Meet the Staff: Diamond D. Williams, DrPH, MPH, Associate Dean for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Diamond D. Williams
Diamond D. Williams

Where do you consider your hometown?

I am a cheese-loving, city girl born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, where the vibrant culture, rich history, excitement of cheering for local sports teams, and resilient community spirit have shaped my identity and filled my heart with a deep appreciation for the diverse tapestry of this urban haven.

What Badger tradition are you most excited to experience?

My spouse and I love sports, especially football! We attended our first-ever Badgers’ game last September during his birthday weekend and WE HAD A TIME! To top it all off, we made the jumbotron and the Badgers won!

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the public health industry today?

It is so hard to choose just one big challenge facing public health when there are so many! I’d like to quickly highlight four: health inequities and disparities, response and preparedness, mental health, and chronic disease prevention. First, we can all agree that persistent health inequities and disparities have historically and continue to challenge public health. We know that these disparities are rooted in socioeconomic factors, systemic racism, and unequal access to health care resources, and addressing them requires a comprehensive and systemic approach. Secondly, as a former leader of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Team for the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services, I saw firsthand how the pandemic underscored the importance of effective preparedness, swift response to mitigate the impact of emerging health threats, and ensuring equitable distribution of vaccines and other resources to promote healthy people and their communities. Next, public health is tasked with addressing the mental health needs of populations, as we know it significantly affects overall well-being, including emotional, psychological, physical, and social aspects. We understand how poor mental health impacts health outcomes. Last but certainly not least, chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity continue to pose a significant burden on individuals and public health. Efforts to prevent and manage chronic conditions require comprehensive strategies, including lifestyle interventions and access to quality health care.

Diamond D. Williams and her husband on the jumbotron on game day at Camp Randall.
Diamond D. Williams and her husband on the jumbotron on game day at Camp Randall.

What does health equity mean to you?

Health equity holds profound significance for me as a person and woman of color who envisions a world where all individuals, irrespective of their appearance (how they look), geographic location (where they come from or live), cultural background (the fabric of their existence), sexual orientation (who they love), or other limiting narratives imposed upon them by society, can thrive and live healthy lives. It embodies a commitment to dismantling systemic barriers that have historically disadvantaged marginalized communities.

For me, health equity transcends the mere absence of health disparities; it signifies a deliberate and passionate pursuit of justice in health care. It’s about acknowledging the impact of historical injustices and recognizing that achieving health equity requires a proactive effort to rectify these imbalances. It means advocating for policies and interventions that address the unique challenges faced by different communities, understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach falls short of promoting true fairness.

Being a champion of health equity involves standing against the pervasive influence of socioeconomic factors, racial biases, and discriminatory practices that contribute to health disparities. It’s about fostering a collective understanding that the well-being of any one person or community is intricately linked to the well-being of all. I strive to contribute to a public health landscape that not only acknowledges the diversity of experiences but actively works towards dismantling structures that perpetuate inequality.

Ultimately, health equity, from my perspective, is a commitment to ensuring that every individual has the opportunity to flourish and live a healthy life, unencumbered by the limitations imposed by societal norms or systemic injustices. It’s a vision of a future where personal identity or experiences do not determine their access to opportunities for health and well-being.

In your opinion, how are health equity, diversity, and inclusion (HEDI) initiatives and strategies uniquely important to the field of nursing?

I truly believe that HEDI initiatives are like the heart and soul of nursing. Think of it this way — when our nursing community reflects the beautiful diversity of the people we care for, it makes everything better.

In everyday terms, it’s about making sure everyone feels seen, heard, and valued, especially when they walk through our doors seeking care. We’re all about providing the best support and understanding for our patients. Embracing diversity helps us do just that.

For our students, it’s like preparing them with a superpower — the ability to connect with and understand all kinds of people. That’s a big deal because it means they can adapt to the unique needs of each person they’ll help in the future.

And you know what’s cool? Embracing diversity doesn’t just make us better caregivers; it also sparks new ideas and solutions. It’s like having a mix of ingredients that make a recipe more flavorful — in our case, that mix is what keeps health care innovative and patient-focused.

So, in a nutshell, these initiatives aren’t just goals we set; they’re the heart of what we do. It’s about making sure everyone gets the same top-notch care and creating a nursing community that is as diverse as the wonderful people we serve.

As the School of Nursing begins celebrating its centennial year, what milestones in our history would you most like to see recognized?

As we embark on the celebration of the School of Nursing’s centennial year, there are numerous milestones that collectively define our rich history and resonate with the tireless efforts of our entire community — faculty, staff, and students alike. What stands out prominently to me are the milestones that reflect our shared commitment to advancing the mission, building health equity, and preparing the next generation of nurses.

Firstly, let’s celebrate the establishment of inclusive initiatives that have propelled us forward. Whether it be faculty-led programs promoting cultural competence, staff-driven efforts to create a welcoming environment, or the impassioned dedication of our students in community outreach, each effort has woven diversity and inclusion into the fabric of our school.

Recognizing the pivotal moments where our faculty engaged in groundbreaking research or pioneered innovative teaching methods is also crucial. These milestones not only signify academic excellence but also highlight our collective determination to push the boundaries of nursing education. We are working to ensure our students are equipped to address the evolving health care landscape.

Moreover, let’s shine a spotlight on the impactful community service projects led by our students. Their commitment to making a positive difference in underserved communities echoes our dedication to health equity. These endeavors showcase the real-world impact of nursing beyond the classroom, reinforcing our ethos of compassion and community engagement.

Lastly, let’s acknowledge the resilience and adaptability of our entire community during challenging times, such as global health crises. The united efforts of faculty, staff, and students in maintaining the continuity of education, health care, and support services exemplify our collective strength and commitment to the well-being of all.

As we celebrate a century of nursing education, let’s cherish these milestones that embody the collaborative spirit of our community, shaping not only the past but also laying the foundation for a future where nursing at our school continues to lead, innovate, and inspire.

What are some ways you would like to see the HEDI landscape change at UW–Madison within the next ten years?

In envisioning the HEDI landscape at UW–Madison over the next decade, I believe we must embrace a dynamic approach to address emerging challenges and foster positive change. Collaborative efforts among policymakers, health care professionals, and public health organizations will be pivotal in shaping a resilient and equitable health system.

Firstly, I’d like to see a continued commitment to staying informed about the evolving challenges in public health. It ensures that our HEDI initiatives remain responsive to the changing needs of our community.

In terms of tangible changes, fostering stronger collaborations within the university and with external stakeholders is paramount. Establishing partnerships that leverage the expertise of diverse disciplines can enhance the impact of our HEDI efforts. This collaborative spirit should extend to community engagement, ensuring that our initiatives are informed by and responsive to the needs of the populations we serve.

Additionally, within the academic realm, I hope to see an expansion of HEDI-focused curricula and research initiatives. Integrating these principles into the educational fabric of UW–Madison will better prepare our students to navigate the complexities of diverse settings and contribute to advancing health equity.

Finally, creating an inclusive environment where diverse voices are not only heard but actively contribute to decision-making processes is another crucial aspect. This involves implementing policies and practices that foster a sense of belonging for all students, faculty, and staff, reflecting a commitment to equity in all aspects of university life.

What specifically, if anything, drew you to UW–Madison?

HEDI work is both challenging and exciting, presenting an ever-evolving landscape that requires constant adaptation. I find excitement in the unknown, as each challenge is an opportunity for growth and meaningful change. I am a former employee who has returned to be a part of the School of Nursing’s unwavering commitment to tackling these challenges head-on and fostering an environment where diverse voices thrive. I am drawn to the opportunity to contribute to a transformative space where innovation, inclusion, and equity intersect, shaping the future of health care professionals and the well-being of the communities they serve. The prospect of making a lasting impact in this dynamic and collaborative environment fuels my passion for this important work at UW–Madison.

Share with us an especially rewarding moment in your career:

In my previous role, I had the honor of overseeing three federal grant programs during the pandemic, with a primary emphasis on promoting health equity and addressing barriers to COVID-19 vaccination in Wisconsin. The distribution of $30.8 million across all 72 Wisconsin counties, spanning licensed residential and community-based care facilities, educational institutions, churches, and religious groups, as well as local or tribal community-based organizations and non-traditional providers serving high-risk populations, enabled me to serve as an advisor and provide valuable insights to the White House on community engagement strategies. This experience has been particularly rewarding in my career thus far!