Office of the Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity

Maria Madison, associate dean for equity, inclusion and diversity

Maria Madison

In October 2017, the Heller School welcomed Maria Madison as the Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity (AD EID), the first to hold this position. Madison has over 20 years of experience in evidence-based research and management, especially in the design and implementation of clinical trials both in the U.S. and globally. Throughout her career, Madison has managed multidisciplinary, multicultural teams in various challenging settings and consistently engaged with social justice issues.

In addition to her role as Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, Madison also serves as director of Heller's Institute on Assets and Social Policy.

Madison is an educator, and currently holds an adjunct faculty position at the University for Global Health Equity in Kigali, Rwanda. She is also the founder and president of the Robbins House, Inc., a historic home and nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness of African-American history in Concord, Mass. Madison earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in environmental policy and public health from Tufts University, and an ScD in population and international health from Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

The creation of the AD EID position was largely advocated for by Heller students, many of whom participated in Ford Hall 2015, a 12-day student sit-in protesting a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at Brandeis University. 

Maria Madison can be reached at, by phone (781-736-3886) or in Heller-Schneider office 119.


Community Resources and Messages 

8 minutes and 46 seconds: The Aftermath (June 15, 2020)

This Friday, I ask the Heller community to observe an 8 minute and 46 second vigil in honor of George Floyd and to commemorate Juneteenth this week.

8 minutes and 46 seconds: The Aftermath

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a hate crime is an “offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” Furthermore, for the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

The FBI logged 7,106 hate crimes in 2017.  Among these, 58% were related to race, ethnicity or ancestry. Half of the racial crimes committed were characterized as “anti-black or anti-African.”  Over 50% of hate crime offenders were white and 21% were African-American. 

In 2018 the data hold steady, supporting the long trend that hate crimes in America are predominantly committed against black people by white offenders. 

Today, black people are 13 times more likely to be killed by police officers than whites. And as reported by the FBI 2019 data, white on white homicides are greater than black on black homicide.

If we were to look at historical incarceration rates, popular media and cinema, we would believe that blacks are a violent race. We would see military-style police facing black Americans exercising their right to protest.  The images portray a narrative counter to the evidence. The images’ goal is often to advance the idea of black viciousness, an ancient idea established centuries ago to justify brutal force, submission. 

We can place images side by side from centuries ago with the image of George Floyd pinned on the ground June 2020. The police officer’s knee in George’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds is parallel to the stark image of an 18th century enslaved black man named Mark hanged and tarred, his body displayed in an iron gibbet in Somerville, Massachusetts.  The image of his charred, decaying body was seared in the minds of the community. Twenty years later, Paul Revere reported “seeing” Mark’s body still hanging, in detailing his famous ride during the American Revolution.  Northern slavery was far from benign, and the image of Mark’s gibbeted body was intended to intimidate blacks who may want to flee slavery.  The goal of the scarring, branding, and lynching of blacks was to create images to be seen as a warning to blacks.  Eight minutes and 46 seconds of the police officer with his knee in George’s neck. The officer didn’t wince when being filmed, the act was an exhibition of power, a warning to onlookers to submit. The knee replacing the gibbet, a continued tradition of control through exhibition, power and intimidation.      

On June 3rd National Geographic reported the death of George Floyd as “a modern-day lynching,” as “black people continue to die at the hands of police and vigilantes, the nation faces its long history of racial violence.”  That violence has to be named. It has been white on black violence and structural racism.  The hate of black people, the fear of black people, the ignorance and stupidity of white supremacy must stop.

Despite this backdrop of hatred, blacks turned and tilled the earth, toward the development of human culture.  According to W.E.B. DuBois, in The Health and Physique of the Negro American, “While much of the history of early invention is shrouded in darkness, it seems likely that at a time when the European was still satisfied with the rude stone tools, the African had invented or adopted the art of smelting iron.”  Our local, regional and global cultures are interdependent. Our labor and inventions created comforts and joy, music, science, and art. The 54th helped sway the tide in the Civil War.  Our 761st helped to liberate Jews from concentration camps. 

On June 9, House and Senate Democrats introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which would prohibit federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling, and mandate training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.  A modest step in a grand experiment.

What you can do:
Learn and teach black American history and ingenuity. Vote. Support policies that work against gerrymandering, support fair housing, equitable education and schooling, availability of nutritious foods and health services, fair wages, and meaningful employment. Invest in market driven approach for local municipalities. Fight repugnant and benign ignorance. Fight discrimination.  Invest in black businesses to regain what has been taken. Support Latinx, Indigenous and other disenfranchised populations, brutalized through systems of oppression. Dismantle systemic racism. If used wisely, there are enough resources to share. 

"Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere." (May 29, 2020)

Perspectives: Bridging the Disparities Gap in the Opioid Crisis (December 2019)

Perspectives: Bridging the Disparities Gap in the Opioid Crisis (Heller Magazine, Winter 2019)

Maria Madison and Andrew Kolodny, medical director of Heller's Opioid Policy Research Collaborative, discuss how the prevailing narrative around the opioid addiction epidemic fails to recognize its effects on nonwhite populations.

Read the article here.

Excellence Rising: A Fresh Start on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at Heller (May 2018)

Excellence Rising: A Fresh Start on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at Heller (Heller Magazine, Summer 2018) 

By Maria Madison

The 2011 Heller Strategic Plan recommended developing “programs, policies and procedures that would embed equity, inclusion and diversity in the fabric of Heller’s academic and work environment.” In January 2012, Dean Lisa Lynch established a Diversity Steering Committee, first chaired by Professor Anita Hill and composed of students, faculty, staff and alumni, that was charged with developing programs that would bring diversity of all types—racial, gender, sexual orientation and identity, national origin, ethnic, socioeconomic and intellectual—to the faculty, research staff, administration and student body at Heller. In addition, the Committee was asked to play a lead role and coordinate initiatives that would foster an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of the Heller community. My position as the first associate dean for equity, inclusion and diversity has its roots in these discussions.

The school launched diversity programs as far back as 2014 that included training sessions, curriculum assessment and research review. The Heller community had entered a new world, and was experiencing an intense desire to better realize its motto of “knowledge advancing social justice.” Both the Strategic Plan and Diversity Steering Committee came on the heels of another cyclical era of tense relationships between law enforcement and minorities in this country that included the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Rodney King and Rekia Boyd, among others.

(Continue reading this article)

Notes from Heller Community Forum (April 12, 2018)

Presentation: Equity, Inclusion & Diversity Updates (March 2018)

Memo: The heART of the deal (Jan 13, 2018)

Memo: The heART of the deal 

Dear Mr. President,

I am going to take your ignorance as a teachable moment.

Over 400 years ago my ancestors were stolen away from countries you called “shitholes,” by people from countries you deem represent a better class of people. My ancestors were brutally parsed between those who were “seasoned” (i.e., beaten and tortured into submission, ears slit, backs lashed to a pulp, bodies packed alive into coffins) to become free laborers versus those who were forced to walk the plank through the Door of No Return, fed to awaiting sharks if they seemed unsuitable for ocean travel. Who does that?

In the heart of the deal, Europeans absconded millions of Africans to provide free and skilled labor in creating America. These earliest Africans trained the new pilgrims in planting techniques that staved off hunger of the earliest colonies, built the White House and railways, created the elevator, refrigerator, lawn mower, furnace, the blood bank, open heart surgery, etc. Among them were my ancestors, and possibly yours too.

The earliest Africans were beaten and dehumanized and worked long hours each day with limited rations and no pay. What a deal. When their ranks were reduced by the abolition of slavery, they were raped to create a replacement yield of free labor. I am that legacy with my family’s fair skin. Those who resisted were lynched. Who does that?

My ancestors bought 40 acres and a mule—though it was promised to them for free—and then more land and created machinery and devices that benefitted their families and their communities. Despite bigotry, they were among the fortunate who could climb out of poverty. Others succumbed to the relentless dehumanization over generations, exploited. Who does that?

So here is the educational lesson. Deep within each of us is a hero, a genius, an artist, a mathematician, a resilient entrepreneur from a mosaic of deep ancestral global roots. Deep within each of us lurks an idiot, an ignorant bigot, a blind man or beggar from somewhere around the world. Which do you choose to unleash? What of your ancestors will you carry forward? Will you carry forward their industry, the ways they built their wealth? How did they find the courage to overcome the odds? Was it off of the backs of free and/or exploited skilled labor; the art of the deal?

Where are you from? What are your ancestors’ stories? How do you define a shithole country? Certainly there are shithole people, who exploit people for profit. To condemn nations from whom the global culture has risen is just stupid, the kind of stupidity that pollutes the world and places subsequent generations at risk.

Memo: This month in social justice history: “A Freedom Budget for All” (Jan 11, 2018)

This month in social justice history:  “A Freedom Budget for All”

A lesson from Martin Luther King Jr.

Fifty-one years ago in January 1967—after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin drafted their prospectus toward the practical liquidation of poverty in the United States by 1975. They named their proposal “The Freedom Budget,” attacking all major causes of poverty including unemployment, wages, housing, health, education and legal/fiscal policy. The Freedom Budget was 84 pages including statistics, charts, graphs and methodology, and was considered a Marshall Plan for the disadvantaged. With this manifesto, Randolph declared that “we have both the resources and the know-how to end unemployment and poverty…The millions of unemployed and the more than 30 million living in poverty take on the aspects of a national crime.” The team met with economists and social scientists to work out a $10 billion/year, 10-year budget that called for...

Download to continue reading Maria Madison's Month 3 memo (PDF). 

Memo: Looking Back on Month 1 as AD DEI (Nov 16, 2017)

Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (AD DEI) Month 1

I am honored to be a member of this inquisitive, ingenious community. During my first month as AD DEI within the Heller community, while on a “listening tour,” someone passed me a napkin. Written on the napkin were various notes, but in the center they had jotted down the name Audre Lorde. I couldn’t help but go back and reread Lorde’s collected work of poetry. One in particular, “The Seventh Sense", resonated with my experiences during these first weeks at Heller...

Download to continue reading Maria Madison's Month 1 memo (PDF).

Interview: A conversation with Maria Madison (Nov 15, 2017)

A conversation with Maria Madison, Heller associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion

Bethany Romano, Heller Communications: I’d like to start our conversation with the larger context of positions like yours—chief diversity officers and deans or associate deans of diversity, equity, inclusion, and/or belongingness. It seems that these kinds of leadership positions are becoming more and more relevant—and prevalent—in higher education. What are your thoughts on that?

Maria Madison: Absolutely. We’re seeing a shift in our educational system, towards a more conscious effort to meet the demands of educating an incredibly diverse population. There’s greater awareness that the previous approaches have often left marginalized populations behind. Elite institutions that are trying to make a difference, such as many Ivy League schools, as well as Heller and Brandeis. These institutions have made it a priority, based on student demands, to become increasingly diverse. But as they try to recruit enrollment for diversity, they are not necessarily nurturing these students or recognizing the challenges they may have experienced.

(Continue reading this interview.)

Op-ed in Huffington Post: The Role Of Museums In Unmasking Society’s Inequities (Oct 18, 2017)

The Role Of Museums In Unmasking Society’s Inequities

By Maria Madison, ScD

Whether through a painting, artifact or object, thoughtful museums and historic sites share stories that can shape society. Annually, thousands of individuals visit our small historic site, The Robbins House, in a quiet corner of the world in Concord, Massachusetts. The house commemorates the legacy of a previously enslaved Revolutionary War veteran and his descendants. Visitors are surprised to learn that there was slavery in the North. Once that is explained, they believe that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves and everyone became equal citizens. Once that history is explained, visitors then believe that the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments made everyone equal. Once the Reconstruction Era and its demise are explained, visitors believe everyone was made equal by the first Civil Rights Act of 1866, or the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

(Continue reading the op-ed on the Huffington Post.)

Letter to the Heller Community (Oct 7, 2017)

Letter to the Community


Dear Heller Community,

In 2017, nearly 80 American Colleges and Universities won the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award created by “Insight into Diversity.” The award measures an institution’s “level of achievement and intensity of commitment in regard to broadening diversity and inclusion on campus through initiatives, programs, and outreach; student recruitment, retention, and completion; and hiring practices for faculty and staff.” One of the goals of the award is to “help institutions assess their diversity efforts in order to build on their success and improve where necessary.” The award also provides avenues for increased community pride, marketing opportunities and quality improvements in education outcomes and careers. Heller will use the HEED award metrics to benchmark progress, based upon national standards. Through this process, Heller seeks to achieve progress within a reasonable period of time. Ultimately Heller would see improvement in recruitment, retention and satisfaction across the community.

The themes by which colleges and universities are judged parallel the list of demands from Heller students: diversity, equity and inclusion (belonging) in pedagogy, faculty, staff, student body, facilitation and training on communication, hiring, curriculum development and classroom communication.  

Various schools across the country have achieved HEED “Champions” status. The 2017 awardees include Columbia University, Indiana University, Kent State University, and the University of Cincinnati, among others. Let’s strive together for Heller to join the list of Champions, as defined within our school (preliminarily independent of the University). This process requires behavioral change rooted first in an awareness of implicit bias.

My proposed process for working toward the HEED Champion status begins with a parallel approach that includes formal and informal approaches. The formal channels include working with colleagues to create pathways towards standards and policies regarding recruitment, retention, and curriculum, for example. Informal channels include one-on-one discussions, coffees and lunches with select students, faculty and staff. 

Through these parallel approaches, I hope to build consensus around a work plan to advance our DEI objectives (objectives which align with HEED metrics). While we can expect some early wins, this process can take many months and years.  Thank you for your patience in rolling out these ideas and plans.  I look forward to speaking with as many individuals and groups as possible to bridge the Heller divide.

Best Regards, 

Maria Madison

Associate Dean, DEI

Press Release: Welcoming Maria Madison (Oct 2, 2017)

Global health researcher, nonprofit founder and scholar Maria Madison to be the Heller School’s first Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion

By Bethany Romano, MBA’17

Waltham, MA—The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University has selected Maria Madison as the Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion (ADDI), the first to hold this position. Madison has over 20 years of experience in evidence-based research and management, especially in the design and implementation of clinical trials both in the U.S. and globally. Throughout her career, Madison has shown a strong ability to manage multidisciplinary, multicultural teams in various challenging settings and has consistently engaged with social justice issues.

(Continue reading press release here.)

Contact Information

Maria Madison, Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity

Office: Heller-Schneider 119

Phone: 781-736-3886