University News

Public health, equity, and racism

Belonging & Inclusion Black Studies Career Center Global Health Granville, Columbus & more
September 30, 2020

A new partnership brings the holistic mindset of a liberal arts education together with the knowledge-specific profession of public health to tackle issues of inequity and racism in public health.

The Columbus Public Health Partnership is an initiative between Columbus Public Health and Denison University to enable students to work on education and policy matters in the Columbus community, including discussions, topics, themes, and awareness around health equity and racism as public health issues. Students from a range of academic disciplines, including Black Studies and Global Health, will conduct research to inform policy with the aim of creating health equity for communities of color.

Executive officer for the Center for Public Health Innovation Suellen Bennett notes, “The Center for Public Health Innovation was formed in response to Mayor Ginther’s request in his February 2020 State of the City Address that Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts investigate racism as a public health issue The Center’s mission is to increase life expectancy and improve the quality of life by reducing health inequities.”

“COVID-19 and other health issues affect Black people disproportionately,” says Assistant Professor of Black Studies Terrance Dean, who was instrumental in forming the partnership, which was initiated through Denison’s Black Studies Program. “Color should not matter in our new normal.”

The partnership launched this semester with three students participating. Jackie Figueroa ‘21, a political science and anthropology/sociology double major, will work with the department’s Racial Equity Landscape Assessment project. “I will be looking at how other cities are grappling with structural racism and are promoting equity in health,” she says.

Jaleel Poole ‘22, a biology and Black Studies major, is working with the Health Department’s Food Action Division. He was quoted in a recent Columbus Dispatch article about his work, saying, “Racism in food distribution created food deserts, and if that’s not a front-line issue, it should be. Because access to healthy food should be a basic human right.

A third student, Smelanda Jean-Baptiste ‘21, an anthropology/sociology major with a concentration in Narrative Journalism Concentration, is looking forward to her assignment.

Dean’s Columbus Dispatch op-ed about the inordinate effects of COVID-19 on Black people became the catalyst for the partnership. “Columbus Public Health are experts in health science, but they needed someone to help articulate the language of racism,” says Dean, who has been impressed by Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther’s foresight and leadership in how COVID-19 has impacted the African American community.

Denison faculty and staff from academic departments including Data Analytics, the Knowlton Career Center, and the Denison Edge for professional development will gain data and knowledge for ongoing partnership by holding forums and workshops in Columbus for the community to participate in discussions.

Through this initiative, Denison will provide educational experiences for its students, and Columbus Public Health will provide opportunities for Denison students to serve as student researchers and interns in various areas, including: neighborhood health programs, health equity, minority health, and violence reduction.

Associate Professor Toni King, director of Denison’s Black Studies Program, notes “As an academic discipline that emerged from a social movement, Black Studies values practice and fieldwork that can lead to social change. This partnership gives our students opportunities to apply intellectual frameworks to health care policies and practices important for eliminating racial disparities on the local and national front today.”

Director of Denison’s Global Health Program Associate Professor Fareeda Griffith adds, “The discipline of Global Health seeks to investigate and analyze how to achieve equity in the health status of individuals through data analysis. Specifically, an important focus includes addressing the role of structural racism and discrimination as a measurable impact on the health status of people of color and vulnerable groups that have both long and short term effects due to systemic exclusion.”

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