Message from Director Peter Berman Against Racism and Discrimination

As a human being and as a U.S. national, I am saddened and deeply disturbed once again facing the reality reflected in the recent, tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in my country of birth.  Continued, widespread, and too often violent discrimination against people of colour in Canada and the United States must again call us to action in population and public health. Prime Minister Trudeau spoke out, saying: “The status quo – where people face violence because of the colour of their skin – is unacceptable.”

Desmond Tutu famously said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Now, again and still, we must clearly be on the side of those fighting for equity and against racism and discrimination.

UBC, Vancouver, and British Columbia are very diverse communities. While what is happening these weeks in the U.S. may seem a bit distant from our experience here, we should not forget the widely reported incident of the racial profiling of Shelby McFee, a visitor to our campus in 2019. Discrimination is a local reality and it can be directed to many different perceived differences, racial and others.  As President Santa Ono reminded us this week “As a university, we need to make it crystal clear that racism and bias have no place in our community and that we have zero tolerance for it.”

We all must respond to the calls of our community by actively working to end racialized and other types of violence and discrimination. It starts with ourselves, by questioning our implicit bias and actively working to become more aware of the words and actions we choose.

Racism and discrimination are socially-constructed determinants of health. They create inequity through many channels like housing, employment, education, health care, and interaction with the justice system. This discrimination is strongly associated with increased risk of death, disease, and disability.  As public health academics, professionals and students, we are called on to speak and take up our collective role in fighting racism and discrimination as a cornerstone of our work in promoting health equity.

We have been bombarded these days with images of violence, anger, and destruction. Our media amplify these images and they command our attention.  I want to note as well the images I have been seeing of thousands of diverse citizens in cities all across the U.S. coming out to demonstrate peacefully their solidarity against racism and discrimination. Black lives matter to many, many people.

Statements and peaceful protest are not enough to make changes to long-standing systemic discrimination. We must also act beyond the moment. As individuals, we can help by following UBC’s Equity and Inclusion Office’s suggestions for solidarity and action.

As the Director of the School of Population and Public Health at UBC, I commit to:

  • Engaging SPPH and myself fully in UBC’s efforts to fight racism and discrimination in all its forms on campus, in our communities, and in the world;
  • Supporting our community members in their efforts to do their part. We can all find some useful resources here.
  • Amplifying the impact of population and public health in advancing equity and the well-being of all through our research, education, and contributions to results;
  • Being an available, thoughtful, and compassionate recipient of your ideas and lived experiences to do better in our community. Share with me how we can improve.

Join me and B.C.’s political leaders in taking the #differenttogether pledge. As a public institution, UBC belongs to all of us together. We need to commit to equity in the experience of all at our university. Let us use these disturbing days to renew our commitment to working to ensure that every member of our community feels welcome, safe, and knows they belong here.


Professor and Director
School of Population and Public Health