MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health is using its largest philanthropic gift ever to establish a center for antiracism research.

The university announced Wednesday that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota donated $5 million to start the Center for Antiracism Research and Health Equity.

Serving as the center’s founding director will be associate professor Rachel Hardeman, a Minneapolis native and internationally recognized scholar in the fields of health equity and reproductive health.

“As a Black child growing up in Minnesota, it was clear to me from a very young age that not everyone was afforded the same opportunities to achieve optimal health and wellbeing,” she said, in a statement. “I saw very real examples of racial health inequities in my own family and within the broader community. I have dedicated my career to advancing racial justice so that Black communities can live full, healthy lives, and I see no better place to do this than right here at home.”

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According to researchers, people who are Black, Indigenous or otherwise of color experience health issues and death rates at levels that exceed those of their white counterparts in Minnesota and across the country.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, Black Minnesotans have been shown to be dying at a rate five times higher than white Minnesotans, when the numbers are adjusted for age.

The Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity will focus on developing antiracism research, fostering community engagement, and shifting the narrative so that whiteness is not held up as the ideal standard for human health.

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According to the university, antiracism research is a way of approaching public health based on the idea that racism is a fundamental cause in health inequities. The research will focus on how systems and policies have created conditions for inequities, thereby allowing researchers to produce possible solutions and community initiatives.

Craig Samitt, the president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, said that the racial reckoning sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year prompted the company to invest in the university.

“In order to transform our state, inspire change and improve health, we can’t just say the right things – we must do the right things,” Samitt said, in a statement. “We believe that Blue Cross’ investment in the creation of the Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity will serve as a catalyst to advance health equity and dismantle racism from the structure and fabric of our society.”