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Master’s Class Focuses on Connections Between Health Equity and Social Justice

It was during her graduate studies at American University that Jessica Young discovered the depth of her interest in the different ways that populations experience health.

“I knew that I wanted to use my career to improve the public’s health and that working with policy would be a way to impact the health of thousands to millions of people at a time,” she said.

It’s quite fitting to welcome Young back to AU as she strives to help others unlock their own unique passions and goals for making lasting improvements in health and well-being. With a master’s degree in health promotion management from AU, Young will lead the HPRM 480/680 class, Health Policy and Behavior Change, this fall.

She has a few key goals for this course, including to help students understand:

  • How policy can be leveraged to achieve population health behavior changes
  • The roles politics and advocacy play in health policymaking
  • How to navigate the policymaking process at the local, state and federal levels

The underlying goal in any class setting is to instill intellectual habits that help students become lifelong learners.

Good Questions Lead to Great Careers

“My experiences have been shaped by the power of inquiry,” said Young, who noted that her class lessons will be centered on a few essential questions to spark in-depth conversations.

Curiosity has been a key component of her lifelong passion for health. Even as a young soccer player, Young committed herself to researching and learning as much as she could about nutrition and strength training. Her journey of health discovery continued as she became a personal trainer and went through AU’s health promotion management MS program.

Like many students, it was during her graduate studies that Young’s interests evolved into what was poised to become her life’s work: health equity.

“At AU, I learned about the incredible role social policies such as housing, education, transportation, food, and employment policies play in shaping health — also known as the social determinants of health,” Young said.

Health Equity vs. Health Access

Ideal health equity would be if everyone had the opportunity to attain their highest level of health, according to the American Public Health Association. Much of Young’s work has centered on the impact of social policies on health equity, which she says continues to lag as many Americans languish without quality care.

Young’s background in the research of social justice’s relationship to health equity will provide unique context in the course she will teach at AU. Multi-layered subjects, such as the effects of racial and ethnic segregation on health and well-being, undoubtedly will arise as part of the curriculum.

“Segregation was a way of isolating people of color from opportunities that shape health, such as social services and quality education, housing, and jobs,” Young said. “We continue to see the health impacts of segregation today through disparities in infant mortality rates, life expectancy rates, and mortality, just to name a few.”

‘Embedding Equity’ Throughout Systems

After nearly completing her master’s degree and a PhD from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, as well as two years of work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Young looks forward to bringing her unique set of skills, ideas, and real-world examples to the table as the instructor for Health Policy and Behavior Change. One of the most important things she will focus on is the Race, Equity, and Inclusion (REI) frame.

“The REI frame helps organizations understand how to embed equity throughout their approach to systemic change,” Young said. Components of REI include:

  • Identifying the root causes of racial and ethnic inequities
  • Creating a shared language around equity
  • Tracking and assessing performance and progress toward equity

The REI frame is shaping everything from Young’s research agenda at AU to how she will prepare students to embed equity in their work now and for decades to come.

 

If you are passionate about creating lasting change in health polices and behaviors, learn more about American University’s Health Promotion Management Program.

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