graduate students work with local communities on health equity | UCSB

The pandemic has disproportionately hit migrant and indigenous communities. In response, research teams led by graduate students from UC Santa Barbara, in collaboration with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Latinx and Indigenous Migrant COVID-19 Response Task Force, worked with local health. leaders and community members to develop solutions.

A course in the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology, taught by Melissa Smith, MD, Melissa Morgan and Maryam Kia-Keating, introduced graduate students to participatory community research methods focused on health equity.

“The course promotes social justice and fairness and addresses structural racism, not only through readings and by amplifying the voices of minority communities, but through action,” said Kia-Keating, professor of clinical psychology, who heads the Trauma campus and the research laboratory on adversity, resilience and prevention (TARP) and the Center for Research and Excellence on Adversity and Resilience (CREAR), in partnership with two local agencies in youth and family service, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics and CALM.

“Students are directly involved with community organizations and community members, and rather than playing the role of outsider expert, their role is that of solution partner,” said Kia-Keating.

Teams of graduate and undergraduate students, for example, developed and analyzed a community survey on attitudes towards vaccines and provided technical support to ensure linguistic access to a virtual public forum in Spanish and in indigenous languages.

“We are very proud of the work our graduate students do in the name of health equity and social justice,” said Leila Rupp, Acting Anne and Michael Towbes Dean of Graduate Studies. “By engaging in research with, and not just for, community members, they are making a difference to marginalized populations throughout Santa Barbara County.”

“The current efforts to reach out to the Latinx and Indigenous migrant communities of Santa Barbara County are very impressive,” said Dr. Smith, family physician, health equity advocate and educator, who is director of the initiatives. UCSB Health Equity and Deputy Director of Education and Training for the Center of Expertise on Gender and Women’s Health Empowerment at UC Global Health Institute.

“The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department prioritizes vaccine equity, especially for disproportionately affected communities, and works closely with a wide range of community partner organizations to which members of the community trust, ”she said.

As the virus struck communities across the United States in late winter 2020, students began work on awareness and resource creation with the Latinx and Indigenous Migrant COVID-19 Response Task Force, founded by Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, Santa Barbara County Director. Department of Public Health. Graduate students, working with the Center for Publicly Engaged Scholarship at UCSB, mentored undergraduate team members in their work with community partners.

Team leader Trevor Auldridge Reveles, a Ph.D. sociology student and National Science Foundation graduate research fellow, has led community development research and events since last year. “I think many undergraduates come to UCSB looking for ways to give back to their community, and I think the students who work with us are learning that you can use research skills to advance justice. social, ”he said.

“While most of the time students who participate in projects give back to communities other than their own, a few of our student collaborators – Citlalli Pucheta, Elizabeth Melena and Shiela Mae Valerio – are themselves members of the local community. I think the biggest benefit we provide to students is a space for emotional support where they devote their energy to projects that can produce social change, ”he said.

Courtney Wright, a Ph.D. student focusing on education policy at Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, had to evacuate from China with her family due to COVID-19. Her experience working as a grade 5 teacher during the Florida pandemic revealed profound disparities in access to the internet, technological devices, and daily meals among underserved communities in her school district.

As a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara, she continued her research under Smith’s direction and then led the team working with the local NAACP to collect data on the impact of COVID-19 on children. county communities.

“Collecting this data has enabled our team to develop a report that details the demographics of Santa Barbara County, COVID-19-related deaths, hospitalizations, infections, and the impact COVID-19 is having on local prisons and Santa Barbara prisons. County in terms of people who contracted the virus, deaths and those who have recovered, ”Wright said.

“We also collected data to show how underserved communities are on the front lines of those who have suffered the most from the impacts of COVID-19 in the county,” Wright said.

Another doctorate in sociology. student, Alex Maldonado, a graduate student researcher at the Broom Center for Demography, is co-coordinator of a team working with the Santa Maria-Lompoc chapter of the NAACP on a demographic report on COVID-19 infection rates on the population of Santa Barbara County. She also provides assistance with Infinity Healing Ceremonies held throughout the county.

“These ceremonies provide a space for collective healing for people who have lost a loved one to COVID-19,” she said. “So far we have held two of these ceremonies and we are planning to hold more,” said Maldonado.

As a teacher, Maldonado also saw how important community research work was to her undergraduates involved in the projects. “For example, in one of our ongoing projects, undergraduates had to spend a lot of time researching what resources are available for community members who don’t speak English and / or don’t have financial stability and cannot afford adequate health care, ”she said. noted.

Access is essential for working with the community, according to the researchers.

“Access doesn’t just mean creating a translated fact sheet,” said Morgan, professor and director of clinical education in the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology. “It involves taking into account the circumstances of life and the needs of the recipients of information, the resources at their disposal and how to make information culturally understandable and accessible.

“Community members help determine what are the best, most socially and culturally appropriate approaches to disseminating information and how best to resolve access issues.

Maldonado noted the experience of being part of a larger community throughout his tenure as research team leader.

“The course teaches students how to be part of a whole, moving piece made up of faculty, community leaders, students and volunteers,” she said. “It has been the most exciting for me to experience what it is like to be a part of something bigger than yourself and to feel the confidence and gratitude that develop when working with someone else. other to help others in need. “

Smith, who attends and informs many community health briefings for the county, hopes to establish future health equity-focused collaborations between the university and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

“We are currently exploring new projects focused on health equity and, given our ongoing close collaboration, I would expect there to be more opportunities to involve academics and researchers from across the country. ‘UCSB on health equity in future projects,’ she said.

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