$9 Million Gift from Philanthropists Dana and David Dornsife to Establish Center on Racism and Health at Drexel

A $9 million gift from Drexel University alumna Dana Dornsife and her husband David to the University's School of Public Health will help launch a new Center on Racism and Health, recruit and retain faculty experts on racial inequities in health and endow the deanship for public health. The longtime philanthropists, widely known for their humanitarian efforts, are the largest single benefactors in the University's history, having donated more than $70 million. The School of Public Health was named in their honor after a $45 million gift in 2015.

"I'm deeply grateful to Dana and David for their incredible generosity, which has transformed both the University and the Dornsife School of Public Health over the past five years," said John Fry, Drexel president. "Now with this gift, we will advance solutions to society's most pressing public health problems as they impact communities of color and lead the way in eliminating health disparities for all."

Dana and David Dornsife standing in front of the Dornsife School of Public Health

Dana and David Dornsife have supported many of the University’s initiatives. With a $10 million gift in 2012 they established the Dana and David Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, which — since it opened in June 2014 — has catalyzed Drexel’s civic engagement with its surrounding community, encouraging innovative collaboration among students, faculty and local residents in Mantua and Powelton. They established the Dana and David Dornsife Office of Experiential Learning at the University’s LeBow College of Business that has expanded the College’s experience-based educational initiatives and increased not only students’ business knowledge, but also their cultural awareness. They also helped create the Dornsife Global Development Scholars program that allows students of all majors and educational levels to work alongside World Vision International partners on development projects related to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Sub-Saharan African countries.

“David and I are thrilled to continue our journey with Drexel as we grow the capacity of the Dornsife School of Public Health to improve population health for all and, especially, to be a force for good in the struggle for racial justice,” said Dana Dornsife. “The new Center on Racism and Health is another step on the School’s exciting trajectory to becoming a global leader in public health research, education, training, practice and policy.”

The new gift will allow the Dornsife School of Public Health to elevate research on racial inequality and health disparities. The proposed Center on Racism and Health will leverage strengths across the Dornsife School’s departments, the Urban Health Collaborative and many partners across the University synergizing and elevating existing work on racial health inequities and promoting new work.

“All over the world there are renewed calls to address racism as the public health crisis that it is,” said Ana Diez Roux, MD, PhD, dean of the Dornsife School. “The Dornsife School has a responsibility to respond to this crisis. We are thrilled that this gift will allow us to elevate and expand critically needed research, training and policy work in this area at Dornsife and at Drexel more generally.”

The major goals of the Center will be to:

  • Advance multidisciplinary, anti-racist public health research and scholarship rooted in historical context, contemporary theoretical frameworks and rigorous, innovative methods.
  • Provide anti-racist public health educational and training opportunities for students and public health professionals.
  • Foster engagement in anti-racist practice and advocacy to advance health equity and racial justice through alignment with social justice movements and equitable local, national and global partnerships.

To achieve these goals, the proposed Center will focus on structural racism and racial inequities in urban contexts and how these intersect with pressing population health challenges like police brutality and climate change. The Center will also adopt a global perspective linking local work in Philadelphia to similar challenges facing cities worldwide. The Center will be complimentary and synergistic with Drexel’s recently established Center for Black Culture and will aim to forge partnerships across the University.

“Grounded in the lived experiences of those most directly impacted by racism, this Center will provide an opportunity for innovation and impact in addressing the root causes of racial health inequities in Philadelphia and beyond,” said Sharrelle Barber, ScD, an assistant professor in the Dornsife School, whose research documents how racism becomes "embodied" through the neighborhood context — evidence that can be leveraged for transformative change through anti-racist policy initiatives. Barber has been chairing the planning group to launch the new Center. “This year has brought into sharp focus the deadly consequences of racism and the critical need for academic initiatives that provide dedicated spaces to engage in rigorous, multidisciplinary scholarship and training and collective action with communities to understand these processes and spearhead evidence-driven policy and advocacy that combats the health consequences and inequities of racism.”

The gift will allow the Dornsife School to hire two new faculty members whose work focuses on racial inequities and health. Additionally, endowing the deanship for public health will support strategic initiatives for the Dornsife School, enabling the named dean to strengthen departments and programs, and support faculty and professional staff across the Dornsife School with the aim of advancing its reputation throughout the United States and the world.

Philanthropists Dana and David Dornsife are well-known for helping to solve the most pressing problems facing today’s world through their intelligence, talent, generosity and time. Their steadfast focus is on improving the quality of life for all people. Both received honorary degrees from Drexel in 2014. Dana Dornsife received her bachelor’s degree in business from Drexel in 1983. She is the founder of the Lazarex Cancer Foundation and serves as its president and CEO.

David Dornsife, a University of Southern California trustee and 1965 alumnus, is chairman of the Herrick Corp., the largest steel fabricator and contractor on the West Coast. Herrick’s projects include high rises, specialty projects, hospitals, airports and hotels.

The gift by Dana and David Dornsife marks the latest major advance in Drexel’s $750 million campaign, The Future Is a Place We Make, which launched publicly in 2017. The campaign advances the University’s highest strategic priorities, including creating pathways for student support and success; growing commitment to access, diversity and inclusion; pioneering approaches in teaching and learning; accelerating multidisciplinary and high-impact research and innovation; and deepening civic engagement. In addition to financial goals, the campaign seeks to engage a widening circle of alumni in the life of the University.

Founded in 1996 on the principles of health as a human right and the importance of social justice to health, the Dornsife School of Public Health is committed to improving population health and promoting health equity by generating rigorous evidence and transforming that evidence into actions. The Dornsife School has a special emphasis on improving health in cities, eliminating health disparities and promoting health in all policies. Located at the heart of University City in Philadelphia and linked to a diverse set of local and global partners, the School offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in all areas of public health.