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U Belong Unveiling U Belong Unveiling
U Belong – A Diversity Initiative

The Department of Public Health Sciences (DPHS) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, held the first-ever U Belong event, as part of an initiative from the Standing Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” a famous phrase most of us have heard or even used at some point. Sometimes words do not suffice to express our feelings, or we are not quite sure how to put our thoughts into words. When that happens, you might find yourself turning to music, painting, or another expressive act. With this in mind, U Belong was developed.

“What is inclusion and what does it mean to you?” 

These were the questions posed to staff, faculty, and students, who had the opportunity to answer by participating in a photovoice exercise. Created by Caroline Wang & Mary Ann Burris in the early 1990s, photovoice provokes significant questions and feelings through imagery, leading to viable change and ideas.

In the presence of staff, faculty, and students, submissions were unveiled at the U Belong unveiling event on Tuesday, November 29th, at SALT Waterfront restaurant, located within University of Miami's RSMAS campus.

David Lee addressing the audience.

David J. Lee, Ph.D., Chair of DPHS, opened up the evening by  welcoming and addressing the audience. “Tonight is our first event in what we are referring to as the U Belong Series. We are really trying to support the notion of diversity and inclusion within our department,” said Dr. Lee. “We really want to take a moment to pause, to celebrate one another, and come together in one space, which is something that we couldn’t even do just a year or two ago.”

“Tonight is an evening for us to pause, reflect, be grateful for all that we have, and recharge,” he added.

The U Belong Series was given much thought, from location to content to how all the submission photos would be displayed. After much consideration, the Graduate staff decided on the photovoice exercise in hopes to spark conversations that bring to light social injustices, but also identify needs and solutions to these issues in a distinctive way.

Viviana Horigian.

“We thought that pictures can speak our feelings, our thoughts; and that is what you see here today, a slideshow of what inclusion means to you,” said Viviana Horigian, M.D., M.H.A., Professor in DPHS. “To me, it has no boundaries. If you see a line, it is because you are standing on one side of it,” she added.

Shari Messinger, M.E., Ph.D., Professor in DPHS, also addressed the public. “I am thrilled that you are all here because you know what, and I don’t mean to sound cheesy, but you belong. You belong here,” said Dr. Messinger.

“People feel like they don’t belong, and we have to ask ourselves, what can we do to remedy that,” she continued.

Dr. Messinger, who is also Vice Chair of Faculty Development for DEI, is part of an initiative to develop a statistical literacy bill for Congress in order to find long-term solutions for what she refers to as a systemic disease.

“Hatred, bigotry, prejudice, all against principles of DEI, do not just happen in the workplace, they start early on; it is a culture, a systemic disease. The only way to treat it is as a public health problem,” she said.

Dr. Messinger, alongside other professionals, is working on solutions within the workplace and the university environment. Nonetheless, she believes that solutions need to be established far earlier; in communities and through education.

Shari Messinger.

The bill aims to make an early intervention through   education in order to provide opportunities for children with limited resources, particularly in terms of interpreting statistical data. For Dr. Messinger, it is crucial to create an inclusive environment in educational settings that could lead to future professionals with lived experiences represented by diversity. She described it as “seeing things with a broad scope that represents all people in order to generalize conclusions to the population desired to serve.”

The evening was concluded by Elahe Nezami, M.A., Ph.D., professor in DPHS, urging everyone to hold hands and share the love that exists in DPHS, while witnessing the unveiling of a “U” shaped collage made from all the photos that were submitted for the occasion.

The photo slideshow will be available for viewing on the monitors on the 9th floor of CRB. The collage and pictures will also be displayed in the lobby, as well as in classroom 989. 

Written by Deycha Torres Hernández
Published on December 15, 2022