“This course is a reminder of the people that we work with, and their enormous amount of knowledge,” says Alison Tovar, associate professor of behavioral and social sciences. Her course, Community-Engaged Research in Public Health, engages students in a collaborative, hands-on form of research known as community-based participatory research, or CBPR. Students use case studies, community interactions, and discussions with guest speakers to reflect on their personal experiences in the public health space, and to challenge their existing biases across a range of topics.
“This was a course that encouraged us to examine our positionality,” said graduate student Rehan Aslam, “and I had a lot more to bring to the table than I thought I did.”
Tovar says she wants students from marginalized communities to feel safe in her class and speaking to others in the space. She wants them to feel heard. “I want students to question business as usual,” she said.
According to graduate student Ellis Silva, the course fostered a sense of her belonging in the broader community and gave her a new perspective on those she serves, and how best to serve them. “A lot of the class is about how to communicate better. Public health is by and for the community, in an equal partnership with researchers.”
The Community-Engaged Research course also builds connections to local networks of support groups, non-profits, and advocacy organizations. As Silva described, those connections don’t happen overnight. “Taking the time to build trust, and letting [community members] guide the research gets them involved,” she said. Aslam echoed that sentiment, “Public health is a collaborative partnership; this course taught me that sometimes it’s not science, it’s activism.”