Cultivating a Global Conscience: An International Exchange on Race, Place and Public Health

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Public health is a field that values health and well-being as a collective good. As countries are become increasingly more connected, with international exchange of goods and products, information, people and even environmental agents, our conceptualization of public health is shifting to consider a global collective. With an altruistic interest in eliminating disparities in disease burden and mortality, global health researchers and clinicians have for decades worked in international settings bringing medical, sanitation, and behavioral interventions to populations perceived as having limited capacity to resolve their own public health issues. These interventions have greater success when public health leaders are well-adapted to diverse settings and their approach to working with local residents or the intervention values local knowledge and cultural norms. As we imagine a new field of public health that services a broader global community, we must ensure that public health leader, through their education or other experiences, have developed cultural humility and have a sense of global responsibility and ethic. Public health educators can teach through example by using pedagogy that reiterates a value in cultural differences and in different forms of knowledge generation. The proposed courses and research will offer public health students a critical focus on race and environment as important determinants of health. Over the past decade, there has been an increasing interest in uncovering the underlying mechanisms of racial disparities in health outcomes. In recent years, health disparities scholars and progressive health organizations, including the American Public Health Association (APHA) have focused the conversation on the myriad ways that institutionalized racism and racial discrimination can lead to poorer health outcomes in those who occupy the lowest strata in a society?s racial hierarchy, often irrespective of class. Understanding how different societies construct and value race differently can offer important insight into how racial disparities in health arise. All of this is also happening on the backdrop of a global rise in consciousness of man?s impacts on the natural environment how, whether through intentional transport or through the natural laws that govern fate and transport of environmental agents, the environmental and health impacts may be felt far away from the origin. Here we describe a two courses and research collaboration that utilizes a range of teaching/learning methods to promote among public health students a greater global understanding, cultural humility and critical analysis in population health. Up to 50 graduate students per year from UNC and Universidade Federal da Bahia in Salvador, Brazil will participate in classroom-, online- and study abroad-based learning and research that examines the influence of race and place (i.e. geographic location and environment) on public health in the both countries. The research team will utilize blended, experiential, student-centered and in-depth collaborative learning methods to enhance students? cultural empathy and critical consciousness. This project will significantly change the way that public health students are taught to think about health inequalities and thus create a new cadre of public health leaders committed to working intentionally to dismantle inequities.

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Rita de Cássia Franco Rêgo
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