Campus School of Public Health holds Black Lives Matter forum, relates public health issues to race

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Rachael Garner/File

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Nearly a year after the December Black Lives Matter protests, more than 100 members of both the Berkeley and Oakland communities stuffed into a lecture hall on campus, participating in a forum for the movement Thursday evening.

Hosted by the Advocacy Initiative of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, the forum was intended to spread awareness of the current efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, such as policies to end police brutality and black incarceration.

Last December, protests against police brutality spread throughout Berkeley, occurring in the wake of grand jury decisions not to indict officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed, and Eric Garner, who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold.

“The war against black people is continuing, and black people are still fighting back,” said Spencer Pritchard, a campus senior and member of the campus’s Black Student Union, referencing recent protests in Chicago and Minneapolis over shootings of black men by police officers.

Pritchard added that last year’s protests were a “spark” for the Black Lives Matter movement, which he said has become more intentional a year later. He said that organizations are growing in membership and that leaders are looking for new ways to pressure policymakers to rethink how laws treat black individuals.

Thursday’s forum was sponsored by several organizations: Oakland advocacy group PolicyLink, two public health school student groups — Multicultural Health in Action and the Asian and Pacific Islander Women’s Circle — and the school’s Office of Diversity Services.

“(The Black Lives Matter movement) is a public health issue,” said Laurie True, director of the Policy Advocacy Initiative at the UC Berkeley Center for Public Health Practice, “because public health is realizing, through decades of research, the social determinants of health include racial discrimination, especially among boys and men of color, children and women.”

True said these social determinants include poverty level, living location, skin color and perception of racial discrimination. She added that public health needs to address a systemic movement, not just individual behaviors.

Andrew Sudler, a campus graduate student in the public health department, said at the forum that increasing transparency in the department’s faculty hiring process is a crucial step in including more underrepresented-minority professors in the program.

“Can we bring in a more equitable division of professors who do this work in the real world to be able to bring that back to our students and say, ‘This is what it means to really be addressing racism in my own work’?” Sudler said at the meeting. “Because if we don’t see that in our professors, how are we expected to go out into the real world and do that?”

Contact Jason Tran at [email protected].