June 27, 2019 | 84° F

Rutgers appoints 1st openly gay dean in school history

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Perry Halkitis, the recently-appointed dean of the School of Public Health, said he hopes his personal experience will enable him to set an example for marginalized students at Rutgers. Halkitis previously worked at New York University's College of Global Public Health and hopes to push the rankings of the Rutgers department into the top 10 in the country.

Rutgers is starting off the fall semester by breaking down another societal barrier — employing the first openly gay dean in the over 250-year history of the University.

Newly appointed Dean of Rutgers School of Public Health Perry Halkitis said his sexual orientation does not affect his position, but it does offer him a unique opportunity to set an example for other people in marginalized groups.

“I can be an openly proud gay conducting research that seeks to enhance the health of LGBTQ population. It also is important for our LGBTQ students to witness this — that you can succeed while being true to who you are, that you don’t have to hide who you are. It has been so refreshing for my students to have a professor who spoke only about his life and his husband. And I speak of my life as a gay man with pride. It normalizes being gay and that is the goal. We have to shift the paradigm from one that is heteronormative to one that is all-inclusive,” he said.

Halkitis is working on writing a new book, titled “Out in Time,” which will examine the socio-emotion and experiences of gay men coming out across the generations. He said he has interviewed over 20 gay men ranging from ages 19 to 79, and he said the thesis is “that the experiences of otherness that we all have is informed in some ways by the time and place in which someone comes out, but there (here) is also a universality that cuts across time.”

Halkitis said this feeling of otherness can be unharnessed to develop grit and strength and to protect the individual and public health or turned inward and undermine our health.

“The ideas rest on the paradigm that all health is shaped and defined by biological, psychological and social determinants,” he said.

Halkitis, who was senior associate dean of New York University's College of Global Public Health prior to moving to Rutgers, said he hopes to lead the school with the overriding goal of becoming one of the most well-regarded and well-respected institutions in the country, and to be ranked within the top 20, if not 10, schools of public health.

He said the goal is for Rutgers to be recognized for its innovative and entrepreneurial research that enhances the overall well-being of people of not only New Jersey but the global population, with a particular focus on urban populations.

“One of my main initiatives is to build a stellar urban public health program at our Newark location with and for the people of Newark and a model of urban public health for all cities. I want our program to attract students and scholars from around the country and around the world. Our faculty (has) been working on this curriculum all summer for Fall 2018 launch,” he said.

Halkitis hopes to lead the school with what he calls “AAA” principles — aspiration, achievement and access.

Aspiration revolves around attracting and retaining top research faculty and enrolling the best students, as well as developing opportunities for extensive funding. Achievement aims to work with faculty, administrators and others to develop systems to ensure success, and access focuses on holding true to the role as a public school and ensuring access and diversity.

“Finally we are taking a look at our Ph.D. program revising the curriculum and working towards a model that funds our students such that we are able to attract the best up and coming scholars from around the country, with a focus on educating the next generation of scholars who represent the beautiful diversity of the USA,” he said.

Halkitis said his dedication to public education drew him to Rutgers, along with the opportunity to work closely with Rutgers Biomedical and Health Services Chancellor Brian L. Strom.

“I am the product of public education and Rutgers is one of our nation’s great public universities. I also want to build the school resting on three synergistic elements — research, education and service/practice. All are key to the success of all schools of public health,” Halkitis said.

He said he is spearheading the efforts of a group of faculty and staff around Rutgers who are focused on improving the health of the LGBTQ population, called the Gender and Sexuality Planning Group.

Above all, Halkitis said as a University, Rutgers has an obligation to give voices to those who have been silenced in academia because of who they are. Because of this, it is one of Halkitis' main goals to recruit and develop scholars who are members of underrepresented groups in academia, including racial and ethnic groups.

“Finally I think it is important that we not place people into boxes," he said. "Yes, I am a gay man but I am also a Greek-American man, a child of immigrants, the first in my family to have a degree, a brother, a husband, a Northeasterner. That is all to say that we all hold intersectional identities and we celebrate all the parts of us."

Chloe Dopico

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