Last year, our campus appointed Regina Richards, PhD, MSW, to lead a newly formed Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement* for the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. We realized there are many ways in which we have unfortunately failed to equally support our community members, and Dr. Richards hit the ground running by approaching these challenges through thoughtful listening and collaborative problem-solving. Thanks to significant institutional and philanthropic support, Dr. Richards and her team have made considerable progress moving toward systemic change.
Benefactors and friends of the campus pivoted their support to areas where they saw the most need. This year alone, we launched five DEI-specific scholarship funds across our schools and college. One of these new scholarships, the ColoradoSPH Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Scholarship Fund, was generously founded by Dawn Comstock, PhD, and offers both need- and merit-based aid to attract excellent students from populations underrepresented in the school and in public health professions. Among those encouraged to apply, are students from races and ethnicities underrepresented in medicine, first-generation college students, those who identify as LGBTQ+, students with disabilities and those who have faced adversity.
We now have 73 funds dedicated to supporting Dr. Richards’ vision. Additionally, the CU Office of the President committed $1M in matching funds toward DEI initiatives, hoping to rally our supporters in pursuit of a shared goal. These meaningful gifts allowed Dr. Richards to strategically employ resources.
"The goal with philanthropic funding for our group is to increase our offerings to reach more people. When we build effective programs from the bottom up, we can then solicit funding from other sources – increasing our return on investment and expanding our impact."
Regina RichardsPhD, MSW, Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement
I wanted to do something that could have an immediate impact ‘in my home’—something that could drive change and I could watch occur right now,” Comstock said in an email to ColoradoSPH professors and leadership. “I know many of us have marched, protested, communicated our concerns to legislative representatives, utilized our expertise and national standing as public health researchers to help drive much needed discussions around effective change, but these efforts too often drive needed change slowly."
Dawn ComstockPhD, Adjunct Professor, Department of Epidemiology
There is no shortage of work to be done, and we have a long way to go. Dr. Richards’ first step was listening and connecting with our local Aurora community to understand how we were failing to engage with those in our own backyard. Now, CU Anschutz supports more than 70 community engagement programs, and we are building more.
“I had to engage. I had to admit that we haven’t done everything right,” she said. “We had to ask, ‘How do we make the community feel like they belong."
"We provide resources to analyze problems and guide the resident leaders and community members through potential solutions. Even if they don’t find a solution right away, they’ve found a group of community members and health experts who support them and work together."
Gabriela JacoboCommunity Connector, Resident Leadership Council
If you ask Gabriela Jacobo, community connector for the Resident Leadership Council (RLC), we make the community feel like they belong by going out and asking what they need, and learning how we can leverage resources at CU Anschutz to help. The RLC, formerly known as the Campus-Community Partnership, was founded in 2013 and joined the CU Anschutz Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement in the summer of 2020. Jacobo leads a team of 24 resident leaders, many of whom are young adults fresh out of high school or undergraduates in the CU system. Resident leaders are tasked with getting to know their neighbors individually, so they can act as informed spokespeople for their communities and connect them with the right CU Anschutz experts and resources to tackle any problems they may face.
Now that the RLC is part of the CU Anschutz Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement, Jacobo and her team are more plugged in to the campus and the campus is better connected to the community. “Our residents are nonstop,” Jacobo said. “They want to be examples to their children and communities. We’re starting a new connection campaign now, and there’s no shortage of enthusiasm.”
While we worked to lean in and actively listen to our community, Dr. Richards knew that the campus needed infrastructure to support ongoing work in DEI. The Chancellor’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement Leadership Council was developed this year, and they immediately convened to define areas of focus, outline goals, and develop action plans for reaching milestones.
The council focused its attention on priorities that would intercept systemic barriers to pave the way for lasting change. With a defined focus and decisive metrics, they developed robust processes and best practices to keep inclusiveness top of mind for all entry points on the campus. Their
first calls to action included equitable hiring practices, centralized anti-racist curriculum training, examining promotion and tenure policies, and building accountability through confidential reporting resources.
With progress underway to ensure an equitable and inclusive space for all who interact with our campus, we also hold the responsibility as a medical campus to address inequalities in healthcare. Among Dr. Richards’ top priorities is developing the Center for Health Equity (CHE). The CHE strives to advance community health, wealth and well-being through targeted efforts to dismantle racism, oppression and other systemic drivers of inequities. They have defined a clear approach on how to achieve their goals, through the interconnected work of learning, service, research and advocacy.