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Dana and David Dornsife

Dana ’83, HD ’14, and David Dornsife, HD ’14

Transformative gift establishes Center on Racism and Health

A $9 million gift from Drexel University alumna Dana Dornsife and her husband, David, to the Dornsife School of Public Health will help launch a new Center on Racism and Health, recruit and retain faculty experts on racial inequities in health and endow the deanship for public health. The longtime philanthropists, widely known for their humanitarian efforts, are the largest single benefactors in the University’s history, having donated more than $70 million. The School of Public Health was named in their honor after a $45 million gift in 2015.

“I’m deeply grateful to Dana and David for their incredible generosity, which has transformed both the University and the Dornsife School of Public Health over the past five years,” said President John Fry. “Now with this gift, we will advance solutions to society’s most pressing public health problems as they impact communities of color and lead the way in eliminating health disparities for all.”

In addition to their naming gift to the Dornsife School of Public Health, gifts from the Dornsifes have established the Dana and David Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, the Dana and David Dornsife Office of Experiential Learning at the LeBow College of Business, and the Dornsife Global Development Scholars program, which partners with World Vision International on development projects related to water, sanitation and hygiene in Sub-Saharan African countries.

“David and I are thrilled to continue our journey with Drexel as we grow the capacity of the Dornsife School of Public Health to improve population health for all and, especially, to be a force for good in the struggle for racial justice,” said Dana Dornsife. “The new Center on Racism and Health is another step on the School’s exciting trajectory to becoming a global leader in public health research, education, training, practice and policy.”

The new gift will allow the Dornsife School of Public Health to elevate research on racial inequality and health disparities. The proposed Center on Racism and Health will leverage strengths across the Dornsife School’s departments, the Urban Health Collaborative and many partners across the University synergizing and elevating existing work on racial health inequities and promoting new work.

All over the world there are renewed calls to address racism as the public health crisis that it is. We are thrilled that this gift will allow us to elevate and expand critically needed research, training and policy work in this area at Dornsife and at Drexel more generally.

Founded in 1996 on the principles of health as a human right and the importance of social justice to health, the Dornsife School is committed to improving population health and promoting health equity by generating rigorous evidence and transforming that evidence into actions. The Dornsife School has a special emphasis on improving health in cities, eliminating health disparities and promoting health in all policies.

“All over the world there are renewed calls to address racism as the public health crisis that it is,” said Ana Diez Roux, dean of the Dornsife School and Distinguished University Professor of Epidemiology. “The Dornsife School has a responsibility to respond to this crisis. We are thrilled that this gift will allow us to elevate and expand critically needed research, training and policy work in this area at Dornsife and at Drexel more generally.”

The major goals of the Center will be to:

  • Advance multidisciplinary, anti-racist public health research and scholarship rooted in historical context, contemporary theoretical frameworks and rigorous, innovative methods.
  • Provide anti-racist public health educational and training opportunities for students and public health professionals.
  • Foster engagement in anti-racist practice and advocacy to advance health equity and racial justice through alignment with social justice movements and equitable local, national and global partnerships.

To achieve these goals, the proposed Center will focus on structural racism and racial inequities in urban contexts and how these intersect with pressing population health challenges like police brutality and climate change. The Center will also adopt a global perspective linking local work in Philadelphia to similar challenges facing cities worldwide. The Center will be complimentary and synergistic with Drexel’s recently established Center for Black Culture and will aim to forge partnerships across the University.

“Grounded in the lived experiences of those most directly impacted by racism, this Center will provide an opportunity for innovation and impact in addressing the root causes of racial health inequities in Philadelphia and beyond,” said Sharrelle Barber, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and in the Urban Health Collaborative. Barber has been chairing the planning group to launch the new Center.

“The year 2020 has brought into sharp focus the deadly consequences of racism and the critical need for academic initiatives that provide dedicated spaces to engage in rigorous, multidisciplinary scholarship and training and collective action with communities to understand these processes and spearhead evidence-driven policy and advocacy that combats the health consequences and inequities of racism,” says Barber.

The gift will allow the Dornsife School to hire two new faculty members whose work focuses on racial inequities and health. Resulting from the 2015 gift, three additional professorships were named in recognition of the Dornsifes and are currently held by Alex Ezeh, Dornsife Professor of Global Health, Gina Lovasi, Dornsife Associate Professor of Urban Health, and Brisa Sánchez, Dornsife Endowed Professor of Biostatistics.

Additionally, endowing the deanship for public health will support strategic initiatives for the Dornsife School, enabling the named dean to strengthen departments and programs, and support faculty and professional staff across the Dornsife School with the aim of advancing its reputation throughout the United States and the world.

Dana and David Dornsife are well-known for their steadfast philanthropic focus on improving the quality of life for all people. Both received honorary degrees from Drexel in 2014. Dana Dornsife received her bachelor’s degree in business from Drexel in 1983. She is the founder of the Lazarex Cancer Foundation and serves as its president and CEO. David Dornsife, a University of Southern California trustee and 1965 alumnus, is chairman of the Herrick Corp., the largest steel fabricator and contractor on the West Coast.

The gift marks a major advance in Drexel’s $750 million campaign, The Future Is a Place We Make. 

This story is adapted from an article that originally appeared in DrexelNow.

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