November 2014 Uncategorized

Health Studies in a Liberal Arts Environment

“What is worth knowing? What is worth doing?”

Posing these fundamental questions, Manahil Siddiqi ’15 set the stage for her KIM Talk collaborators, Cindy Sousa and Melissa Pashigian.


Manahil Siddiqi ’15

Speaking eloquently about scholarship as a way to enact the public good, Siddiqi said, “I didn’t think it possible that a school curriculum could produce a praxis for social justice.” But her skepticism was challenged by what she described as Bryn Mawr’s “truly liberating model of education,” which has enabled her to build her own interdisciplinary major in global health.

To pursue her major, Siddiqi has focused on immigrant health and worked firsthand on these issues in a variety of settings. Through a course at Haverford, she traveled with a delegation studying reproductive health justice in Nicaragua. Back on campus, she continued work with Puentes de Salud, a nonprofit that provides health care in Philadelphia’s immigrant community.

And serving this past summer as a community health intern for a UK-based nonprofit, she helped establish a migrant women’s health center in Bradford, U.K.—work she could not have completed without the knowledge she had gained in her Bryn Mawr experience.

Siddiqi concluded, “They say that college is a time for you to step outside of the world and to contemplate things from a distance. I disagree. College should ignite in us a passion to be fully immersed in the world.”

Expanding on Siddiqi’s call for scholarly engagement, both of her faculty co-presenters spoke about the particular strength—interdisciplinarity—that the liberal arts bring to the field of health studies. For both Sousa and Pashigian, that engagement with different perspectives is key to addressing one of the most pressing issues facing our globalized world.

Cindy Sousa, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, focused her remarks on a new 360° that she and Bi-Co colleagues introduced this fall. Called “Struggles for Global Health Equity,” it stands as “an example of this interdisciplinary effort in practice.” As Sousa explained, this 360° integrates different bodies of scholarship (history, social welfare theory, public health, and issues of reproductive health) to focus on social justice in local and global contexts.

As part of their study, participants formed an educational delegation to Nicaragua and connected with local organizations focused on immigration and health. As Sousa pointed out, this kind of holistic knowledge is essential if students are to gain more than a superficial understanding of the issues. “For instance,” she asked, “how can we understand health inequities in Nicaragua without centering the historical and political analyses that illuminate the long-term effects of colonialism, civil war, and neo-liberalism?”

Echoing Sousa, Melissa Pashigian argued that a field such as health studies calls for the kind of holistic learning that takes place in a liberal arts college like Bryn Mawr.

Pashigian, an associate professor in anthropology, went on to ask what that kind of holistic approach means on the ground. In answer, she related the tale of a former student on a postgraduate internship at a clinic in Haiti. Charged with explaining the importance of water treatment in containing cholera, she had to call on her training in anthropology to navigate her clients’ belief that cholera transmission follows one of two different paths: the biological one, which comes from God, and the other, which comes from the devil.

To prepare students for such challenges, Bryn Mawr has introduced a health studies minor—one of the newest additions to the curriculum—that incorporates the full-circle view that Pashigian described as “coming from every possible division within the college, whether that’s humanities, or social sciences, or what we traditionally think of as the hard sciences.”

“Students will have time to become practitioners in grad school,” she explained, but “here the goal is to … approach the problem from multiple vantage points and provide an opportunity for faculty as well to collaborate across the Bi-Co and Tri-Co.”

“We try to prepare [students] to be creative problem-solvers when they graduate,” she concluded. “For when we are old and gray, they will be taking care of us in creative and sound ways, whether that be in medicine or public health, anthropology, working for a nonprofit, or working in business.”

Curious to hear more? Listen to the KIM Talks.