Centering Health Equity in Service-Learning
Resources and Connection
Robin Arnsperger Selzer
Social Justice & Global Health Experiences course
The ongoing COVID 19 global pandemic and racial uprisings after the murder of George Floyd illuminated many social justice systemic problems in the United States, but especially inequities in health outcomes for vulnerable communities. Students who care about these causes had the opportunity to learn by doing in a University of Cincinnati Experiential Learning Honor's spring seminar where they partnered with a local community organization that works to end healthcare disparities, Closing the Health Gap (CTHG). Students began by exploring the ethical implications of international and domestic global health volunteering to learn about best practices for helping in communities outside of their own and establishing principles of trust in communities. We used Dr. Judith Lasker’s text, Hoping to Help, and the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Center for Health Justice’s Principles of Trustworthiness as foundational content. Understanding that critical reflection is central to service-learning, students utilized the Intercultural Development Inventory to assess their intercultural competence and gain greater cultural self-awareness strategies before the service-learning project. Social justice was a core theme of the course. Therefore, students were empowered to create their own project that explored health equity outside the walls of the classroom, rather than being assigned what to do.
Service/Experiential Learning Project with Closing the Health Gap
As a student, we created an “Eat, Live, Move Family Fun” event at the Hirsch Recreation Center that offered 5 services: (1) Strengths assessment (2) Healthy Cooking (3) Ask a Health Professional (4) Movement and (5) Childcare. At the “Strengths Assessment” station, I witnessed a young man, close to my age, take his first assessment ever. I could tell he was a bit nervous, as he did not know what to expect. Being in such a vulnerable state was new to him, but I encouraged him to explore that undiscovered territory. I comforted and assured him that vulnerability is not a weakness; rather, it is a strength. Food and recipes at the “Healthy Cooking” station were provided by New Leaf Kitchen. I saw mothers engaging in the live oatmeal cookie crumble demonstration. I could tell they were interested in learning something new that could very well impact their families in a positive way. That is what the expo was about – providing the opportunity and freedom to learn how to live a healthier life. It was rewarding to see that such a small gesture could have such a significant impact. The “Ask a Health Professional” panel was surprisingly the least visited service we provided. When we met with Renee from CTHG, she talked about vaccine hesitancy in the community. In return, we wanted to provide the opportunity to ask our panelists any questions. It is not every day a doctor visits a local recreation center to participate in a Q&A session, which is why I was shocked to see that station empty. However, in class, we discussed trust issues and skepticism between providers and patients which could have affected participation. The “Movement” booth offered yoga, which seemed to be very relaxing. Mats were laid out, and the instructor created a safe space in which strangers could try something new. People could freely ask her questions one-on-one. The “Childcare” component of the event was exceedingly popular. Children of all ages came to play. The younger ones were interested in hopscotch and throwing a frisbee wherever they wanted to, laughing hysterically at the fact that our team would have to retrieve the item. The older ones used the pit balls we provided to play basketball. What I noticed at this station was that the children’s laughter and smiles assured their caregivers that they were in great hands. This peace of mind allowed the caregivers to do what they wanted to do, such as learn new recipes. The childcare section at the expo, by far, had the most significant impact. Lastly, as learned from Dr. Lasker, it would have been unfair for us to barge into a community, tell them what we think, and never come back again. We wanted this project to be sustainable so that what we created could go on. Therefore, this type of event can be re- created by other UC (University of Cincinnati) students.
Since this was the first time conducting the event, we had some teachable moments that will help us improve in the future. Planning the event was a rollercoaster of its own. First, we were going to tackle vaccine hesitancy. Then, our focus shifted to personal and societal leadership via strength assessments and community building activities. We decided to provide the 5 services described above. It was a team effort. One lesson learned was that we did not want to burden our community partner with requests for resources. Therefore, we used the resources we had, contacting different individuals and organizations within our network. Yet, this was one of the mistakes we made. For example, we looked for yoga teachers and physicians to attend the event on our own and later realized that we could connect with CTHG’s consultants, as they frequently offer health movement programs. Also, as the class instructor, I encouraged students to take ownership of the project and contact our community partner, Renee, directly with logistical questions about the event and location. However, this hindered communication channels, so we adjusted along the way by communicating all our questions with one point of contact at CTHG and at the recreation center. Lastly, in class, we learned about the importance of evaluation from Dr. Lasker and how that often gets overlooked. While we had an evaluation card, we did not explain it well or emphasize it; therefore, we received little evaluative feedback from our visitors. On a positive note, we learned that this type of university partnership with community-based organizations allows us to amplify the excellent work they are doing. For example, we were able to re-share their posts on social media to help expand their reach. Ultimately, the success of this event depended on the students and their willingness to collaboratively think outside of the box; and we were able to effectively fulfill this responsibility.
Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College, What is Service Learning?
Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/service/what.html
Robin Arnsperger Selzer, PhD is an Associate Professor in Experience-Based Learning & Career Education at the University of Cincinnati. She teaches Professional Development courses with a focus on pre-health professional students. Her research interests are intercultural competence and social justice education.
Yamaan Ahmad is a class of 2024 student majoring in Medical Sciences and minoring in Public Health at the University of Cincinnati. He volunteers at the local hospital and is a mentor to students through various programs. He is also involved in pancreatic cancer research, the College of Medicine (COM) Tribunal, the South Asian American Student Association (SAASA), and Phi Delta Epsilon (Ohio Theta Chapter).