Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

DEI During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • The COVID-19 Pandemic disproportionately affects certain communities
  • Specific groups affected by the virus face discrimination and inequalities related to poverty, employment, housing, food access, and health
  • Take action - Learn how to respond to bias and discrimination

Content provided by the Department of Psychiatry's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) seeks to promote awareness, intercultural responsiveness, inclusive relationships, and resolve conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted minority populations in many different ways. A key aspect of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is learning about the systematic and historical structures that have created the disproportionate burden of disease. So what are the racial impacts of COVID-19 and how can you respond effectively?

Communities Disproportionately Affected by COVID-19

The burden of COVID-19 disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities. While the data is limited, the breakdown of cases in the state of Michigan and other states shows that African American communities are more affected by the pandemic than other communities. African American communities have higher rates of infection and a higher death toll. In addition, over the last several months, there has been a reported increase in bias and discriminatory behavior towards Asian American communities related to fear about COVID-19 and historical prejudices. We must also recognize that experiences of racism, including discrimination, bias, harassment, and microaggressions add to the overall stress that racial and ethnic minorities experience. Racial stress is correlated with reduced ability to cope and poorer mental health outcomes.

Social Determinants of Health - Poverty, Employment, Housing, Food Access, and Health

Poverty, access to healthcare, unemployment, and housing insecurity are also central to how this pandemic disproportionately impacts some. Groups that work in essential industries like public transportation, grocery store employees, and paid caregivers are at higher risk of the disease and exposing those they live with due to on-going community exposure. These industries also offer limited benefits around paid time off and sick leave. Those who reside in government assisted housing projects and homeless shelters also have limited ability to socially distance and disinfect living environments due to overcrowding and poorly maintained facilities. Millions of children and families also rely on free and reduced food programs through schools. As many states and communities close schools for the remainder of the academic year, it is essential to think critically about how to ensure nutritional needs are met for children who qualify for these programs, especially given the negative impacts of food insecurity on physical and cognitive development. In addition, stigmatized groups are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, to have difficulty accessing culturally appropriate care, and to face bias in healthcare systems, all of which make it more difficult of contain the spread of viruses.

How to Respond to Bias and Discriminatory Behavior

As a community, we share responsibility for effective and appropriate public health practice. Just as we wash our hands and maintain social distancing, we must implement behaviors to embrace and value diverse communities to reduce bias and stigma.

  • Spread the facts: Share clear, concise, and accurate information with particular focus on marginalized communities.
  • Challenge and correct myths, rumors, and stereotypes: Challenge others whose language promotes bias and stigma. Use a non-confrontational and non-judgmental tone. Speaking up against bigotry will help keep our communities safer and healthier.
  • Identify trustworthy sources to rely on: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are two credible resources to stay connected to. In addition, align your prevention practices with official recommendations.
  • Consider the real risk factors associated with the virus: Remember, the initial spread of COVID-19 is linked to a geographical location, not to a single race or national origin.
  • Support those who experience prejudice and discrimination: Listen and validate the experiences of others.

Historically, health has been used to discriminate against others. It is our responsibility to take action to contain the spread of racism and discrimination, just as we are working to contain the spread of COVID-19.