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Department of Kinesiology and Community Health: Statement of our Commitment to Equity and Fairness

Faculty and staff in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health are angered and deeply saddened by the systemic racism that continues within our nation and throughout the world.

The unjust killings of individuals in the African American community in the past few weeks are only recent examples of racism and bigotry that have existed for centuries and must end. Although many of us do not have the lived experience of those in the African American community, we have incredible power to speak against systemic racism and lend our voices in demanding change, especially in the academic spaces we occupy. Collectively and individually we can make a difference through our words, and most importantly, through our actions. Below are excerpts from faculty and staff who wish to share their feelings by condemning racism, supporting social change, and affirming the fair and equitable treatment of all individuals. Black lives matter.

—Kim C. Graber, Professor and Interim Department Head

Black lives matter.

I teach and research the intricacies of how the human body moves. It is not appropriate (nor was it ever appropriate) to think that my work has nothing to do with race and proceed like all is right in the world. As a white professor, I acknowledge my ignorance and am wholeheartedly listening to the black community, including my students and colleagues, to learn how we can identify and combat systematic racism, injustice, and oppression.

—Jacob Sosnoff

Black Lives Matter.  George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and, heartbreakingly, a very long list of other sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, and friends’ lives were cut short by racism. This is injustice, this is messed up. We study leading causes of death and predictors of risk, protection, and inequity. It is vital we understand racism is a foundational social determinant of health. The confluence of George Floyd’s murder and COVID-19 are striking, as both show the terrible burden of racism and health inequity Black people experience in the US. These impacts take years off of Black lives in our country. We have to change the system- the policing, policies, representation, power structure, housing segregation, income gap, educational and employment divide, and more. Get active! Protest, learn more, advocate for policy change by speaking up to your representatives at the local/state/federal level, and take care of yourself and support each other as you do so.

—Justine Kaplan

As an Academic Advisor in a major with more under-represented students than most others, I have shifted my commitment to battling racism from simply being a supportive ally -- to being a dedicated activist -- denouncing racism in all its insidious forms. You matter to me. You matter to your department, your college, and this University.

—Hollie Heintz

The events of the past few weeks – the needless deaths of yet more Black people, the protests calling for change – and even the ramifications of the pandemic over the past few months, have shown the pain and injustice felt by many people in our society. I am left with questions that don’t have ready answers and I don’t really know what to say. My hope is that I help to create, in words and actions, an inclusive environment that fosters equitable and respectful treatment for students, staff, and faculty in Kinesiology & Community Health and in the University of Illinois community.

—Steve Petruzzello (Dr. P)

I grieve with and support Black Lives Matter and all anti-racist movements. I promise to help sustain them in academia, home, and society.

—Synthia Sydnor

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others have ignited a global outcry for police brutality and systemic racism towards Black people to end. As a Black faculty member, it has been nearly impossible to endure the pressure and responsibilities of academia while watching the horrifying murders of Black people in the media. This has all occurred against the backdrop of a global health crisis that is disproportionately affecting Black people. If you are a Black faculty, student, or staff member who has been impacted by watching these social injustices play out before your eyes, I want you to know: You are not alone. Research has confirmed the negative consequences of racial trauma on Black people’s health and wellbeing. I have been intentional in using my voice, knowledge, and skills to bring about meaningful change and healing for our community. Perhaps you are also contributing your voice and talents to the social justice movement. While we engage in this worthy cause, it is equally important that we take good care of ourselves, seek support, and remain hopeful. I offer the following resources in solidarity (see reference list at bottom of page). Be Well,

—Robyn L. Gobin

It is my hope that our community can move forward and help contribute to a lasting change in justice and equality. By listening to each other and being there for each other, we can take a meaningful stride towards improving the safety and fairness to all members of our vibrant community.

—Manuel Hernandez

My heart hurts, as ignorance, hate, and violence have, for far too long, omitted, silenced, revised and destroyed the lived experiences of persons of color. While I cannot ever fully know what that must be like, I feel a glimmer of hope that 2020 is a tipping point. To ensure the growing tidal wave of change does not recede into the deep trenches that run through our country, we must all do our part.

—Sean Mullen

I am grateful to the leadership of our university and Chancellor Jones, for their statements embracing diversity and inclusion and rejecting fear and hate, and I am proud to join them. My husband and I are immigrants — we, as many others before and after us, came to this country because of the enormous opportunities it offered, and continues to offer for our work and our future. It is clear that similar opportunities are often denied to many, including those who were born and raised here. Each of us must do more to make our department, college and university a supportive and caring place for people of all backgrounds and ethnicities, genders, gender identities, sexual preferences, and nationalities. We must do better to create a diverse and inclusive space and address issues of social inequity.

—Neha Gothe

Let us work together to build a community in which all lives matter equally, regardless of skin color at the University of Illinois.

—Yih-Kuen Jan

We acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of students in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program and across the University of Illinois campus. We strive to maintain an environment of acceptance and respect for all students, staff and faculty through a commitment to listening, learning, teaching and connecting students to resources on campus which support diversity and inclusion.

—Julie Bobitt, Kristen DiFilippo, Beth Frasca, Tonya Pulley

Many of us know of the abuse and unequal treatment of Latinos and African-Americans in the U.S. because we have personally experienced and witnessed it. Today’s racism, discrimination and racial profiling is like a loud echo from my childhood. As a low-income immigrant Latina raised in South Central Los Angeles, I watched how Latino and African-American boys had to choose between staying safe on the street or getting an education. As a sixth grader, I recall the attack on Latino immigrants that started from the White House and made its way into my neighborhood and classroom. As an educator, I aim to provide a supportive and equitable classroom and learning experience for my students and mentees. As a social scientist, my goal is to address mental health disparities among vulnerable populations, particularly women and mothers to help ensure women, their children and families have just and happy lives.

—Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo

Cultural values play an important role in the health of a nation. They are part of the fabric of any nation. They provide a foundation and identity of a nation and what sustains it. These values are integrated into the structure of society and the functioning of its institutions, including its government and economy. Frequently cited values are individual freedom, independence, self-reliance, competition, hard work and personal achievement. In contrast, there are other important values woven into the framework of American culture that reflect the concept of social justice and collective responsibility. These values include the belief that any entity, be it a government, a public or private organization, or an individual has an obligation to act for the benefit of society. Associated values would include a belief in helping others, caring, empathy, cooperation, mutual respect, fairness and promoting the welfare of the community and the common good, while recognizing the importance of inclusion and interdependence or, simply, “we are all in this together.” Incorporating these values more than we do now would help to reduce inequality, health disparities and improve the health and quality of life of all Americans.  Stay safe. Stay healthy.

—Tom O’Rourke

Black lives matter. Lives of all colors, ages, orientation, physical abilities, and locations matter. All people should be treated equally. The strength of our community lies in the diversity of its people. Our faculty, staff, and students from diverse backgrounds and life experiences bring different attitudes, values, and creativity to address complex societal issues and health challenges. Enough is enough!

—Andiara Schwingel

Dear students. I sat down to write this and had to resist the urge to go online and find “the right words to say”. I feared my words would be too little, too unclear, too meaningless, or too blind. Instead, I will write from my heart. First, I admit and acknowledge, that I am a part of a society that benefits me because of the color of my skin. I have benefitted in countless ways that I can and cannot see. Second, my stance is clear – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade were murdered. They were not protected by those sworn to protect the citizens of their communities. So many more have not been protected and it is imperative that we as a department, as a University, as a community and as individual citizens work to protect Black lives – Black women, Black men, Black non-binary folx, Black trans women and trans men, Black individuals of every sexuality, Black children, Black individuals with disabilities, Black individuals old and young, Black individuals of every community, rich and poor. Third, in Community Health, we discuss and interrogate the factors that impact the health of populations. We care about policies, environments, knowledge, behaviors, systems, theories, demographic variables and best practices. We discuss the social factors that clearly and implicitly influence our policies and environments and we look at the historical contexts that created our current moment. We are critical of messaging that perpetuates disparities and benefits those in power, those with privilege and those with money. Make no mistake, racism affects the health of our communities in every way. It affects access, it affects risk, it affects funding, it affects education, it affects care, it affects infectious disease and chronic disease. It affects disability, it affects mental health. We in community health have a responsibility to recommit to teaching these ugly truths, we have a responsibility to engaging community members in the research process, not as token members, but as leaders and stakeholders, we have a responsibility to avoid and eschew helicopter research, we have a responsibility to rethink progress and to treat police violence, environmental injustice, inaccessibility of healthcare and all forms of racism as deadly serious and damaging threats to human health. Lastly, as your teacher, I commit to including these discussions more frequently and more deeply in our classes. I commit to including more Black scholars on our reading lists. I commit to drawing attention to racial disparities in health outcomes whenever relevant (and they always are). I commit to building safe spaces for discussion in our classrooms. I commit to keeping my door open to your questions and concerns, my ears open to your feedback, and my heart open to your stories. You matter to me, I know your names, I see you and care deeply about you. I believe in you and I am committed to supporting you as you reach your goals and build your dreams.

—Brynn Adamson

Suggested Reading Materials from Robyn Gobin:

Chioneso, N. A., Hunter, C. D., Gobin, R. L., McNeil Smith, S., Mendenhall, R., & Neville, H. A. (2020). Community Healing and Resistance Through Storytelling: A Framework to Address Racial Trauma in Africana Communities. Journal of Black Psychology, 0095798420929468.

French, B. H., Lewis, J. A., Mosley, D. V., Adames, H. Y., Chavez-Dueñas, N. Y., Chen, G. A., & Neville, H. A. (2020). Toward a psychological framework of radical healing in communities of color. The Counseling Psychologist, 48(1), 14-46.

Mosley, D. V., Neville, H. A., Chavez‐Dueñas, N. Y., Adames, H. Y., Lewis, J. A., & French, B. H. (2020). Radical hope in revolting times: Proposing a culturally relevant psychological framework. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 14(1), e12512.

The Psychology of Radical Healing Collective (2019, March 5). The Psychology of Radical Healing. Psychology Today.

For White and non-Black ethnic minority colleagues who are looking for ways to support Black people, I offer this resource.