This guest post is written by Logan Jacob Place
I have spent the past few years surrounding myself with social justice issues. Through taking classes on human rights and poverty to being involved with protests on campus surrounding women’s rights and tuition hikes, I have become increasingly aware of a vast array of disparities. Despite my general awareness of social justice, my knowledge of public health and health disparities was almost nonexistent. After I started working for Area Health Education Center (AHEC) I became alarmed when I realized how little I knew about health disparities.
When I heard that one of our partners, Health Justice CT, was holding a Health Justice Town Hall Meeting I immediately wanted to get involved. I knew this would be an opportunity to increase my understanding of health disparities. I was also thrilled that it would take place as a Town Hall meeting because of its ability to empower the community, create dialogue, and promote changes from the grassroots level. Needless to say I was ecstatic when I found out I could be a part of this.
At the Town Hall meeting the panelists were thought provoking and direct. One panelist, Richard Cho, discussed addressing health problems through adequate housing, showing how interrelated health disparities are with so many other issues I was already familiar with. It served as an example of the importance of taking a holistic approach in addressing health disparities.
I was very impressed and motivated by panelist Jewel Mullen, the Commissioner of the State Department of Public Health, when she publicly announced what many people refuse to talk about; that racism is an underlying cause of health disparities. The thought of racism being a major contributor to health disparities is not groundbreaking news, but to have the Commissioner of the State DPH acknowledge it is.
When the panelists talked about the interconnectedness of health disparities and racism’s effect on public health, it was almost identical to discussions and literature on other injustices I have learned of. Yet this was my first exposure to health disparities discussion. I had set up a watch party at UConn where many politically active students were also being introduced to health justice for their first time.
So why are health disparities not addressed at universities the same way other social issues are? Is it because public health is not seen as appealing to talk about? Or maybe it is because of the perceived belief that promoting health is a job for the hard sciences and that the humanities and social sciences have no place in the matter.
Whatever the reason is, it needs to change. We need to get the same students and community members who are passionate about education reform, economic inequalities, and women’s rights to join in the fight for health equality. We need to reach not only our future health care providers, but also our future teachers, social workers, and community leaders in understanding the impacts of health disparities if we are going to take a holistic, grassroots approach to public health.
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Photo credits: (Top Center) Ficklin Media (Top Left, Bottom Left) Logan Place
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