By Todd Faubion - Faculty Director for Undergraduate Programs, Global Health
It’s the start of the school year and a whole new class of freshmen and transfer students will become a part of our community in the UW Department of Global Health. As a global health teacher, I’ve found that above all, students pursue the discipline of global health because they seek to positively impact the world. Global health students are deeply concerned about phenomena ranging from famine to environmental degradation to persistent violence against women, among many others. In recognizing the breadth of student commitment to global health, or more specifically to promote the well-being and health of communities globally, here are my tips for how best to get involved and meaningfully contribute to global health:
1) Talk about and promote equity in all forms: Students are sometimes surprised that, at its core, the Department of Global Health is not a strictly clinical endeavor. We are driven by a set of values, and core amongst them is ensuring that we flatten inequalities in the world and strive for greater equity (the term ‘equity’ is different from the term ‘equality’ in that the former implies that a more equal world is morally right; equity is about justice). We will only ever make progress on global health initiatives by limiting gaps (wealth, education, etc.) that cause certain populations to be deeply disenfranchised, impoverished, and unhealthy.
2) Learn about and pursue global citizenship: A truly global and caring ethic recognizes that we are all interconnected (for instance, our ability to purchase inexpensive clothing in the United States is linked to conditions of poverty and deprivation in garment factories elsewhere), so we need to feel a sense of responsibility to our peers near and far. Learn about connections rooted in globalization and understand how privilege in one place is connected to suffering elsewhere. Consider yourself a citizen of the world, not of any single place, and define your responsibility broadly.
3) Serve locally: The local is global. I work hard every day to unseat the notion that ‘the global’ is somehow ‘over there’. All of the key themes we discuss in Global Health 101, ranging from racism to rising inequality to exploitation of vulnerable populations, are found here in the United States, too. You can learn as much about global health by working locally—with an immigrant rights or racial justice organization, for instance—as you can by going abroad.
4) Learn about power and how it operates: We cannot understand the texture of global health disparities without understanding that ill-health is connected to a lack of power—power to resist unwanted sexual advances, power to demand humane and ethical treatment as a refugee, and power to implement policies that invest in basic education, for instance. Power is a complex phenomenon that is distributed unequally. However, it can be built (and is being built) in communities through collaborative efforts to organize people most impacted by injustice. Young people like yourselves can participate in and lead movements and identify leverage points; locally, organizations like OneAmerica and Washington CAN are doing this work brilliantly.
5) Get involved with global health efforts on campus and around Seattle: Students are pursuing all sorts of global health-allied efforts on campus and around the city right now. Join them! Some are obvious, like Partners in Health Engage and GlobeMed, but the work of any organization that resists war, protects the environment, advocates for the rights of women and/or sexual minorities, and/or lobbies for national and global policy changes to promote all of the above, is valued and essential in global health. And remember, public health is global health, so connect with the phenomenal, progressive work of students in the School of Public Health. You can also learn more about Seattle-area global health organizations through DGH’s Global Health Resource Center.
6) Promote education (for yourself and others): One of our most compelling teaching moments in Global Health 101 is when we tell students that the single most important thing we can do to promote global health (while also protecting the rights of women and girls especially) is to promote universal access to education. Over half of the reduction in childhood mortality between 1970 and today can be attributed to education alone. Education builds power while also building knowledge that can be leveraged into opportunity and self-actualization. Any education-aligned activity IS global health.
Over the coming weeks, DGH faculty and advisors will hear from many students; we’ll meet students to talk about academic and career goals, identify forms of service, and help plan coursework to create the most meaningful academic experience possible. Remember, though, that it’s the contribution, not the scale of the contribution, that matters. Your ability to be a positive, progressive force for good lies right in front of you! There are so many people on this campus who want to help you achieve your goals—reach out to them. We in the Department of Global Health look forward to hearing from you if you’d like to learn more.