Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health  

Philadelphia,  PA 
United States
  • Booth: 134

The Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University was founded on the principle of health as a human right and the recognition of the importance of social justice as a means to achieve health for all. Our mission is to provide education, conduct research, and partner with communities and organizations to improve the health of populations. We view health as a human right and have a special commitment to improving health in cities, eliminating health disparities, and promoting health in all policies.

Located at the heart of University City in Philadelphia and linked to a diverse set of local and global partners, the School offers bachelor’s, master’s, dual degrees, and doctoral degrees in all areas of public health. Explore our website to learn more about our graduate degree programs, including our on-campus and fully online MPH and MS programs, as well as our on-campus doctoral programs. We also encourage you to join us for our APHA information session, or schedule an individual appointment with Dornsife Admissions staff.

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  • Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health and College of Nursing and Health Professions recently received a 5-year, $14.4 million “Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation” (FIRST) grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to hire, retain and support diverse, early career researchers with a focus on health disparities research on aging, chronic disease and/or environmental determinants.

    FIRST is a novel initiative launched by NIH with the goals of enhancing and maintaining cultures of inclusive excellence in the health research community and supporting the career development of diverse faculty.

    Drexel is one of six institutions nationwide receiving funding as part of the inaugural FIRST cohort, and the sole recipient in Pennsylvania.

    The funding will drive the development of a transformative and sustainable infrastructure to support faculty at Drexel. It will create evidence-based mentorship and sponsorship programs, build a community of scientists in health disparities research engaged in population health to intervention science research and establish policies and procedures for faculty recruitment, retention and progression. The grant will provide for the recruitment and career development of 12 diverse, early career scientists at the tenure-track, assistant professor level. It will also support their efforts to submit competitive NIH research grants in health disparities research. The goal of the grant is to create sustainable institutional changes necessary to promote inclusive excellence for all and it includes innovative ways to evaluate the success of the program at multiple levels, including its scientific impact.

    “Today, more than ever, we recognize the importance of conducting rigorous research into the drivers of health inequities so that we, as a society, can take the actions we need to improve health,” said co-principal investigator Ana Diez Roux, MD, PhD, Dana and David Dornsife dean and distinguished university professor of epidemiology at the Dornsife School of Public Health. “Achieving this goal requires a diverse faculty who can raise new questions, provide new interpretations and generate innovative solutions. This new program will allow us to attract and support faculty working in these areas and will energize health disparities research at Drexel generally.”

    The grant reflects a shared commitment from the colleges to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in recruitment, retention and promotion across careers at Drexel. It also reinforces the link between two recently adopted University strategic goals: to foster an inclusive and equity-driven culture and to strengthen transdisciplinary research. In this instance, more diverse faculty leads to more innovative research in aging, chronic disease and environmental determinants.  

    “When research lacks input from diverse researchers, our research questions and measures are inadequate and the communities most in need very often are not included in research studies,” said co-principal investigator Laura N. Gitlin, PhD, distinguished university professor, executive director of the AgeWell Collaboratory and dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions. “When this happens, our understanding is incomplete and health disparities are not meaningfully addressed; that is, knowledge generation does not translate into actions that reduce health inequalities. This funding ensures that research faculty from historically under-represented groups not just contribute to but lead critical and impactful research in this area.” 

    The grant involves three cores co-led by Drexel faculty who are nationally recognized in their areas of expertise; an administrative core co-led by Diez Roux and Gitlin, a faculty development core co-led by Leslie Ain McClure, PhD, professor in Dornsife School of Public Health and Stephanie Brooks, PhD, clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, and an evaluation core co-led by Maria Schultheis, PhD, professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and Girija Kaimal, EdD, associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.  An internal advisory board of key administrators and deans at Drexel, and an external advisory board of national experts in health disparity research, along with many faculty throughout the university, who will serve as mentors, will participate in this transformative opportunity.

    The structure of the grant exemplifies team science and an inclusive approach to transforming the research enterprise. Once developed, new programming will also be available to existing faculty and staff at the University to foster an inclusive environment and maintain the program’s viability beyond this grant funding.

    “This grant comes at a time when we are not only continuing to invest more in diversity, equity and inclusion across the University, but also employing this lens to re-evaluate everything we do,” said Aleister Saunders, PhD, executive vice provost for research and innovation. “It is imperative that we continue to support a collaborative structure involving University leaders, academic units and faculty in the shared goal of supporting and fostering research excellence."

    The principal investigators noted that the long-term goal is to transform university research policies, procedures and culture and create a sustained pipeline of outstanding, diverse faculty who are well-positioned to be successfully promoted and substantively contribute to health disparities research with significant impact on individual and population health outcomes.

  • Drexel University will officially establish and name a new center on racism and health as The Ubuntu Center on Racism, Global Movements and Population Health Equity. The Center was made possible through a generous gift from philanthropists Dana and David Dornsife to the Dornsife School of Public Health earlier this academic year. Opening in Fall 2021 and housed in Dornsife, the Center will be led by inaugural director Sharrelle Barber, ScD, MPH, an assistant professor at Dornsife. Dornsife will also launch a search for two new tenure-track faculty whose work is aligned with the aims of the Center this summer. 

    “We are delighted to launch the Ubuntu Center at Dornsife,” said Ana V. Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH, Dana and David Dornsife Dean and distinguished university professor of epidemiology. “The Center’s mission and approach are perfectly aligned with the historical commitment of our school to advance social justice in the pursuit of health equity here in Philadelphia and all over the world. I am also especially pleased that the Center will integrate and address the many ways in which structural racism and inequities impact health, including the critical roles of history, systems, policies, and the environment.”

    Barber, a faculty member in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Urban Health Collaborative at Dornsife, has led research on the impact of structural racism on racial health inequities, locally in Philadelphia, nationally in Jackson, Mississippi, and globally in Brazil. 

    When searching for a name for the Center, Barber reflected on the past year, looked to her experience in Brazil and recommended the South African principle Ubuntu -- “I am because we are.” 

    The name “is not an anemic commitment to unity without accountability and justice, but rather a radical act of solidarity rooted in our shared humanity, unapologetic truth-telling, and a commitment to bold collective action that dismantles oppressive systems, disrupts narratives, and dares to imagine and build the just and equitable world we all deserve,” said Barber. “The name connects us to a long lineage of transformative social movements locally, nationally, and globally from which we draw strength, insights, and inspiration.”

    “When the School decided to form a center to address racism and health, I immediately thought of Sharrelle as a leader in this work,” said Diez Roux. “Her research exemplifies her knowledge in understanding health inequities in the U.S. and internationally and her passion for community-centered solutions makes her an excellent liaison between the university, community and partners.”

    The Ubuntu Center’s mission is to unite diverse partners, generate and translate evidence, accelerate antiracism solutions, and transform the health of communities locally, nationally, and globally. It is rooted in the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; the state-sanctioned violence by law enforcement in 2020, most notably the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd; the resulting protests that were sparked globally; and the renewed sense of urgency around racism as a public health crisis.

    “The COVID-19 pandemic has held our world in suspended reality for more than a year and in that time of reflection, the crises facing our societies have emerged in stark relief,” said Irene Headen, PhD, assistant professor of Black Health in the department of Community Health and Prevention at Dornsife. “Racism is one of these leading challenges facing public health in the 21st century. Garnering the resources, tools, scholarship, and practices to dismantle its impact on the health of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color is critical.”

    The Ubuntu Center will connect antiracism and population health scholarship and action locally and nationally to ongoing work happening in other parts of the world. It will build on the research and expertise of affiliate faculty and COVID in Context, a data and digital storytelling project designed to document the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in Black communities in Philadelphia and amplify the voices of communities hardest hit by the pandemic. 

    The Center envisions a just future, free of systems of oppression, full of new possibilities through bold collective action, and an equitable world in which all individuals and communities are healthy and thrive.

    “I hope this center can serve as an example of what is possible through bringing people together, building relationships, developing community and working together to dismantle systems and mechanisms that constantly work to divide and oppress us as a people,” said Patrice Farquharson, a recent MPH graduate and Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Antiracism (IDEA) Fellow. “We are stronger together.”

  • Workplace Covid-19 vaccination mandates have largely survived a first wave of legal challenges even as the number of lawsuits over them has soared with their expanded use.

    Workers and advocacy groups have filed at least 39 federal cases this year, contesting vaccination requirements imposed by employers or governments, with 85% of them arriving after Aug. 1, according to a Bloomberg Law review. Courts have denied requests for temporary orders against mandates in 12 of the suits, while seven have ended with dismissals.

    “What we’ve seen so far in the courts really demonstrates how durable and well judicially supported vaccine mandates are,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

    The only pro-challenger rulings involve exceptions to mandates rather than the validity of the mandates themselves. Two courts have temporarily blocked New York from enforcing its health care worker vaccination rule on those with religious objections to the shot. Another court issued a temporary restraining order against United Airlines Holdings Inc.'s blanket policy of putting public-facing workers on unpaid leave if they have a religious or medical reason for not getting inoculated.

    The initial results of mandate litigation provide employers with added confidence and support what many employment lawyers and legal scholars have been saying about the clear legality of workplace mandates since before Covid-19 vaccines became available.

    Companies, which have a legal obligation to keep their workers safe, generally can require inoculation via their power to set and enforce the terms of employment, lawyers and scholars said. Still, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for those with health or religious reasons for not getting the jab. Those with unionized workers may also have an obligation to bargain over mandates.

    The U.S. Supreme Court blessed the constitutionality of government vaccine mandates with its 1905 ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. Justice Amy Coney Barrett in August rejected a bid to block an inoculation requirement for Indiana University students that could have let the court reassess its longstanding precedent on mandates. Justice Sonia Sotomayor similarly turned aside a petition seeking a stay of New York City’s vaccination mandate for school employees.

    “Opponents of vaccine mandates took on a heavy lift and they discovered that they weren’t Atlas,” said Robert Field, a professor of law and public health at Drexel University.

    But the Supreme Court’s recent decisions that bolstered religious rights have called into question whether government requirements must allow for faith-based objections, legal observers said. Although courts have halted enforcement of the New York health care worker vaccination rule on religious objectors, a federal judge refused to follow suit on a similar regulation in Maine.

    Looming on the horizon is a major legal battle over the Biden administration’s plan to require large employers to mandate vaccination or regular testing. That dispute, however, will likely turn on whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the power to issue a regulation calling for workplace mandates, not the legality of requiring workers to get the shot.

    Courts may also have to resolve whether that federal rule trumps state restrictions on workplace vaccine mandates, like the one that Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has rolled out. International Business Machines Corp., American Airlines Group Inc., and Southwest Airlines Co. said they will follow a federal inoculation requirement for government contractors, potentially setting the stage for a clash over federal and state power.

    Vaccine Authorization

    The first cluster of lawsuits against workplace inoculation requirements, filed in the first half of 2021, focused on the vaccines’ authorization as an emergency product. Workers claimed that federal drug approval law refers to such products as “unapproved” and says individuals have an option to refuse them.

    A Texas federal judge handed down the first ruling on that argument in June, throwing out a lawsuit against Houston Methodist Hospital. That decision is on appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

    Two months later, regulators upgraded the vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and its partner BioNTech SE from “Emergency Use Authorization” to full “Biologics License Application” approval.

    “Once the Pfizer vaccine made it from EUA to BLA, that took the winds out of the sails of an argument that seemed more rhetorically if not legally powerful,” said Glenn Cohen, director of Harvard University’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics. “Without that card to play, the challengers have much weaker-sounding arguments.”

    Anti-Mandate Arguments

    Most of the cases targeting vaccination mandates remain pending, with some cases reaching appellate courts. But aside from lawsuits targeting how religious or health-related accommodations are treated, the allegations against vaccination requirements haven’t gained traction in courts.

    Constitutional claims brought against companies have failed because private employers aren’t state actors, while they’ve fizzled against public employers due to the high court’s Jacobson ruling.

    Some challengers who’ve been infected by the coronavirus and recovered have asserted that they don’t need to be vaccinated. At least two courts have rejected that argument, noting that policies that require workers to get the shot are valid despite competing evidence on “natural immunity” versus the protection from vaccination.

    A lawsuit from Southwest pilots could test the authority of employers to require unionized workers to get the shot without any negotiations. The pilots claim that the airline violated the Railway Labor Act by unilaterally imposing its mandate.

    Religious Objections

    Federal anti-discrimination law calls on employers to accommodate religious objections, although Supreme Court precedent gives them the power to deny those exceptions if they could cause more than a minimal burden.

    The law is unclear, however, on states’ duty to exempt workers with religious reasons for skipping the shot. Six states don’t provide religious exceptions, including California and New York, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has issued rulings—like the one temporarily lifting New York’s pandemic-related capacity limits on houses of worship—that expanded religious liberty by giving it what some call “most favored nation status,” said Lindsay Wiley, a public health law professor at American University. That may mean state vaccine mandates that give health-based exceptions must also provide them for religious objections, she said.

    U.S. District Judge Jon Levy’s decision denying a bid to block a Maine rule on health care worker vaccination that doesn’t have religious accommodations shows that it’s still an open question. The judge applied high court rulings expanding religious liberty and still declined to grant a preliminary injunction against the inoculation requirement.

    “In the unique context of a vaccine mandate intended to protect public health, there is a fundamental difference between a medical exemption—which is integral to achieving the public health aims of the mandate—and exemptions based on religious or philosophical objections—which are unrelated to the mandate’s public health goals,” Levy said in the ruling.


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