The School of Public Health launched three new affinity-based student organizations in February: the Womxn in Public Health Organization, Students for Latino/Latinx in Public Health and Disability Justice as Public Health
According to Sean Kelley, assistant dean of student services at SPH, the school’s Office of Education and Student Services secured initial funding from the University to support both current and potential future groups. In collaboration with the Graduate Student Council and Departmental Undergraduate Groups, OSS also offers leadership training for students leading the new groups.
According to Kelley, OSS had consistently received feedback from students stating that they wanted affinity-based organizations at SPH. “We now have the infrastructure and funding to support them.”
The new organizations were “years in the making” and are “complementary to long-standing” student groups already on campus, Kelley explained. Students were able to submit proposals to SPH for the groups this past fall.
Leaders from each group spoke to The Herald about their organization’s background, structure and future plans.
Womxn in Public Health Organization
Irene Quilantang GS and Madison Davis GS co-founded the Womxn in Public Health Organization to connect with people experienced with the public health field who also “share (our) own experience,” Quilantang said.
The organization aims to create a safe space for women in public health to discuss challenges, share successes and inspire each other, according to Quilantang.
The group traces back to the Public Health Womxn of Color Initiative, an organization founded in 2018 and hosted by the SPH Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Last semester, before the group was formalized as a student-run organization, it hosted a panel through OSS, the DEI office, Sarah Doyle Center and Pembroke Center. Speakers, including SPH Deputy Dean Megan Ranney, SPH Assistant Dean of DEI Jai-Me Potter-Rutledge and Pembroke Center Communications Manager Sarah Gamble, offered their insights into public health.
When OSS called for group proposals, Quilantang and Davis seized the opportunity to formalize Womxn in Public Health as a student-run organization, allowing them to request SPH funding for their group.
Quilantang said that she and Davis relied on support from the dean’s office, DEI office and OSS when forming the group. “We’re lucky that we have a very supportive administration at this time.”
Moving forward, the organization looks to celebrate Women’s History Month, establish a mentorship program for group members and support LGBTQ+- and women-owned businesses in Providence.
According to Quilantang, anyone interested in public health may join the group, even if they don’t identify as a woman.
“More people (supporting) women in public health would be great,” she said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Students for Latino/Latinx in Public Health
“Students who identified as Latinx would come up to me and ask me the same questions I had my first year: ‘Is there a group for Latinx students where we can talk about public health issues relating to our community?’ ” said David Arango GS.
Arango, Cindy Lopez GS and Jorge Ledesma GS launched and lead Students for Latino/Latinx in Public Health. The group aims to raise awareness of Latinx culture in public health, health issues disproportionately faced by Latino/Latinx communities, promote diversity, motivate Latinx public health research and serve the Latinx community in Rhode Island and beyond, according to their website.
“A lot of the people who start the MPH program can feel a little bit disconnected when they don’t see themselves (represented) in classroom” discussions, Arango said. The call for student group proposals prompted him to work with the DEI office to draft his submission.
“Finding enough members to be the backbone of the organization” was demanding for Arango, he said.
During Black History Month, the organization co-hosted a kickoff event with the Graduate African Student Organization which showcased empowering figures as well as African and Latinx cuisine. According to Arango, the group is working to plan monthly community service days and host Latinx professors to speak and present research opportunities. They also plan to host events for Hispanic Heritage Month next fall.
Disability Justice as Public Health
Disability Justice as Public Health intends to frame disability in public health “as a component of diversity, rather than an individual failing,” Arenal Haut ’24 wrote in an email to The Herald.
Haut and Aleksa Kaye GS met as members of the largely-undergraduate group Disability Justice at Brown. When they heard that the SPH had called for group proposals, they decided to send in a submission for Disability Justice.
The group will serve as a collective of advocates for students, faculty and community members who identify as disabled, chronically ill and/or neurodivergent, as well as allies. Haut said that group members leverage their lived experiences to “change problematic structures” and educate the campus community about disability issues.
Another pillar of the group is mutual care: fostering connections among students who may feel isolated as part of the graduate school experience, Haut added.
For Haut, the difference between disability rights and disability justice is crucial to understanding the group’s mission. While the former secures equal opportunities and rights for disabled individuals, disability justice acknowledges that disabled individuals experience oppression across other intersecting axes of their identity, like race.
Disability justice is about “centering people who are most impacted at these intersections,” Haut said.
“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives,” Haut said, quoting feminist scholar and civil rights advocate Audre Lorde.
While the organization has already held an interest and timeline-planning meeting, they hope to coordinate community and self-care workshops and speaker panels in the future. The group plans to launch collaborations with the Disability Justice Student Initiative, Project LETS, Wellness Peer Educators and BWell Health Promotion.
According to Haut, a problem that disability awareness faces is that many don’t regard it as a diversity, equity and inclusivity topic.
“We need to go beyond just putting disabled people into a classroom,” Haut said, adding that finding people to join the organization has been difficult as disability does not often appear as a central topic in public health work.
Disability Justice also wants to work with the DEI Office to solidify disability as a recognized component of diversity, Haut said. “We’re really excited to bring this to students, to faculty, to staff, into public health and have it become part of our day to day.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated where Arenal Haut and Aleksa Kaye met. It additionally misspelled Haut's last name. The Herald regrets the errors.