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Janae Hubbard — FSPH equity, diversity and inclusion program manager — shares insight on wide-ranging topics, from her passion for EDI work and the Fielding School’s EDI priorities, to her athletic career and life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Janae Hubbard joined the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in February as the school’s equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) program manager. Most recently, Hubbard had worked at the Los Angeles LGBT Center as senior program manager for children, youth, and family services; prior to that, she served as associate director of multicultural affairs and social justice programs for Columbia University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. For Hubbard, who holds a master of social work degree from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York, the Fielding School position marks a return to her alma mater — she earned her undergraduate degree in African American Studies at UCLA, where she was a four-time letter winner in women’s basketball and led the Bruins to three straight NCAA tournaments.
In a conversation held in early September, Hubbard spoke on wide-ranging topics, from her passion for EDI work and the Fielding School’s EDI priorities to her athletic career and life during the COVID-19 pandemic with her wife and 4-year-old son.
Q: What appealed to you about this position?
A: I’ve been doing EDI work for a while, in different forms, but never as my official role. I was drawn by the idea that I could go beyond the interpersonal work I’ve been doing with Black, Indigenous, People of Color [BIPOC] individuals to help institute policy change here at the Fielding School so that BIPOC students, faculty, and staff feel they truly belong and that there is a structure in place that addresses issues of importance to them. I liked the fact that the Fielding School was designating someone entirely for equity, diversity and inclusion work as opposed to adding it to the other duties of a faculty or staff member. That told me there was a commitment, and when I met with the school’s leadership, I saw that there was the backing necessary to get this work done.
Q: In a nutshell, what are your responsibilities?
A: It’s to provide a sense of belonging for BIPOC students, staff, and faculty. For everyone within the school who falls under that identity, we want to provide the best experience, where they feel that their identity is represented, they have mentorship, they experience academic and professional success, and they feel that they belong. We want our BIPOC students, staff, and faculty to view the Fielding School as an amazing place that they would recommend to anyone. It’s my job to help create that type of environment.
Q: What are some of the ways you do that?
A: Part of it involves training faculty, staff, and students to understand their roles from their identity perspectives. For those who are non-BIPOC, how do we train them to address how systemic racism reduces opportunities for BIPOC-identifying individuals? For those who identify as BIPOC, how do we create spaces of opportunity and spaces of respite? How do we prepare public health ambassadors who go out from a place of empowerment, as opposed to a deficit perspective, into the communities of color that they may encounter?
Q: EDI is clearly important for any institution, but what is it about a school of public health that makes it particularly vital?
A: Just look at the issue of COVID-19, and the disparities we see in communities of color that are being highly impacted. We need public health professionals who can articulate what is happening, why we’re seeing this, and build support for those communities by addressing the wide range of contributing factors — everything from food deserts to lack of access to health care. Public health researchers and practitioners have to assess the whole picture, as opposed to just treating the disease, to understand why a community is more susceptible, and then educate that community and the public at large around that. Given public health’s community-based perspective, having a social justice lens is critical, and that’s one way EDI work can make a difference. It’s also important to bring an empowerment lens to our work with communities of color. We need to make sure that’s how our students are being taught, and BIPOC individuals can bring those viewpoints to the classroom and help to shape that conversation.
Q: What are some of the highlights among the school’s EDI-related initiatives for 2020-21?
A: One of the biggest pieces will be the faculty trainings, which will be addressing anti-Black racism and what that looks like. The school is also creating funding opportunities for research and evaluation, and that’s where we can change the narrative in addressing these issues of empowerment and looking at how we evaluate the work we do. And a third important initiative involves the curriculum — bringing in the scholarship that’s out there around empowerment models with BIPOC communities. I think these and other steps we’re taking are going to change the trajectory of what EDI looks like. Our goal is to move beyond awareness and to implement active change, and in this next year, we are planting those seeds through these and other concrete steps.
Q: What has made you so passionate about this field?
A: I got my master’s in social work — a field that is very synergistic with public health — and I have always done work on a community level, based on the idea that if the community is strong, it makes everything around it stronger. So my interest has been in empowering young people from different identities and affinities — addressing their needs, but then moving from the interpersonal to the political and policy levels. Over time, I’ve concluded that EDI work, more than individual work, is what shifts those experiences by addressing the systemic change that’s needed. I’ve learned that you do have to address the personal as you’re addressing the systemic, but it’s that systemic change that’s required to really make an impact.
Q: You were previously in a very different profession. What happened with your basketball career?
A: Yes, that was my first career, and I thought I would do that my whole life — play professionally, then become a college coach. I had won the Fresno shooting title where I grew up, and set a record in high school for the most points scored in multiple games during the playoffs. I loved playing for UCLA — we did really well, advancing to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16. I went on to play professionally in Greece, but I kept getting injured. I had seven stress fractures in the same place, and just before my WNBA tryout, I fractured my foot again, and my doctor told me this problem wasn’t likely to go away.
As I was rehabbing and deciding what I was going to do next, I would regularly go to Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus. One day I was shooting around, and Magic Johnson, who was part of a game there every morning, invited me to play. I couldn’t believe it — he was my childhood hero. During the game he made a beautiful pass to me, I made the shot, and it was like a dream. Then at the end he said, “You’re a really good player.” At that moment I decided that if Magic Johnson tells me a good player, I’ve done everything I can do — this is where I get off the basketball train.
Q: What is it that you love about the sport?
A: My dad was a basketball player, and I have two older brothers who played football, one at Stanford, so I grew up around sports. I started playing at 5 and I loved it. As I got older, it allowed me to do so much. I got to travel everywhere, I got to meet many different types of people, and I got to play at UCLA, which was a dream come true. I loved the energy of playing in front of big crowds, and I was very much a student of the game, always looking five steps ahead to see what I needed to do in order to make a move and dominate.
Q: You were in New York City for graduate school and your position at Columbia University. How does it feel to be back in Los Angeles?
A: I love L.A. — this is where I want to stay. I like the idea that you can have either a fast or leisurely pace here, and that you have a mix of the slower life with lots of culture and diversity.
Q: What do you do when you need a mental health break to help you cope during the pandemic? Any favorite escape TV or reading?
A: Oh, sure. When this all started I got in to Tiger King on Netflix. Then more recently, when I’m looking to relax and not think too much about anything, I enjoy watching Chopped. It often inspires some type of dinner we have — my wife and I joke about what mystery ingredient we can find in our fridge that we can add to the meal. And, since we have a 4-year-old son, I’ve been watching a lot of old Disney movies. As far as reading, I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but my guilty pleasure is to surf the gossip columns. You can ask me anything about what’s going on with a current celebrity and I’ll know the answer.
Q: Any special activities you’ve particularly enjoyed during this time?
A: We got a membership to the L.A. County Arboretum, and we go there at least once a week. We can be outside, and the people are far enough away that you don’t feel overwhelmed. We just bring a blanket and hang out — I’ll kick off my shoes and walk on the grass a little bit, and my son loves to chase around the peacocks. That’s been our retreat when it’s not too hot.
Q: What’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face?
A: Definitely my wife and son. We’ve been doing this now for more than six months, and of course there are moments of frustration, but overall we’re so grateful to have each other, and I know I wouldn’t be this happy going through this with anyone else.
Q: What might people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I did play bass guitar in a punk band for a few years in my younger days. That’s something I enjoy and would like to get back in to, I just haven’t had a chance.
Q: What’s your message to Fielding School students who might want to reach out to you?
A: My office hours are a great opportunity for them to come and share with me any interests they have in promoting identity-based activities they would like to see at the school. It’s an opportunity to share, or to vent. In the past I would always say my door is open, and now I say my Zoom is open. We’re all looking for community, and I’m happy to share space with people.