To advance its commitment to the principles of social justice and health equity, the University of Washington Department of Global Health created the new position of Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). James Pfeiffer, UW professor of global health and of anthropology, has been selected to inaugurate the role.

Pfeiffer will serve a one-year term, effective January 31, 2022. He will continue to serve as a senior faculty member of both global health and anthropology and as the executive director of Heath Alliance International (HAI).

“We’re in a racial reckoning provoked by the George Floyd uprisings,” said Pfeiffer. “There's more potential and possibility to really move forward the work we've been trying to do for years around DEI, decolonization, and anti-racism.”

Pfeiffer, whose passion for social justice motivated him to pursue a career in academia, has an extensive background in DEI, decolonization, and anti-racism work both within and outside university settings. As HAI Executive Director, he helped lead the organization’s Advocacy Committee, which has focused on issues ranging from international debt and health systems in the Global South, to war and public health, to racism in global health and foreign aid practices. Over this past year, in the spirit of decolonization, Pfeiffer has helped lead the transition of HAI’s grants and projects to local NGOs.

“James will bring his extensive experience to help launch and coordinate the first phase of our ambitious commitment to change, as well as help us to identify the next leader to serve in this role for our department,” said DGH acting chair Carey Farquhar.

From 2014-2019, Pfeiffer was the School of Public Health (SPH) representative to the UW-wide Diversity Council. In that role he helped develop the current UW Diversity Blueprint. He was one of the founding members of Concerned Faculty UW, created in 2016 to address concerns about racial profiling by police at UW, and he is currently a member of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR) Economic & Racial Inequity Task Force.

Hugo Puerto is a graduate student in the concurrent MPH in Global Health and PhD in Anthropology degree program at UW. He says he was immediately drawn to working with and learning from Pfeiffer, who chairs his dissertation committee, because of their shared passion for health and social equity.

“Professor Pfeiffer is the right person to inaugurate this role because he listens to the voices of BIPOC communities and sincerely cares,” said Puerto. “He has been advocating for students of color by providing support and using his own privilege to amplify our voices.”

Over the next twelve months, Pfeiffer will work in close collaboration with the DGH DEI Committee, which he notes has already done a tremendous amount of work and planning prior to his appointment. This will include continual outreach to diverse DGH constituencies to ensure a collective process for priority-setting.

Additionally, two important issues Pfeiffer says he hopes to address during his term are diversifying global health faculty at UW and leveraging the department’s prominent role in the field to drive more equitable partnerships between the Global North and the Global South.

“If we’re not actively trying to train change the structure and the way we hire, we're not going to see change,” said Pfeiffer. “By embracing this opportunity to change the way we work in academia, we’re poised to make a real difference in the way global health is conducted around the world.”

By Amy Frances Goldstein