social justice and public health master’s degree

The Connection Between Social Justice and Public Health

Amidst a global pandemic, in which people worldwide were afraid for their health and well-being, it seems unexpected that the largest social justice movement in United States history also occurred.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests began in Minneapolis on May 26, the day after the death of George Floyd. The movement peaked on June 6, 2020, when cumulatively across America, half a million people marched against the unjust deaths of Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. The world watched as BLM swept up more hearts and minds than the Women’s March on the capitol in 2017, and even all of the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s put together.

One of the most interesting details of the BLM uprising is not about the total number of participants who stood with BLM, but about who those participants are. 40 percent of U.S. counties held protests. 95 percent of those counties had a population that is majority white. What does this say about the average citizen’s shifting attitude towards equitable treatment of Black and, more generally, non-white Americans? Statistics like these signal a mainstream recognition of an unbalanced law enforcement system and a dire need for an educated, unprejudiced police force (Washington Post).

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to center stage a second, related recognition of systemic disparity in America. Similar to the BLM movement, this was and continues to be an inequality that results in more Black and non-white deaths, than white deaths. It is access to healthcare. The COVID Tracking Project has found that, in America, Black people have died from the pandemic at 1.4 times the rate of white people. American Indian or Alaska Native are the second hardest-hit group, followed by Hispanic or Latino, and then Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Amongst the cases where we know the race of the deceased, Black people make up 15 percent of those deaths. According to the 2019 US Census, Black people alone (not accounting for people reporting that they are Black and another race) made up 13.4 percent of the population. How are Black people dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than their total composition in the American population? It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? This is a public health injustice that cannot be ignored.

It’s now well-known that throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Black Americans were denied entry to hospitals, were not given access to ventilators and other life-saving equipment, and were discharged too early. CNN reported on the heartbreaking stories of family members who had to advocate for their loved ones to receive care, because no one else would. This is a clear and horrifically unfortunate example of deeply-entrenched systemic racism or the widely held belief that one person’s life is more worthy than another’s based on their race.

In 2020, the general public finally realized that two of America’s most integral systems that directly affect our livelihoods are broken. The healthcare system and the law enforcement system both require a social justice overhaul. However, when we talk about specific systemic effects on populations, we have to recognize the even bigger picture of how a healthy life in America is disproportionately more challenging to achieve for some groups than others. There are many barriers, whether visible or invisible, that people who are white take for granted. White privilege allows them to maybe never even have known that barriers exist for others at all.

Public health professionals grapple with the relationship between social justice and public health, day in and day out. For some context, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion discusses the social determinants of health in great detail. Health doesn’t just start or end in the hospital or doctor’s office, but rather is entwined with a person’s everyday social and physical environment. Where people are born, their age, and where they live, get their education, work, play, and gather are social determinants. The conditions in each environment: for instance, safety and quality of education when in school, above minimum-wage work, and affordability and access to resources like grocery stores in one’s neighborhood, directly influence a population’s general health. In addition, physical determinants to health include community infrastructure, such as comfortable, available housing with basic utilities, sidewalks and bike lanes near home, and green spaces. To summarize, the determinants can be grouped into five categories, with a few sub-categories attached to each topic:

  • Economic Stability (including employment, poverty, food, and housing)
  • Education (all levels from early childhood to high school, plus language and literacy)
  • Social and Community Context (incarceration, discrimination, and civic involvement)
  • Health and Health Care (access and literacy)
  • Neighborhood and Built Environment (access to healthy eating, crime, violence, housing quality)

A Master’s in Public Health (MPH) degree is all about learning how to implement positive developments in communities. Biostatisticians, disaster and emergency specialists, epidemiologists, public health directors, educators, and sanitarians do the good work of seeing to various health aspects that directly impact specific populations. A graduate public health curriculum includes learning about policy, social and behavioral science, occupational and environmental health, among other key topics.

If you are equally passionate about public health and social justice, you’ll be happy to hear that Goodwin University’s MPH program offers electives like public health economics, U.S. healthcare delivery systems, and public health administration, all of which are built to help students analyze current systems. The bright side of 2020 is that, amongst the awful things we witnessed, there is a new generation with a fire in their bellies. Regular citizens want to do what they can to facilitate changes that protect and support the lives and achievements of Black and non-white Americans.

To become a public health professional and dedicate your talents to the social justice cause through science, is to be part of the movement in one of the most constructive ways.

To learn about the Master’s in Public Health program at Goodwin University, please do not hesitate to call our admissions team at 800-889-3282 today. We are here to help you into a career you love.