Conference Will Address Link Between Health And Race
Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 22:10
Boston College students often have the opportunity to absorb enlightening perspectives from unique and diverse individuals, and one such opportunity comes around each October, as the Boston College Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture (ISPRC) hosts its annual Diversity Challenge.
The Challenge is a two-day intensive conference that includes panel discussions, symposia, workshops, structured discussions, and poster sessions. In addition, there are individual presentations by invited experts in education, administration, research, mental health, and community activism. The ISPRC states the overall goal of the Diversity Challenge each year is to “address a racial or cultural issue that could benefit from a pragmatic, scholarly, or grassroots focus through conference.” The interactive conference “brings together scholars, educators, mental health practitioners, and other parties interested in promoting social justice across racial and cultural groups.”
In the morning, participants choose from a wide selection of individual presentations, and then proceed to take part in structured discussions, workshops, and panels, all pertaining to the topic of the challenge.
So what exactly is the topic of the 13th annual Diversity Challenge? The ISPRC has decided to focus upon “Intersections of Race and Culture and Health and Mental Health.” The issue addressed here focuses upon the fact that, many times, we overlook the reality that an individual’s everyday life experiences can have an immense impact upon both their physical and mental health. What one may not realize is that discrimination and socioeconomic statuses can correlate directly with a person’s health.
The ISPRC imparts to us that “racism, prejudice, poverty, and violence increase the incidence of mental and physical health problems.” Individuals from lower socioeconomic statuses often experience barriers to quality care, such as inadequate health insurance, lack of transportation, limited time off work, and lack of childcare. Evidently, these barriers present a significant negative effect upon the health and mental health of these people of color and non-dominant cultural origins. This is not to say, however, that certain other life experiences do not have a positive effect upon the health and mental health of people of color—oftentimes strong social and community support, cultural and spiritual ties, and positive racial identities can improve an individual’s health and mental health.
Through the two-day Diversity Challenge conference, the ISPRC hopes to address, in partnership with presenters and participants, a number of questions pertaining to this phenomenon of health and cultural experience. The conference will examine the question of whether experiences do or do not offer white people health benefits over people of color, and how we can address and resolve those experiences that do. The ISPRC stresses the fact that people will not be able to create effective interventions for these issues unless they understand how life experiences actually influence health. The Diversity Challenge will offer upward of 140 presentations and discussions, several examples of which include “Facilitating Well-being through Social Supports,” “The Influence of Race and Gender on Psychosocial Functioning,” “Unequal Ground: The Impact of Racism and Discrimination on Mental Health,” and many more.
In the past, themes of the Diversity Challenge have included topics such as “What to Do About Race and Culture and Violence,” “Intersections of Race or Ethnic Culture with Gender or Sexual Orientation,” and “Race, Culture, and Trauma.” The reason for this year’s chosen topic has much to do with the “growing interest among society in explaining why mental and physical health symptoms and conditions vary according to racial and ethnic categories,” as explained by Dericka D. Canada, co-coordinator for the 2013 Diversity Challenge Conference and GA&S ’16. Particularly this month, health care and health issues have come to the forefront of our nation’s attention. Addressing the intersection between health and race will make this year’s Diversity Challenge one of the most culturally relevant conferences yet.
Each year, between 200 and 300 people from around the U.S. and other countries attend and participate in the Diversity Challenge sessions. Although the majority of attendants tend to consist of graduate students from BC and surrounding institutions, undergraduates and anyone else interested can easily get involved in the conference.
In addition to planning and coordinating the annual Diversity Challenge, members of the ISPRC are also involved in various collaborative research projects and community outreach programs, including racial identity training on local college campuses, career choice and support groups for individuals of color, mental health interventions, and advocacy interventions and girls’ group at a racially and ethnically diverse local high school.