Building Community through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Jenny Crawford

Jenny Crawford

Executive Secretary, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education

Jenny Crawford was awarded the School of Public Health's Staff Eugene Feingold Excellence in Diversity Award for her contributions to the school's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Established in 2004, the Feingold Award recognizes and honors faculty, staff, and students who champion diversity efforts throughout the school and contribute positively to an environment of inclusion.

Crawford serves as the department's staff representative to the school-wide DEI committee and is known as an action-oriented colleague who moves initiatives forward with equal commitment to ideas from faculty, staff, and students. She leads a monthly book club that discusses diversity-related books and recently instituted a current-events dialogue series to provide a community forum to discuss important topics.

I joined Michigan Public Health because it was a perfect fit. I worked in mental health for 20 years prior to joining the university. At age 18, I started college and at 20 my career working for Synod Community Services as a mental health worker in a group home. Pursuing my passion for advocacy, I left school and focused on my career, eventually working my way up to become an administrator. At age 35, I went back to college part-time and plugged away until I earned a bachelor's degree in Women's Studies from Eastern Michigan University. I knew this wasn't a necessary step for me, but I went back to fulfill the personal desire of earning a degree that aligns with my passion.

I knew that I wanted to join the University of Michigan community when I decided that it was time for a career change. I've always been connected with the Ann Arbor area and since childhood have considered myself a Wolverine. I'm especially grateful that I landed in the Health Behavior and Health Education department because the work being done here aligns with my past experience and interests. The good and kind people here are my favorite part of being a member of the Michigan Public Health community.

Due to my prior experience in mental health, advocacy is in my blood. Soon after starting at Michigan Public Health, I advocated to make single-stall restrooms gender neutral, in order to be more inclusive of the transgender members of our community. I worked with the dean's office and fortunately, it worked. A few years later, after noticing the use of pictures of faceless overweight bodies in some public health materials, I initiated a meeting with marketing and communications to discuss how those types of pictures contribute to objectification and dehumanization of overweight people. I didn't know it at the time, but this was the beginning of my DEI involvement here at the school.

The university wanted people to hit the ground running on DEI initiatives, so that's what we did. I joined the school wide committee after a conversation with Cleo Caldwell. She suggested that I become the committee's Health Behavior and Health Education staff representative. I was initially concerned about my workload. But our conversation led to me sharing my other advocacy efforts. Cleo then responded, "Well then, you're perfect!" That was the push that I needed to get involved.

Everything we do for the DEI committee is grounded in community building. We want to bring community members from across the school together to share their thoughts and feelings on diverse and potentially controversial topics that affect our community everyday. I have been told that people lose interest when they see DEI or state that they don't want to attend DEI events to avoid argument. I point out that we are not creating these spaces to argue. We are instead encouraging students, faculty, and staff to come to the table with an open mind, because we want to share those differing opinions and have it all be okay. We are intentionally gathering together to talk about our differences and to learn from one another. 

These are important conversations to have. How are we going to solve anything if we can't even talk about it?

Paul Fleming and I clicked immediately after he joined the committee and we put some initiatives into action. We took on the mindset of "trial and error with improvement."

We started the Brown Bag Book Club in May 2017. Every fourth Thursday of the month, we meet during the lunch hour to discuss that month's book. All the books are diversity-related and selected by member votes. It's been going great so far with 12 books read and consistent attendance by faculty and staff from across the school.

From the book club stemmed the Current Event Dialogues. This idea originated from the October 2017 book club meeting, which covered congressman John Lewis's March trilogy of graphic novels. Because of the novels' subject, we decided to add a public health activism discussion and advertise the book club school-wide, for the first time. It was a productive, open discussion about how marching impacts now versus the 1960s and how social media effects activism. We had received feedback from students that there weren't any opportunities to discuss current events, so after this extended book club meeting, we decided to create that space with the Current Event Dialogues. We now host this event on the second Thursday of every month at lunch time and have covered such topics as free speech, immigration and gentrification.

These are important conversations to have. How are we going to solve anything if we can't even talk about it? For years, I was mute—unsure what to do about the issues we now discuss openly. That's a feeling we want to eliminate for others by providing these opportunities.

Moving forward, I'd like to look at diversity in aspects other than race. We're at a moment in time where race is an important topic to cover and which we are intentionally addressing. However, there are other relevant topics to explore. Size acceptance, weight stigma, and disability are examples of public health related topics that we need to address, particularly around language. These are topics I hope to explore in future events.