News, On Campus, Academics

New Major Looks At Public Health Through “a Social Justice Lens”

Boston College’s new global public health and the common good major will aim to prepare future graduates for the social justice issues they may face throughout their careers, according to Summer Sherburne Hawkins.  

“We’re training the next generation of practitioners, policy makers, and researchers to tackle these challenging public health issues with a social justice lens,” Sherburne Hawkins, an associate professor in the School of Social Work (SSW), said in an email to The Heights.

The Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society and the Connell School of Nursing (CSON) will offer the new global public health and the common good major starting in the fall of 2023, according to Phillip Landrigan. 

Sherburne Hawkins, a public health professor and the University’s first epidemiologist, said she is excited to get more BC students involved in the public health field.

“We want students to attend BC because of the major and the unique training they will receive as undergraduates,” Sherburne Hawkins said.

Landrigan, the director of the global public health program and BC’s Global Observatory on Planetary Health, said BC first launched a three-course sequence in global public health in 2014 as a collaboration among CSON, SSW, and the Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

“I got to observe the program and was very impressed by it,” Landrigan said.

During the 2017–18 academic year, Landrigan said he started planning the blueprint for the global public health and the common good minor. BC officially launched the minor in the fall of 2019.

“It was very successful,” Landrigan said. “We had twice as many students apply for the minor each year as we had seats to accommodate them, and so we persuaded the provost at the time to create a major, and I’m absolutely delighted that it’s going to be administratively based in the Connell School.” 

Before the University officially announced its new major, over 100 students enrolled in the minor or pursued an independent global public health major, according to a University release.

According to Sherburne Hawkins, the goal of the global public health program was always to eventually offer a major. 

“While we were all pleased when the minor was approved, the broader goal was to have a major on campus,” Sherburne Hawkins said. “It’s been wonderful working with Prof Landrigan and colleagues across BC to make that a reality.”

According to CSON Dean Katherine Gregory, the new major’s curriculum will allow several disciplines to merge, including nursing and public health education. 

“I am really looking forward to seeing additional interdisciplinary education and collaboration, with a focus on health and the common good,” Gregory said in an email to The Heights. “The problems of today, particularly as they relate to health and well-being, are far too complex to be solved by any one discipline or group of people.”

Ella Whitman, an independent global public health major and MCAS ’23, said the new major’s mission and teachings will mesh well with the University’s Jesuit principles. 

“As a Jesuit, liberal arts university that seeks to educate its students to be men and women for others, the newly-approved major in Global Public Health and the Common Good will enable students to have the intellectual foundation and practical skills for service and scholarship,” Whitman said in an email to The Heights.

According to Michael Britt, an independent global public health major and MCAS ’23, the program’s attention to systemic health care issues aligns with the University’s emphasis on caring for others.

“BC really touts men and women for others,” Britt said. “I think that that’s something that global public health is all about. [It’s about] serving other people with their health needs and also addressing systemic issues in health and systemic barriers to health care.”

Sebastian Cota, an independent global public health major and MCAS ’24, said he became interested in public health after volunteering at a Los Angeles hospital and witnessing the realities of health inequity.

“When I heard about these health disparities, I realized, ‘Oh, like that’s a lot of what my mom and I are facing at home and other people where I live,’” Cota said. “Especially during the pandemic when we saw, you know, a very big increase in cases in certain hotspots, one of those was where I lived.”

Naomi Alter, MCAS ’23, said she was originally a part of the global public health minor until Landrigan encouraged her to pursue the independent major.

“I kind of said to him, ‘Look, I’m feeling lost. I don’t really know what to do,’ and he was able to guide me in the right direction and point out this opportunity to do an independent major,” Alter said.

Landrigan said applications for the global public health major and minor will open in January.

“We look for students who really feel a vocation for public health,” Landrigan said. “We ask students to give us a couple of short essays on the application form, and we read those essays very carefully.”

Graduates of the new major will gain in-depth public health knowledge, allowing them to “advance the common good,” Landrigan said.

“They’re not just going to be technicians of public health—they’re going to be people who want to reduce disparities, work for social justice, and advance the common good, and I think that’s going to make our graduates very, very special people,” Landrigan said.

December 9, 2022