New Racial Justice Institute Co-Director Combines Psychology and Public Health to Advance Health Equity
February 22, 2021 – One of the distinguished scholars to join the university’s new Racial Justice Institute (RJI) uses his expertise in the fields of psychology and public health to promote health equity through the lens of ethnicity, gender, and race.
Dr. Derek M. Griffith – currently a professor of medicine, health, and society and founding director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt – will begin his new role at Georgetown July 1, serving as founding co-director of RJI.
As a university-wide effort across the Law Center, Main, and Medical Center campuses, RJI will be a leading-edge, multidisciplinary research and outreach organization. (Read more about the launch of the institute and the founding directors.)
Griffith will hold a joint appointment with the institute and as professor with tenure in the Department of Health Systems Administration in the School of Nursing & Health Studies, a part of Georgetown University Medical Center.
“You have to set your sights high. And I think we have a unique opportunity that we are aspiring to for this to really be a global model and a global hub for research, policy, and interventions to promote racial justice and racial equity. So, we’ve set that as our goal.”
-Dr. Derek M. Griffith
He will have a secondary appointment in the Department of Oncology and full membership with the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. Within RJI, he also will carry the title of founder and director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health Equity.
Griffith says Georgetown’s strong institutional commitment – including from President John J. DeGioia and university leadership – to the initiative is what attracted him to the directorship role.
“If you look across the country and, frankly, across the globe, there are very few university-level entities that explicitly focus on race, that are explicitly about justice, and that are seeking to intervene at the intersection of the two,” Griffith said. “So that alone made coming to Georgetown a particularly exciting, attractive, and important place to spend the next phase of my career.”
Griffith is a renowned scholar whose work has been funded by the American Cancer Society, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, among others.
His many publications include the recent books Men’s Health Equity: A Handbook (Routledge 2019) and Racism: Science & Tools for the Public Health Professional (APHA 2019), both of which Griffith co-edited.
“I’m very much interested in both the factors that contribute to health inequities, as well as how do we actually achieve health equity,” he notes. “How do we actually move towards the point where we’re trying to achieve something and intervene to improve lives – the health and wellbeing of populations – not just study why it is bad and how bad it is?”
“If we think about racism as a system or a structure that is consistently disadvantaging some groups and advantaging others, we need to look at that very explicitly through expressive culture, policy, and law and how they intersect with health and well-being.”
-Dr. Derek M. Griffith
Griffith has focused his work – particularly in cancer and heart disease – on analyzing poor health outcomes among men, describing variations based upon race and ethnicity, and proposing multilevel intervention strategies.
Cancer prevention and control is one of Griffith’s interests. Given that, he says he is planning to collaborate with colleagues at Lombardi.
“There’s a very strong focus on women’s health and breast cancer, particularly community-based approaches to Black women’s health, within the cancer center”, he says. “What I hopefully will be able to bring is a complementary focus on men’s health, particularly Black men’s health, to these efforts. So again, it’s not competing with Georgetown’s existing structures or interests, but it hopefully will complement those in a particular way.”
‘A Global Model’
Griffith says that he is looking forward to helping students form a strong knowledge base and skills in his areas of expertise, as well as working – in an interdisciplinary way – with institute colleagues to create conversation and change regarding racism and justice.
“Dr. Griffith brings distinguished expertise that will catalyze our efforts to integrate racial equity concepts in teaching, research, and scholarship. And in light of recent events that have amplified the relationship between health and racial injustice, his arrival is timely. His contributions will deepen our work at the local level and open doors that expose students to unique experiential opportunities.”
– Dr. Christopher King, chair of the Department of Health Systems Administration
“If we think about racism as a system or a structure that is consistently disadvantaging some groups and advantaging others, we need to look at that very explicitly through expressive culture, policy, and law and how they intersect with health and well-being,” Griffith says, noting that Georgetown’s institute will allow the scholars to “reimagine things from a global perspective that we could not do in other places, other institutions, and that would not have the high-level support and backing.”
He says he and his colleagues – Dr. Anita Gonzalez (Department of Performing Arts) and Professor Robin A. Lenhardt (Georgetown Law) – are setting aspirational goals for themselves in their work together to lead RJI. (A fourth faculty leader will also join RJI and the McCourt School of Public Policy.)
“You have to set your sights high,” Griffith says. “And I think we have a unique opportunity that we are aspiring to for this to really be a global model and a global hub for research, policy, and interventions to promote racial justice and racial equity. So, we’ve set that as our goal.”
By Bill Cessato