Championing health in Black History Month

By Juanita P. Fain

“Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”  These are the words of President Gerald Ford in 1976 when he officially recognized Black History Month with a public call to action.

Every American president since 1976 has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specified theme.  For Black History Month 2022 the theme is “Black Health and Wellness,” with special emphasis on healthcare access and improving wellness.

I am particularly encouraged and impassioned by this theme because it is so timely, relevant, and compelling. It amplifies the need and willingness to identify, question, and correct the health inequities among Black people in this country, which has been made more evident by the pandemic. 

Black students, faculty, and staff within the nation’s colleges and universities are not immune from these disparities which impact their physical and mental health and wellness.

The Division of Student Affairs is among many units at UNLV that are diligently working to address health inequalities on our campus and beyond because it is critical to the success of our students and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. To that end, two years ago we created a listing of Student Affairs Antiracism Resources.  It includes events, trainings, webinar recordings, podcasts, articles, books, textbooks, and web resources. 

Similarly, MSI Task Force is compiling a comprehensive listing of resources to support UNLV’s MSI designation commitment and initiatives. In spring 2021, health disparities were a leading topic in a wide-ranging UNLV-sponsored series “We Need to Talk: Conversations on Racism for a More Resilient Las Vegas.”

Another example is the School of Public Health, which houses the Center for Health Disparities Research. An extensive report released in 2020 thoroughly documents widespread disparities in access to healthcare among marginalized groups and notes key steps to make systemic change.

In addition to other services and a trauma-informed approach to care, CAPS offers a Racial Healing Group, and an LGBTQ+ Support Group aimed at supporting the array of needs our student body may present.

These are just a few ways the university is identifying healthcare inequity and taking steps to intervene. While we’re proud of the care our campus provides for our students, we recognize the strongest tool in fighting health disparities is, through information and education, to address the systemic issues within the nation that drive these disparities.

Carter G. Woodson, the “father of Black History Month” wrote,

“Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.”

Those words were powerful when they were published in 1933, and they continue to have relevance today and they inspire me – and I hope all of us – as we continue the important work of improving our society through education.

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