Rachel Hardeman is looking forward to taking her passion for racial justice out of the classroom.
The Golden Valley resident and professor was recently chosen to head a center for anti-racism research with the University of Minnesota, and she was selected as a Bush Fellow to level up on her leadership skills.
She’s also the mother of an eight-year-old, a lover of travel and food, a fitness guru and a huge Lizzo fan.
So far, the fellowship has connected Hardeman with a coach, centered her on a path to intentional self-care, and offered her a space to “dream big.” She hopes that the fellowship will help her become the change she wishes to see in the world.
The Sun Post caught up with her to talk about her ambitions, drawing passion from life experiences, and how to stay connected as she continues her journey.
Congratulations on the Bush Fellowship. Where is it going to take you in the next year and a half?
Receiving the Bush Fellowship was an honor and an incredible and rare opportunity to focus on me.
My life’s work is to manifest racial justice for Black women and girls through my work as an academic researcher and the director of an innovative and groundbreaking research center focused on antiracist research. To do this work effectively and to be the leader I want to be, I must cultivate a skill set that allows me to be bold and visionary.
In addition to securing the fellowship, you’ve also founded the University of Minnesota’s Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity. What need does the center respond to?
CARHE is a natural evolution of my life and career. I have deep roots in Minnesota and in our communities of color, and I strive to have my research directly connect back to communities impacted by structural racism. My vision for the center is manifested from my commitment to achieve racial justice and optimal health for Black communities and other communities of color.
Your work involves so many things: race, public health, and parenthood. Did your career begin with one, and lend itself to the other?
I was born and raised in Minneapolis. I love my home, but I also saw from a young age that not everyone in this community is afforded the same opportunities to be healthy.
Throughout middle school and high school, I spent many evenings and weekends going to hemodialysis appointments with my grandmother, who suffered from kidney failure. She experienced so much discrimination and indifference by her medical providers that she eventually decided to stop the treatment that was keeping her alive. At age 16, I lost my grandmother because she was tired of dealing with a health care system that didn’t seem to care about her.
After graduating from Breck, I attended undergrad at Xavier University of Louisiana where I very clearly saw racial inequities in everything from health care to education and housing. I also studied public health and medicine in Cuba for two years, where my eyes were opened to the possibility of a health care system that leads with equity. It inspired me to return to Minnesota to earn an MPH in public health administration and policy. Thanks to incredible mentors along the way, I decided to earn a PhD in Health Services Research Policy and Administration.
During my doctoral training, I focused on understanding what was at the root of racial inequities in health in our society which led me to critical race theory and building a portfolio of work steeped in antiracist research.
As I was finishing my doctoral program, I gave birth to my daughter, Leila, which made me acutely aware of the persistent inequities in pregnancy and childbirth for Black women in the United States. My pregnancy experience was one that every birthing person regardless of their race should have access to. My focus on reproductive health equity in my research has stemmed from the fact that I have seen what is possible and I will work tirelessly to ensure that all birthing people are able to have the pregnancy and birth experience they want and deserve.
What is the biggest misconception that people have about racism in health care?
Racism is a fundamental cause of health, which means we have to apply anti-racism to institutions that affect the fundamentals of our lives and communities. If you work in health care, you should view understanding structural racism as a core professional competency. No matter what your role or specialty, structural racism impacts your team, your work, your collaborators, and your community. Self-reflection, continuing education, and intentional anti-racist policy changes will make you, your work, and your communities stronger.
I’m sure this work is also deeply personal. Do you have to make a concentrated effort to separate your work and your personal life?
This work can be heavy. America’s institutions were built on white supremacy, and confronting that deeply-ingrained, institutional and structural racism can be brutal and disheartening. That’s why it’s so important to stay grounded in the communities and loved ones whom we serve. I still struggle to find a work-life balance, but seeking advice, accepting support, and saying, “no” so I can prioritize myself and my family keeps me strong for the work I do.
What do you think will be most difficult for you as this fellowship progresses?
As a Black woman, the challenges I face in my career directly mirror experiences surviving and thriving despite systemic racism. For me, the most difficult thing is the urgency of the issues my research seeks to address. Change does not happen fast enough and in the meantime Black communities and communities of color continue to suffer. The Bush Fellowship was created so that leaders can focus on themselves and do the things they need and want to do to elevate their leadership capabilities. For someone like me who has given selflessly in the name of racial and social justice, to take the time to be selfish in a sense and really focus on me feels difficult and challenging at times.
If people want to follow your journey as a Bush Fellow, where should they look?
Subscribe to the CARHE newsletter. This keeps subscribers up-to-date on my research and the work of my colleagues and mentees: bit.ly/2Y57Dx3.
You can also visit my website RachelHardeman.com or follow me on Twitter: @RRHDr.