The new University of Minnesota Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity, funded by a $5 million donation from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, focuses on research and education. It also serves as a resource on anti-racism to address long-standing health inequities.
“We want to bring a focus to the systemic issues and institutional issues that continue to have Black and brown people die at higher rates than non-Black people,” said Miamon Queeglay, manager of community engaged research at the center.
Anti-racism research combats all forms of racism. Whether somebody makes a clearly racist comment or a system is discreetly racist, anti-racism combats all of that without discretion.
The work of the center is vital, as health data paints a stark picture of inequities across the nation. For example, Black women in the United States are 3 to 4 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than white women, regardless of income and education levels, according to the center. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the persistence of deep racial disparities in infection, in health equity and in outcome, according to Brookings, with Black people having a higher rate of contraction and death.
Institutionalized racism also contributes to higher rates in Black and brown people of the most common chronic conditions suffered by Americans, including diabetes, heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Queeglay emphasized that by focusing on this, the center can help reduce such widespread health inequities, providing solutions to reverse such worrying trends.
“How is the system causing these disparities to happen?” Queeglay asked.
The center will address this question through education and training on structural racism and health inequities. It fosters authentic community engagement to address the root causes of racial health inequities and drive action; helps change the narrative about race and racism to one that does not hold up “whiteness” as the ideal standard for human beings; and serves as a trusted resource on issues related to racism and health equity.
Gains are already being made. This year, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill driven by the center’s work. The bill will help pregnant women by giving them access to affordable and quality care before and after the pregnancy.
The people who work at the center strive to be leaders in anti-racist health research, but anti-racism research and disrupting the institutional and systemic causes of racial health inequities both in Minnesota and across the country are complex, Queeglay said.
Ultimately, through its tools and research, the Center will expand awareness about health disparities within Black and brown communities and build a curriculum for professors and physicians that will help them better understand marginalized groups and how to better care for them.