State bans on ‘divisive concepts’ could stifle population health research

April 25, 2024

Ten states have passed legislation that prohibits teaching and mandatory training for students, faculty, and staff in public higher education on specified 'divisive concepts' related to race and sex. In four of these states, the bans extend to all public employees.

In a new Milbank Quarterly Opinion, Ford School health policy professor Paula Lantz and graduating master’s student Emma Carter (MPP ‘24)  review the bills and argue that many of the 'divisive concepts' are rooted in evidence-based research critical to understanding and addressing disparities, especially in population health. The authors believe that these laws risk compromising academic freedom, education quality, and program accreditation, and could stifle discourse and research.

Concerns about chilling effects cannot be underestimated, the authors write. “The outcry from the population health community needs to be loud and clear: the concepts of structural determinants of health, systemic sexism and racism, structural advantage/disadvantage, unconscious bias, and limitations in meritocracies are not ‘woke ideologies,’ but rather evidence-based concepts that are fundamental to understanding both achievements and ongoing challenges in population health and well-being." 

Excerpted from the Milbank Quarterly. Read the opinion here.