Welcome from Director

It is good to be home.

Many of you may know I spent much of my academic youth in San Francisco.

In the summer of 1992, I made my first visit to the city as part of my MPH internship through UCSF’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, under Dr. Claire Brindis.  Also that summer I met Dr. Rafael Diaz, former Director of the Cesar Chavez Institute, who became a mentor and long term research collaborator.

In 1998 – I joined Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at UCSF where I met Dr. Cynthia Gomez – among others. This launched a series of research projects and collaborations with both UCSF and SFSU on HIV/AIDS and activism.

In my mind and regarding my career – San Francisco, research, and SF State are inextricably linked. Just as teaching, research, and service are interconnected.

It has been a theme – a passion – throughout my career: blending academic teaching and research. For many years, I taught a course on community mobilization for health.  More recently I have taught a course on queer public health.

Bringing research to our classrooms – I believe – creates a significant opportunity to impact – possibly even change the course of what we teach through research.  And vice-versa, teaching can change our research -- when students ask us questions and push us in directions we have not yet explored.

I say I am “home” – not just in the sense that, professionally, San Francisco holds pride of place alongside Chicago and Ann Arbor.  But I am “home” because the work of the Health Equity Institute fits – in fact could be considered the embodiment of -- my belief that health is a human right.

From my earliest work in community-based public health with women in Mexico -- to organizing a response to the HIV/AIDS crisis along the Mexican border with Texas, I learned that access to prevention and treatment was NOT a right and, sadly, more of an improbability the more marginalized the population.

It might surprise some of you to know I was not – then – a public health professional.  I was a communications professional and a community organizer.  I was a tasked with raising consciousness of health and its social determinants.

I became a health “amateur” -- because there were few professionals serving those disenfranchised communities.

I became an un-trained caregiver -- because these individuals were invisible to the medical establishment and, often, dead to their families.

I became a lay educator -- because the stigma towards sexual minorities, sex work, and the oppression of women prevented these groups from even the most basic of care that could safeguard their health and – without exaggeration – prevent their deaths.

And, through my incredulity that Iand my Compañeros had to do this because our institutions did not -- I became an activist hoping to amplify the voices of those who had been silenced.

It was the catalyst for my journey to become a public health worker. It is the cornerstone on my belief that we must do all we can to support a sustainable pipeline of public health researchers and professionals who can give voices to marginalized communities.

Only then can we start to chip-away at disparities -- lessen them – and decrease the distance between disparity and equity.

Eliminating health inequities is no small task, right? The fact that people face illness and excess mortality due to social exclusion should drive us to madness.

That large groups of people are ill not by chance – not through random events and circumstances – rather they are purposely excluded from health and longevity of life by people in power and their systems of

  • Racism

  • Social class

  • Homo and Transphobia

  • Able/Disable

  • Sexism

  • Ageism

Should ENRAGE us all. But anger gets us only so far.

Removing the barriers and dismantling the systems that prevent people from accessing prevention and treatment requires that we first understand why this is – how this can – and MUST – change.

We must fight these health injustices on many fronts – across many disciplines – with the same complexity of response to match the complexity of the problem.

That is where the work of the Health Equity Institute comes in and – I believe – suits so well with the mission of San Francisco State. Take for example, select projects led by members of our core team.

Allen LeBlanc (HEI Professor of Sociology) -- Who leads research on same sex couples and the role of stress – as a process of social exclusion caused by society’s stigmatization of their individual identities as well as of their relationships in and of themselves – in diminishing their relationship quality and health.

Charmayne Hughes (HEI Associate Professor of Kinesiology) -- Who directs projects regarding the development and evaluation of technological devices needed in efforts to rehabilitate patients following a stroke.  The implications of this work is far-reaching, both domestically and abroad, for disadvantaged populations who face very limited access to care.

Laura Mamo (HEI Professor of Health Education) -- Whose work on perennial, highly politicized issues such as women’s and LGBT health -- and Reproductive rights -- long the fodder for conservative politicians.

Sep Modrek (HEI Assistant Professor of Economics) -- Whose work focuses on the intersection of economic changes, social policy, and employment -- or the lack thereof -- and health. One project concerns the effects of government programs designed to promote work opportunities during and after the Great Depression on the present-day well-being of the children and grandchildren of program participants.

Jessica Wolin (Lecturer in Health Education –Who helps HEI tap the power of community-based, participatory research primarily in the big area of housing and maternal/child health. Her work is local, engaged, and involves a great number of our own students.

The faculty of HEI – along with dozens of Faculty Affiliates across our campus – are creating a diverse body of work that adds up to significant thought leadership – supported by science -- to underpin our demands for social change to prevent further health inequalities.

And, of course, our work wouldn’t be possible without the support of two key members of our team: Mirna Vasquez (Administrator) and Jason Chang (Statistician).

What we have in the Health Equity Institute is unique – and to be valued.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Cynthia Gomez – whose vision of bringing together faculty on this important work and who created the foundation upon which the work of HEI is built and grows. I also want to thank Allen LeBlanc and Laura Mamo for their stewardship of HEI during the leadership transition.

We now have the opportunity to protect HEI’s vision – re-imagine it in the context of today’s political and social challenges -- and grow its impact.

I see the role of HEI as generating a 360-degree “surround sound” on the relevance of health equity in the pursuit of social justice. 

The Institute’s charge is to contribute to campus-wide conversations about the interdependence of academic success, research, and service.

To draw sharp relief around the simple idea that Health Equity lies not in the hands of any one discipline – but seeks comprehensive and holistic solutions via the Humanities, Natural and Social Sciences, and others. That it requires the best thinking of all these vital areas of study – that it benefits the unique perspectives each brings -- and it depends on the active involvement of communities, students, and faculty.

And HEI is responsible for bringing it all together and then communicating our thinking out to the world.

This is how San Francisco State will develop unconventional methods and lead innovative, action-oriented approaches to begin eliminating health disparities.

Gracias for your support. I look forward to working with all of you.