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First Gay Man Named Dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health

Perry N. Halkitis

The new dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health sits with Plus to discuss the future of HIV research and what it means to be an out and proud gay leader in higher education. 

Perry N. Halkitis has been announced the new dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health in addition to being a Professor of Biostatistcs, Heath education and Behavioral Science.

Rutgers SPH, which is part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, aims to improve health and prevent diseases in diverse populations by educating students to become leaders in public health, researchers, and advocates for individual health. 

Halkitis had previously been Senior Associate Dean for Academic & Faculty Affairs at the Colleague of Global Public Health, at New York University as well as professor of global public health, applied psychology and medicine, where he spent his time conducting HIV research as well as studying matters relating to drug abuse, mental health, and the risk and resiliencies of young gay and bisexual men.

Halkitis’s bookThe AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resiliencereceived the Distinguished Book Award for the LGBT psychology field from the American Psychological Association. He is currently working on his new book Out in Time: Gay Men Coming Out across Generations, which also will be published by Oxford.

After spending 20 years at NYU, Halkitis will be starting his new position at Rutgers this August. Thankfully, he was able to sit down with Plus to discuss future research and offer insight on what the future of Rutgers looks like:

What does a position like this mean to you personally, and the future of The Rutgers School of Public Health? 

[RSPH] is a bright star in the constellation of public health schools and is rooted in a public university dedicated to solving the public health challenges faced by the people and populations of the New Jersey, USA and the world.  It is also a school that serves many first generation students and for me personally this has enormous meaning as the child of Greek immigrants. The school is nested with the infrastructure of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Science, a rich network of schools and centers in which 50% plus of the students are from populations that experience health disparities. Many of the students we train are from populations that most need our support and commitments; we walk the walk. And quite frankly, it means a great deal to me as an openly proud gay man whose research program focuses on the health of gay men and sexual minority populations.

There are few out and proud gay men in leadership roles. I am an academic, a researcher, and a scholar but I am also a gay man and an activist… for Rutgers School of Public Health, this speaks volume about the university and the leadership… I get to be at the table with all the other Deans of Schools of Public Health—a table where openly proud gay men may not have been invited in the past. We are obligated as public health researchers, practitioners and leaders to utilize science, and with open hearts and minds, eradicate prejudice, which undermines the health of the population.

Sadly too many who lead these diversity efforts don't get this… It means so much to me that the faculty of Rutgers School of Public Health and our incredible and inspiring Chancellor, Brian Strom, has been so supportive of me.

Will you implement HIV research, drug abuse and mental health into the school's general focus (in addition to your incredible work before)? If so, what are your plans? 

I will continue to do my research and will continue to collaborate with my NYU-based colleague of the last decade, Farzana Kapadia. Together, we will continue our efforts on our cohort study of sexual minority emerging adult males and tansgender females, the P18 Cohort Study, and we have plans on how this will expand to Rutgers at our Newark site.

We also have 3 other grant projects in mind. I will build new collaborations with colleagues at Rutgers, I have already begun conversations regarding collaborations with the Tyler Clementi Center, and I am building a new program on sexual minority research that will be with and for the people of New Jersey, especially at our Newark site where enormous heath disparities exist. I am personally looking forward to working with my stellar new colleagues to build the nation’s leading urban public health program focusing on both domestic and global issues. If our current recruitment efforts are fruitful, we will quickly be known as a school of public heath with a strong and dedicated and committed LGBTQ health research.

Can we expect more sociological/psychological studies into young gay and bisexual MSM (in relation to HIV or otherwise)?

My role as Dean will occupy much of my time, but I will work towards building a solid research team at Rutgers that will be modeled after the well-oiled machine at NYU — the Center for Heath, Identity, Behavior & Prevention Studies (CHIBPS), which I founded some 2 decades ago when there was no such thing at NYU.

CHIBPS has become a training ground for the next generation of scholars in LGBTQ heath disparities and 1000+ students are now out in the world doing this good and important work. We will now build this at Rutgers, giving opportunities to students at both our Piscataway and Newark campuses. A great Dean is a role model for his/her/their faculty. I want to be that role model, and conduct research that is meaningful and improves the lives of LGBTQ people while at the same time working with my faculty to help achieve all of their aspirations.

What are you looking forward to the most? 

I had a good run at NYU for two decades. What I am looking forward to now are new opportunities. I am looking forward to helping Rutgers School of Public Health rise in the ranks and stature, which I am sure we, as a faculty and school, will collectively accomplish. I’m very competitive so the race to the top of the ranks matters to me. 

I look forward to dedicating myself to public education. It’s in my blood. I am in part the product of public education (CUNY) and I will give my all to our students — all students including the many who are like me from parents of limited means — and help them fulfill the promise of our country. I look forward to being a role model for our LGBTQ population at Rutgers. I know how much it has meant to my sexual minority students at NYU to have an openly gay man as their professor.

I look forward to being an ambassador, spokes person, and cheerleader for the Rutgers School of Public Health. I am going to be a Dean for the 21st century — a modern Dean who recognizes the power of technology and that the needs for this generation of Millennial and beyond are radically different than those of my generation: the Boomers. To keep me grounded and aware of our students and their educational experiences, I will of course teach and will have monthly social get-togethers for our students so they can pose questions and raise concerns with me directly. Can you tell how thrilled I am?

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