University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Dean's Dispatch on Race, Equity, and Diversity

Dean's Dispatch on Race, Equity, and Diversity


Dear members of the SPH community:

This spring has been a time of intense and often impassioned debate at the School and across the University—indeed across the nation—on issues of race, equity, and diversity.  In this Dean’s Dispatch I’d like to update you on three aspects of our School’s race and equity work: progress on the work groups that we formed following our April 15 forum; yesterday’s very timely Distinguished Alumni Award; and the issue of prison divestment.

SPH Race and Equity work groups

Following our April 15 forum, we identified ten work groups (based on the nine demands that framed the forum discussion), and members of the SPH community had the opportunity to sign up for the work groups of their choice.  As of today we’ve had a robust response—a strong mix of 123 faculty, staff, and students, with many people signing up for more than one work group.  The tallies are shown on this table.

Work group


1.  Statement of zero tolerance for racial discrimination


2.  Increase student diversity


3.  Increase faculty diversity


4.  Increase staff diversity


5.  Overcoming racism training


6.  Recognition of Native American land


7.  Community policing, UWPD review


8.  External review of March 2016 incident


9.  Create Center for Critical Study of Race


10.  Prison divestment



Very soon, those who signed up will be receiving notices of meeting times and dates, facilitated by the Diversity Committee.  The meetings will also be announced more broadly, so if you didn’t have the chance to sign up but want to participate, you’ll be welcome.  I look forward to the work groups’ getting started and providing continued energy, guidance, and action steps as we advance our Race and Equity work in the School. 

Distinguished Alumni Award:  Rogelio Riojas

Yesterday was an auspicious day for all of us who care about race and equity at UW.  Rogelio Riojas, M.H.A. ’77, President and CEO of Sea Mar Community Health Center and a UW Regent, accepted our School’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award.  Since graduating with his M.H.A., Rogelio has devoted his career to providing quality, affordable health care and access to jobs and education, especially for Latinos and migrant workers.  Sea Mar, now one of the nation’s largest CHCs, embodies a broad view of community health; it offers not only medical care, but dental care, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, affordable housing, long-term care, farmworker housing, and more.  It offers care to all, without regard to race, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, or ability to pay.

Governor Inslee named Rogelio to the Board of Regents in 2013, making him the first Latino regent in UW history.  As a Regent, he has made advancing diversity a top priority.  In fact, his own career has exemplified that commitment; for example, he has consistently hired and trained staff from the communities served by Sea Mar, and he leads a scholarship program that recruits and mentors students from migrant farmworker families.  Rogelio noted that diversity has been an unmet goal since his student days, and called on UW to redouble our efforts to achieve a diverse student body, staff, and faculty.

During his lecture, Rogelio described his own background as a migrant farmworker, his unlikely path to UW, and his student activism while here.  His story was deeply moving, and inspirational.  Rogelio described the formidable barriers that confront students from underrepresented backgrounds as they seek higher education, but his personal history, and his words, also conveyed a sense of resoluteness, hope and optimism—all highly relevant to our current work on race and equity.  His account of his student activism (with great photos!) had special salience, as student activists were in attendance at the event.  The students called for UW to divest from prisons—one of the very demands raised in advance of the April 15 rally. 

Prison divestment 

The University’s engagement with prisons is a new issue for me, and I’m still learning about it.  There are two specific aspects: purchasing goods manufactured in state prison inmate work programs, and holding investments in the private prison industry. 

Purchasing:  Washington’s state prisons have an enterprise called Washington Correctional Industries (CI) that relies on inmate labor.  CI produces goods, from furniture to food, and supplies them to state agencies.  There is state law (RCW 39.26.251) that governs such purchasing by state agencies, including UW.  A 2014 account by the Seattle Times painted a damning picture of CI, charging that it’s inefficient, its products are costly, it poses unfair competition to private firms, and it plays no useful role in vocational training or post-release job placement.  I don’t have any information on how much of this purchasing is done at UW.

Investments in the private prison industry:  This industry has grown enormously in the wake of widespread incarceration in recent years.  According to the ACLU, approximately 6 percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners in the U.S. are now held in for-profit prisons (in addition to inmates in some local jails in selected states).  Firms such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation) are billion-dollar companies, according to reports by the Justice Policy Institute and the Sentencing Project.  Private firms are also active in related areas, providing telephone service and health care in prisons, and bail services.  Such firms wield considerable political power, which likely impedes needed reform of the criminal justice system.  I don’t have any information on whether UW’s portfolio includes holdings in these companies, and if so, how much.

The question before us is the University’s participation in what’s been called the “prison-industrial complex.”  What is the nature and magnitude of this participation?  Does it represent complicity in the mass incarceration of recent decades?  As described in this year’s UW Health Sciences common book, The New Jim Crow, this mass incarceration disproportionately targets people of color, especially black men, and has had a devastating effect on millions of lives.  Mass incarceration is a public health crisis, as noted by sources from the Vera Institute of Justice to the New York Times editorial page to academic researchers.  It is also a moral crisis, given its discriminatory impacts and the damage it inflicts. 

How to get involved:  Fortunately, UW is addressing this issue, led by student Regent Vanessa Kritzer, in collaboration with administrators and engaged students.  Vanessa and her team are looking into both purchasing patterns (with Procurement) and investment holdings (with UW Treasury), to assess the extent of UW involvement with the prison industry.  In addition to assessing the problem, the team will identify possible actions.  I am optimistic that this process will lead to positive outcomes, as we saw last year when UW divested from coal companies.  As I become fully informed about this issue, and as specific options for action are identified, I expect to offer my support.  I urge those who would like to join that conversation to contact Vanessa ( 

I remain inspired by the student activism that has brought us to this point, and committed to the continued hard work of making progress toward diversity, equity, and inclusion.


April 28, 2016

Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr.P.H.
Dean, School of Public Health