Birds-illustration of a crowd of people gathering into the shape of an arrow leading right.

The Bloomberg School’s Response to COVID-19, Racial Injustice, and Beyond

Our strategic plan has proven to be a reliable guide for action in a world upended.

By Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75

“Ours is a world of constant change. Social, economic, political, environmental and other forces relentlessly challenge human health.” 

We prefaced our strategic plan—The Power of Public Health—with those words two years ago. Little did we know how quickly our world would be turned upside down by a pandemic and a long-overdue reckoning with inequity, racism, and injustice. 

Built on the pillars of education, science, partnerships, people, and advocacy, our strategic plan has shaped our response to unprecedented challenges. It has kept us rooted in our values and focused on what needs to be done now and in the future. We have changed some of our tactics and accelerated specific priorities, yet the goals we articulated two years ago remain as critical as ever. Within this context, I’d like to share the ways in which our strategic plan continues to  help us meet our commitments to the School community and our world.

The Power of Education. The pandemic has made clear the importance of preparing the next generation of researchers and public health professionals in the context of evolving health challenges. To ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff, we shifted all instruction online. This dramatically accelerated progress toward our goal of extending our reach beyond the walls of our School. We’re building on the investments we’ve made in digital technologies and new educational modalities to further open our School to students regardless of where they live. We are also ensuring that our students have the essential knowledge and tools they need to be effective in solving 21st century public health problems, including communication strategies and policy development. And we’re prioritizing an assessment of our curriculum to ensure it is inclusive of diverse populations, especially those who have traditionally been marginalized. 

The Power of Science. Our response to the pandemic exemplifies our commitment to basic and applied research and the translation of that research for impact. Our obligation to ensure the primacy of science has never been more important. As researchers and practitioners, we vigorously champion the integrity of science and data—the bedrock of our approach to investigation. While our science impacts the body politic, it must also be free of political interference. This message was forcefully delivered to more than 9,500 viewers of an October 6 virtual symposium on vaccines hosted by the School and the University of Washington. 

The Power of Partnerships. Partnering to protect the population’s health and advance racial equity and social justice is essential. Our approach to public health practice and research needs to make clear that we work with the populations we serve. To make a lasting difference, we must partner with local organizations and communities to find solutions. Gone are the days of “we know what’s good for you.” And our partnerships must, at the core, benefit the communities with whom we work and address the social drivers of health, including racism. This means partnering with sectors both inside and outside the traditional boundaries of public health.

The Power of People. We firmly believe that a diverse, inclusive, and nurturing environment fuels creativity and ensures excellence. In establishing our new Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Anti-Racism, and Equity (IDARE), we have recommitted to dismantling racist policies and practices within our own School, our community, and the field of public health. We will use our forthcoming IDARE Action Plan to prioritize the most important initiatives and hold ourselves accountable for advancing them. We also are working to help faculty, students, and staff with today’s stresses, complexities, and anxieties as part of our overall commitment to promoting a climate of wellness and work-life balance for all. 

The Power of Advocacy. Public health needs champions. To change how the public and policymakers think about the value of public health, we are boosting our efforts to communicate the impact of our research and advocate for evidence-informed solutions that make a difference. Our Center for Public Health Advocacy is working with colleagues from across the U.S. to build the political will needed to modernize our country’s public health system and reinvigorate  important public health institutions, like the CDC, that have recently been undermined and sidelined. This work is critical to regaining the public’s confidence in public health and science. The pandemic has amplified the School’s reputation as an honest and nonpartisan broker of public health information. We are challenging ourselves and the field to use this critical moment in history to find more effective ways of translating research and evidence into policies and actions that will help stem the tide of the pandemic and other health challenges we face. 

Our strategic plan is serving us well in these uncertain times because it speaks loudly in support of science and the principle of improving health for all people. It follows the School’s and the field of public health’s long tradition of confronting emerging challenges by reshaping what we do and how we function in response to these challenges. We will advocate for the advancement of racial equity and prepare for the next emergency, ensuring a healthier and more just world for all. 

Our strategic plan’s closing words still ring true and will continue to guide us as we navigate current and future challenges: “Now more than ever, leadership in the science and practice of public health is critical for the world.”