“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” - W.E.B. Du Bois
Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois’ theories on double-consciousness or “twoness” — the duality experienced by people of color navigating disparate realities in the same world — have long rung true for Ebony Barrett-Kennedy.
And now, Barrett-Kennedy, a Black woman, a single mother and a long-time proponent of social justice, will apply what she has learned from Du Bois in her new role at Indiana University Health: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultant for the West Central Region, a first-of-its-kind position that makes good on IU Health’s commitment to DEI. Based in Lafayette, Barrett-Kennedy is spearheading the charge to adopt new policies, initiatives and attitudes around race, gender, culture and identity within IU Health.
Barrett-Kennedy comes to the role with a lifetime of experience. Her parents provided her with opportunities to learn from some of history’s most brilliant minds. As a child, she met Maya Angelou. She attended lectures and, along with her brothers, fought to have Martin Luther King Jr. Day recognized in her school.
As an adult, Barrett-Kennedy faced discrimination in her pursuit of education and career, due to being a single mother and a woman of color. She persevered, working her way up through academia and eventually into the nonprofit world. “I was able to see what I can do in certain spaces,” she said, “and how to use my voice in different spaces. And throughout my professional career, I've always looked for opportunities to be able to do that.”
Now, Barrett-Kennedy has moved into healthcare, where she is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. When she came to the West Central Region, she noticed that while many DEI conversations had been initiated, most were left unfinished. The issue? Full-time employees trying to do as much as they were able to, in addition to their regular job duties. “Part of my role is to take what they've started,” she said, “and to make it a little more systematic, and to make it a lot more intentional. And to really think about how we weave some of these things into our daily actions.”
It isn’t an easy road. “How do we actually take the work of inclusion and equity-building and weave it into every single thing that we do?” she asked. “Every single interaction that our team members have, and the interactions that our patients have?”
To start, Barrett-Kennedy is working on building community, both within the West Central Region of IU Health and the surrounding area. Her goal is to create a stronger infrastructure within the system that builds trust between IU Health and its patients. And the strategies she’s proposing aren’t strictly around race. They are designed to make all patients and team members feel safe, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, cultural background or socioeconomic factors.
Barrett-Kennedy is also working on programs, funded in part by IU Health Foundation, to provide translators and other language support systems to patients who speak little or no English. Language can be a barrier to many patients in seeking and receiving the care they need. But it won’t be possible, she says, without philanthropic support. “We could really use some help from donors that care about this work, and care about access to healthcare.”
You can help support programs like this when you make a gift to the Racial Equity in Healthcare Fund. Make your donation on our giving page, and select “IU Health Statewide” as the location, and direct your gift to the “Statewide Racial Equity in Healthcare Fund.”