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Drexel Names New Center on Racism and Health, Center Director

Headshot of Barber

May 20, 2021

Drexel University will officially establish and name a new center on racism and health as The Ubuntu Center on Racism, Global Movements and Population Health Equity. The Center was made possible through a generous gift from philanthropists Dana and David Dornsife to the Dornsife School of Public Health earlier this academic year. Opening in Fall 2021 and housed in Dornsife, the Center will be led by inaugural director Sharrelle Barber, ScD, MPH, an assistant professor at Dornsife. Dornsife will also launch a search for two new tenure-track faculty whose work is aligned with the aims of the Center this summer. 

“We are delighted to launch the Ubuntu Center at Dornsife,” said Ana V. Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH, Dana and David Dornsife Dean and distinguished university professor of epidemiology. “The Center’s mission and approach are perfectly aligned with the historical commitment of our school to advance social justice in the pursuit of health equity here in Philadelphia and all over the world. I am also especially pleased that the Center will integrate and address the many ways in which structural racism and inequities impact health, including the critical roles of history, systems, policies, and the environment.”

Barber, a faculty member in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Urban Health Collaborative at Dornsife, has led research on the impact of structural racism on racial health inequities, locally in Philadelphia, nationally in Jackson, Mississippi, and globally in Brazil. 

When searching for a name for the Center, Barber reflected on the past year, looked to her experience in Brazil and recommended the South African principle Ubuntu -- “I am because we are.” 

The name “is not an anemic commitment to unity without accountability and justice, but rather a radical act of solidarity rooted in our shared humanity, unapologetic truth-telling, and a commitment to bold collective action that dismantles oppressive systems, disrupts narratives, and dares to imagine and build the just and equitable world we all deserve,” said Barber. “The name connects us to a long lineage of transformative social movements locally, nationally, and globally from which we draw strength, insights, and inspiration.”

“When the School decided to form a center to address racism and health, I immediately thought of Sharrelle as a leader in this work,” said Diez Roux. “Her research exemplifies her knowledge in understanding health inequities in the U.S. and internationally and her passion for community-centered solutions makes her an excellent liaison between the university, community and partners.”

The Ubuntu Center’s mission is to unite diverse partners, generate and translate evidence, accelerate antiracism solutions, and transform the health of communities locally, nationally, and globally. It is rooted in the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; the state-sanctioned violence by law enforcement in 2020, most notably the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd; the resulting protests that were sparked globally; and the renewed sense of urgency around racism as a public health crisis.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has held our world in suspended reality for more than a year and in that time of reflection, the crises facing our societies have emerged in stark relief,” said Irene Headen, PhD, assistant professor of Black Health in the department of Community Health and Prevention at Dornsife. “Racism is one of these leading challenges facing public health in the 21st century. Garnering the resources, tools, scholarship, and practices to dismantle its impact on the health of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color is critical.”

The Ubuntu Center will connect antiracism and population health scholarship and action locally and nationally to ongoing work happening in other parts of the world. It will build on the research and expertise of affiliate faculty and COVID in Context, a data and digital storytelling project designed to document the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in Black communities in Philadelphia and amplify the voices of communities hardest hit by the pandemic. 

The Center envisions a just future, free of systems of oppression, full of new possibilities through bold collective action, and an equitable world in which all individuals and communities are healthy and thrive.

“I hope this center can serve as an example of what is possible through bringing people together, building relationships, developing community and working together to dismantle systems and mechanisms that constantly work to divide and oppress us as a people,” said Patrice Farquharson, a recent MPH graduate and Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Antiracism (IDEA) Fellow. “We are stronger together.”


The official launch event for the Ubuntu Center will take place in the fall. For updates on the Center, please subscribe to Dornsife's monthly newsletter.