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Brown launches full-tuition scholarship for underrepresented students pursuing Masters in Public Health

The Health Equity Scholars fellowship program expands on previous Early Identification Program, long-lasting relationship between Brown, Tougaloo College

The School of Public Health has announced a new Health Equity Scholars fellowship program that will allow up to five students from Tougaloo College — a historically Black college in Mississippi — to pursue a Master of Public Health degree at the University under a full-tuition scholarship. The program also promises unique mentorship and internship opportunities for matriculants. 

The announcement, which came on June 8, builds on a 60-year relationship between the University and Tougaloo College and comes during “a time of national racial unrest and magnified health inequity due to COVID-19,” Shontay Delalue, vice president for institutional equity and diversity, wrote in an email to The Herald. Delalue added that the program will “build upon the principles of social justice that were at the fore when the partnership was established.” 

The goal of the Health Equity Scholars program is to “increase public health leadership with people who will be more aware of the needs of the African American community and those communities with health disparities,” said Wendy White, a collaborator of the partnership and principal investigator of the Jackson Heart Study Undergraduate Training and Education Center at Tougaloo. The Jackson Heart Study program prepares Tougaloo students to be health care advocates by introducing them to public health courses.

To qualify for the Health Equity Scholars program, matriculants would not be required to follow any particular area of study within public health, Ashish Jha, incoming dean of the School of Public Health and current director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told The Herald.

The schools are committed to accepting the first class for the fall of 2020, with plans to release the application in a few weeks for a short application period. The first cohort of applicants may be current undergraduate students or alums from Tougaloo interested in pursuing a Master of Public Health degree at Brown, according to the University website

The partnership between the schools was initiated in 1964 on the “10th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision” and was “designed to enrich both campuses through academic and cultural exchanges for students, faculty and staff,” Delalue wrote. Hundreds of students have since engaged in programs like Alpert Medical School’s Early Identification Program, which annually offers a few students from Tougaloo — in addition to those from several other universities in Rhode Island — a guaranteed spot at the Medical School.

The Early Identification Program at the School of Public Health began in 2011 and was a precursor to this expansion. It welcomed Tougaloo students to apply in their sophomore year for a guaranteed MPH from Brown’s School of Public Health, White said. But so far, only one student, Melvin Smith MPH ’16, has applied for and completed the program. 

Previous low student interest may have been due in part to unfamiliarity with the study of public health. When Smith applied, “public health wasn’t a universal term,” he said. But now, “health care is like dye dropped in water; it spreads and impacts everything around it.” 

The lack of funding for the program’s matriculants had been another factor dissuading “a lot of our students” from applying to the program, White said. 

“We have had a strong partnership with Tougaloo, but it has lacked the funding to make the program financially accessible,” Dean of the School of Public Health Bess Marcus wrote in an email to The Herald.

Although finding funding for the program had been under consideration for years, “with the press on (COVID-19) and racism, it became clear (that) something needed to be done sooner rather than later,” White said.

In response to the George Floyd protests, University administrators “felt compelled to act” and “go beyond the statements,” Jha said.

“This is a fundamentally important time to respond to the public health crisis of racism and health disparities,” Marcus wrote, adding that the “School of Public Health's guiding educational principle is ‘learning public health by doing public health.’”

From his experience, Smith said the new initiative is “a great opportunity to help reduce (health) disparities."

Since the announcement of the program, White has seen “a lot of interest” from Tougaloo students. Though the news is still being propagated, so far the reaction has “been very positive.” 

Smith commended the mentorship offered to him even after he completed the previous program. “Anytime I've needed anything, I could still count on my professors and mentors from Brown and Tougaloo.”

While this program is only one step toward dismantling and engaging with the history of systemic racism in the public health sector, the hope is that “over time programs like this can really change public health” by training public health leaders that come from “different backgrounds and can bring different sets of perspectives,” Jha said. 

“The expectation and plan is that we’ll grow this,” he said. Progress beyond this first year will rely on feedback from Tougaloo students and administrators to make sure that the program can continue to improve.

While Tougaloo served as an appropriate start because of the well-established relationship between the schools, “I feel deeply committed to expanding this program beyond Tougaloo,” Jha said. The School of Public Health also hopes to extend the program to other historically Black colleges.

“We’re not stopping here,” Jha added.

Correction: An earlier version of this article quoted Shontay Delalue as writing that the program will “build upon the principles of social justice that were at the force when the partnership was established,” when Delalue actually wrote: "the principles of social justice that were at the fore when the partnership was established." The Herald regrets the error.  


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