UConn Health Disparities Institute creates initiative for health equity among boys and men of color


HDI serves to address health equity issues facing people from all sectors of Connecticut, according to the institute’s website. (File/The Daily Campus)

The Health Disparities Institute (HDI) of UConn Health has created an arts-based health equity initiative program, Denise Smith, research associate and projects manager at HDI, said. The program will target inequities faced by boys and men of color.

Next month, the institute will be releasing its 2018 Connecticut Report Card on Health Equity Among Boys and Men of Color (BMoC). The report will include dissemination approaches and information about racial and ethnic differences, behavioral health, life expectancy and mortality rates, as well as social determinants of health, like employment, income and education, Smith said.

“This report is the first of its kind in Connecticut,” Smith said in an email. “Producing this report is an important step towards raising awareness about the need for data collection in population groups that are limited in availability (American Indian/Alaska Native, Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander, and Asian boys and men).”

The report card produced by HDI is similar to others produced throughout the country, Wizdom Powell, Director of HDI, said. Powell adds that the institute plans to create another report for women and girls of color in the future.

“The report card for health equity actually also puts Connecticut on the map and in sync with other states that are producing similar report cards for men,” Powell said. “We thought it was important as a tool for policy makers, physicians and researchers, to have a snapshot of the health equity of boys and men of color.”

Scientific evidence in Connecticut and throughout the country is lacking in the department of compartmentalized data regarding race, gender, age, etc., Powell said. Better science is required to properly address health disparities among specific disadvantaged demographics.

The institute has also recently launched the Connecticut Boys and Men of Color Multi-Sector Alliance, through which HDI plans to host several arts-based initiatives to promote health equity in the coming year, Smith said.

“HDI is shining light on the power of visual art to help inspire greater health equity among Connecticut’s boys and men of color,” Smith said. “Our work builds on initiatives like the National Academy of Medicine Visualizing Health Equity Project, which recognizes the power of art to amplify creative strategies and solutions.”

The institute’s Visualizing Health Equity Among BMoC series highlights the importance of visual art and discussion to shed light on health disparity. Specifically, the Conversations with Artists series is a series of gallery discussions with artists who focus on inequity. These events have taken place in Hartford, and will be expanding to New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury with the help of JCJ Architecture, Powell said.

“Another goal that we’re trying to accomplish is we want to deepen our community involvement,” Powell said. “We have to use some innovative strategies. We’re hoping to leverage art to change narratives, bridge empathy gaps and inspire systems change. Art has this way of opening up dialogue in ways that data can’t do alone.”

On Nov. 7, HDI hosted speaker David Ikard, professor of African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt, with a talk titled, “The Grace We Can Imagine: Empowering Black Boys in the 21st Century.” This event was a part of HDI’s Visualizing Health Equity Among BMoC series.

The inequities facing boys and men of color are a result of a larger system, and are often preventable, Smith said. Socioeconomic conditions are often at play.

“Boys and men of color experience poor health outcomes and shorter life spans due in large part to social and economic drivers of health,” Smith said. “Many of the conditions that lead to mortality are largely preventable.”

The initiative serves to address inequities surrounding the health and well-being of the demographic, and bring their voices forward, Smith said.

“Interventions to address these health drivers often result in incremental and not sustainable change,” Smith said. “Missing from the dialogue are the voices of community, specifically, boys and men of color.”

Similarly, Powell states that the institute seeks to incorporate the voices of youth in the community in decisions made about their health.

“We know that a lot of the policy decisions that we make about youth are often made about them without them,” Powell said. “Youth have a powerful voice, and the power and insights to help us develop our approaches. We’ve been bringing our youth and elders into spaces we’re calling ‘brave new spaces’ to develop intergenerational dialogue.”

For more information, Smith suggests visiting the HDI website. To get involved with the initiatives, one should contact Allison Jocelyn, who coordinates intern and volunteer experience through HDI.

HDI serves to address health equity issues facing people from all sectors of Connecticut, according to the institute’s website. The group hopes that, ultimately, everyone in the state will have an equal opportunity to enjoy good health and well-being and encourages students to get involved, Smith said.

“We connect, support and serve residents and communities through individual, system-level and place-based strategies,” Smith said. “We especially value social justice, youth input and the power of art to amplify community voice and disrupt single stories about the truly underserved.”

Miranda Garcia is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at miranda.r.garcia@uconn.edu.

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