Defining DEI

The words we use can guide our personal and collective attitudes, behavior, and philosophy. The School of Public Health (SPH) Office of Diversity and Equity established the definitions below to create a shared understanding of our work to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. For questions, contact Lauren Eldridge, associate director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, at


According to Merriam-Webster, diversity refers to the state of having people of different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization. At SPH, we welcome people from many backgrounds. We value the richness of diversity in all areas, including race, gender, sex, religion, and many more. As a land grant institution, we strive to have our community better reflect the neighborhoods and cities where we live and serve. Identities are complex, personal, and dynamic, and often determine the kinds of privileges we are granted.


We also recognize the historical and ongoing oppression of specific communities and that additional effort is required to create an equitable organization. Again, referring to Merriam-Webster, equity is fairness or justice in the way we treat people. In our approach to equity, we are committed to ensuring that people from marginalized communities are able to thrive in our school as faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and as community members connected to our research. Understanding intersectionality, which looks at how oppressions based on identity interact with and affect each other, is key to equitable health outcomes.

Inclusion, Justice

Inclusion can be defined as the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded. Ensuring that we hear the voices and experiences of people who are marginalized and ignored is critical to achieving equity. Justice goes a step further and asks us to correct previous systemic and personal wrongs. As a top ten school of public health, we can use our influence and resources to make essential changes.

Institutional Racism, Structural Racism, Anti-Racism

Racism is the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially contracted racial hierarchy that privileges white people. We recognize that Black and Indigenous people in the United States have endured centuries of unique and layered oppressions that continue to affect them into the present day, including chattel slavery and forced colonization. Additionally, other communities of color, including those who have recently arrived, have to contend with the complexities of interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism.

Institutional racism is racial inequity within institutions, such as universities, government agencies, and social services. It is the policies, practices, and procedures that work to the benefit of white people and the detriment of people of color, usually unintentionally or inadvertently. Structural racism is the interplay of policies, practices, and programs of differing institutions which leads to adverse outcomes and conditions for communities of color, compared to white communities, that occurs within the context of racialized historical and cultural conditions. It was purposely built into the systems that organize our society — such as law enforcement, banking, education, city planning, medicine, and housing, as well as organizations that give power and belonging. It dehumanizes communities and prevents all of us from having authentic relationships across races, and from truly flourishing as a society.

As an organization that is more than 75 years old, SPH recognizes the need for a fundamental shift in our views and actions to achieve our highest ideals and lead the way we should. For these reasons, we have made anti-racism — an active and conscious effort to challenge racism in any form — central to our DEI framework. SPH is committed to seeking solutions based in anti-oppression and anti-racism.

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