Olivia Okereke, MD, MS
I want our department to be a place where BIPOC providers, researchers and patients see themselves reflected.
Director, Center for Racial Equity and Justice, Department of Psychiatry, Mass General
Olivia Okereke, MD, MS, inaugural director of the newly established Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry’s Center for Racial Equity and Justice, is leading anti-racism efforts in the department, the psychiatry field, psychiatric research and more. We recently caught up with her to learn more about her work.
Q. What was the impetus behind establishing the Mass General Psychiatry Center for Racial Equity and Justice?
The Center for Racial Equity and Justice grew out of a task force on anti-racism that Maurizio Fava, MD, chief of the Department of Psychiatry, established in 2020 amid a growing societal awareness about the impacts of racism—for example, as reflected by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) patients, as well as multiple incidents around the nation that highlighted pervasive and destructive impacts of racism. The goal was to establish an anti-racist culture in the department, support diversity, equity and inclusion (D, E & I), and put forward racial equity and justice solutions relevant to psychiatry. The task force identified the need for a Center for Racial Equity and Justice dedicated to these efforts.
Q. What are some of your first priorities?
We have three initial priorities. The first is quite fundamental: increasing academic knowledge within psychiatry about racism and its mental health impacts. The second area is promoting racial equity, diversity and inclusion in psychiatry research. It’s not just about the questions being asked; it’s also about who is asking them? Our third priority is collaborating with other anti-racism and D, E & I efforts across the hospital, Mass General Brigham and Harvard Medical School. Sharing what we learn is very important, so that our findings inform the larger conversation about the drivers of disparities and some of the solutions.
Q. In five years, what do you hope will have changed because of the Center’s work?
In five years, I hope members of our department are leading conversations and making major contributions toward achieving racial equity in psychiatry—through academic publications, education and more. I hope we are propelling real change in representation across our department at all levels and disciplines—psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, administrators, and particularly in the lack of diversity among researchers. I want our department to be a place where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) providers, researchers and patients see themselves reflected—without feeling like an “exception”—and feel they can stay for a long time.