Drexel Univ. gets $9M million gift establishing new center on racism and health

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — Drexel University has received a $9 million gift from philanthropists Dana and David Dornsife to launch a Center on Racism and Health at the Dornsife School of Public Health.

The gift will also be used to recruit and retain faculty experts on racial inequities in health and endow the deanship for public health.

“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, who received her bachelor’s degree in business from the university.

Dana Dornsife is founder and CEO of the Lazarex Cancer Foundation and David Dornsife is chairman of the West Coast steel corporation Herrick Corp.

The longtime philanthropists 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.

Their latest gift allows the Dornsife School to hire two new faculty members whose work focuses on racial inequities.

“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,” John Fry, Drexel president, said in a statement.

“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.”

The new center will leverage strengths across the Dornsife School’s departments, the Urban Health Collaborative and many partners across the university to elevate work on racial health inequities.

The center’s goals include advancing anti-racist public health research and scholarship; providing anti-racist public health educational and training opportunities for students and public health professionals; and advancing health equity and engaging in anti-racist advocacy efforts locally, nationally and globally.

To achieve these goals, the 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. It will also adopt a global perspective linking local work in Philadelphia to similar challenges facing cities worldwide.

“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 Dr. Sharrelle Barber, an assistant professor in the Dornsife School.

She 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,” she said.

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.