Newswise — A new institute at Saint Louis University has been established to help eliminate disparities caused by systemic oppression and to promote healing. The Institute for Healing Justice and Equity (IHJE) will begin its groundbreaking work in St. Louis with a founding investment by SLU of more than $1.7 million.

Through research, training, community engagement and public policy development, the Institute will help build equitable communities by assessing and promoting best practices that foster healing from social injustice, trauma and oppression.

“Like the other Co-Founders of IHJE, I have dedicated my career to improving the lives of vulnerable individuals by eradicating the systems and structures of oppression that prevent individuals from attaining equal access to health care, employment, education, and housing,” said Ruqaiijah Yearby, J.D., M.P.H., professor of law and executive director and co-founder of the Institute. “This Institute is noteworthy because our work is grounded in the concept of Humanizing Equity, which we developed to illuminate the need to incorporate healing practices into equity measures as a means to address the psychological and physical harms of oppression.”

An interdisciplinary collective of researchers and scholars, the Institute also was co-founded by Kira Banks, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology; Keon Gilbert, DrPH, associate professor of behavioral science and health education; and Amber Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of communication. The co-founders of the Institute are working on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant entitled, Are Cities and Counties Ready to Use Racial Equity Tools to Influence Policy?, and recently issued a report discussing Racism as a Public Health Crisis in partnership with the Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress.

The work of the Institute is particularly relevant across the nation as racial equity has become a focus and in St. Louis, where disparities caused by systemic oppression have persisted since the end of Jim Crow. St. Louis, for example, ranks seventh out of the 50 most populous metropolitan areas in terms of racial neighborhood segregation.

“When confronted with the greatest challenges in society, such as systemic racism, poverty and health disparities, the enormity of the issue sometimes leads individuals and institutions to question the impact their actions can ever have — and ultimately leads to inaction,” said Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., president of Saint Louis University. “Then, there are others, like Drs. Banks, Gilbert, Johnson and Yearby who have dedicated their careers to the research and application of knowledge that contributes to dismantling the foundations of those oppressive systems.”

The Institute will research:

  • The efficacy of governmental and institutional equity initiatives and processes, using the findings to promote policy change, addressing and eventually eliminating systemic, community, and individual level inequities locally and nationally;

  • Existing healing strategies, their impact on community health and well-being, and disseminate those methods to promote robust and healthy individuals and communities; and

  • Best practices for community-engaged research that ensures community members are treated in ethical ways and will create new community engagement frameworks and tools.

The origins of this new Institute lie in an internal Big Ideas competition to define university-wide strategic research priorities. IHJE is the latest major initiative supported by the Saint Louis University Research Institute. The Geospatial Institute (GeoSLU) was launched in 2019, followed by the WATER Institute in June 2020.

For more information on IHJE, visit the Institute’s website.

About Saint Louis University
Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place. Learn more at