Equity, Inclusion and Diversity

Facing Institutional Racism: Our Approach and Our Commitment

A message from Dean David Weil

January 2021

As a graduate school dedicated to social justice, Heller has a duty to confront the racial injustice that pervades our social policies, our institutions, and even our school community. The current moment demands a racial reckoning in America, with legal and societal transformation and the return of dignity and respect for every individual.

The challenge

Racial injustice intersects profoundly with the multifaceted health and social policy challenges we face today, such as COVID-19, the associated economic recession, threats to U.S. democracy, and climate change. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless other Black Americans are stark examples of ongoing police brutality and systematized racism. The underpinnings of racism and anti-Semitism in the riots at the U.S. Capitol similarly revealed these deeper linkages.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Black and Brown communities in local areas like South Boston and Chelsea, Massachusetts, as well as across the country, have been disproportionately affected by the virus. At the same time, those communities are more likely to face unemployment or to be essential workers—facing greater risk of exposure to the virus and more likely to lack critical protections like sick leave, protective labor laws, and adequate childcare, leaving them vulnerable to unemployment and eviction.  

Our approach

Using a philosophy of continuous improvement, evidence-based practices and targeted interventions, Heller seeks to create a more equitable, inclusive and diverse environment through our academic programs, research institutes and community relationships. 

Our plan to address systematized racism at Heller is extensive and ever-evolving based on the needs of the community. We know that to fully achieve our motto of “knowledge advancing social justice,” we must create a community of belongingness for all to achieve higher quality academic and research outcomes for everyone. Transparency is essential in this work. I invite you to follow our progress through the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) framework, a nationally-recognized, standardized framework of 165 metrics for measuring diversity, equity and inclusion in our community. 

Our research institutes have long focused on identifying social disparities and evaluating or promoting policies intended to resolve these inequities. This work ranges from examining the racial wealth gap to revealing chasms in children’s access to opportunity to improving access to health care for marginalized populations

Across our academic programs, our faculty and leadership are reexamining course syllabi and teaching approaches to address systematized racism. We are committed to increasing domestic diversity in our incoming classes, and expanding financial assistance to make a Heller education possible for students of all backgrounds.  

We also recognize that our faculty, researchers and staff must better reflect the communities they study and teach. While Heller has introduced many changes to our recruiting processes, inequity persists in hiring and retention, so we remain committed to progress. 

One step the Heller community can take is to join the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge, inspired by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. While many members of the Heller community joined the challenge or attended a student pro-seminar on the same topic in January 2021, the challenge can be completed at any time. I urge all faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends to visit the 21-Day Challenge page for readings and resources to complete the racial equity challenge on their own, and to visit the recommended readings and resources page for additional opportunities to learn and continue this important work.  

To our students

For our students of color, particularly our Black students, the burden of living in a society where racism persists, while also working toward a degree and a career focused on social change, is exhausting. I recognize that it is far from easy to simultaneously process historic trauma and ongoing discrimination while completing their academic requirements. That’s why Heller and Brandeis have worked to increase resources to support your self-care and mental health needs while doing this difficult work. Visit the Support at Brandeis website for a full list, which include the following confidential resources: 

  • The Brandeis Counseling Center offers individual therapy, group therapy, and workshops. 
  • The University Ombuds (brandeisombuds@brandeis.edu) provides a safe space to talk confidentially about difficult situations and offer conflict resolution support.
  • The Center for Spiritual Life offers counseling, support and community to students of all faiths. 

Taking on the issue of systematized racism requires a multi-pronged approach and an open and participatory process and we look to ongoing dialogue as a way to update and improve our efforts. Though work is underway, there is still much more to do.