk about health, which have informed social movements with the power to change the status quo. We have, for example, finally begun talking about gun violence and climate change as the public health challenges they are, which has opened the door to public health solutions that address the core socioeconomic and political causes of these problems. We have also seen dramatic changes in how we talk about health care, with the possibility of adopting a single-payer system—long seen as politically unfeasible in the US—now central to our national debate. This reflects a growing acknowledgement in this country that health is a human right and we should demand policies that promote it.
The progress we have seen in recent years on all these issues reflects not just a societal shift, but a generational one, with the next generation leading the way in pursuit of a better, healthier world. It is in the spirit of this pursuit that we welcome our students, who represent some of the most engaged members of this rising generation. I look forward to all we will do together to become the best school we can possibly be, towards our ultimate goal of creating the healthiest possible society.
To this end, we invite you to join our community’s ongoing conversation, by engaging with our many platforms for discussion, and attending our on-campus events. Throughout the year, our school hosts a series of Signature Programs, where we invite to SPH thought leaders who lead discussions about the issues that affect health nationally and around the world. In particular, we hope you will take part in our observation of 400 Years of Inequality, a national movement marking the October anniversary of the first Africans to be sold into bondage in North America. Through a series of projects and public fora, we will explore how four centuries of injustice shape health in 2019. To stay up to date on our programing, and everything else that is happening at the school, we encourage you to visit our website, and to read SPH This Week, our weekly e-newsletter. Our community is also active on Twitter—myself included (@sandrogalea)—where we share thoughts, discuss the latest research, and communicate about upcoming events.
I hope everyone has a terrific week. I look forward to the months to come, as we continue the conversation.
Acknowledgment: I am grateful to Eric DelGizzo for his contributions to this Dean’s Note.