Several expert panelists gathered virtually on Sept. 24 and discussed social disparities in marginalized communities in a new social justice series, “#ThisIsAmerica,” and was sponsored by multiple organizations on campus.
The panelists each shed light within their area of expertise in regard to systemic issues that are embedded in the climate today. Panelists began the conversation with health disparities, which is prevalent considering the current pandemic.
Panelist Wizdom Powell, a UConn Health associate professor in psychiatry and director of the Health Disparities Institute, stated that the pandemic has brought all the problems in our health, justice and educational systems to light.
“We are all having our breaths collectively stolen as a consequence of the dueling interplay between COVID-19 and racial disparities,” Powell said.
She spoke about how we need to go beyond finding a solution to the pandemic but also a solution for equal opportunities to healthcare.
“Disparities are not inherent to race,” Powell said. “Race is a mythic but fatal sociological invention. The fact that we see these disparities reflect actual disparities in access to resources and places where people live and get educated and get healthcare.”
Loneke Blackman-Carr, an assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences, made the point that obesity and gender oppression are high-contributing factors to social disparities, which are especially prevalent in Black women.
“Obesity, stress, nutrition and physical activity are all connected,” Blackman-Carr said. “The things that really propagate these health inequities are the same things that are propagating COVID-19 health disparities and the deadly impact it’s having on black communities.”
The webinar discussed Connecticut’s role in marginalized communities. Many panelists agreed Connecticut can do more.
“We have a ways to go. I think Connecticut is in a position with its progressive leanings to really make strides in this area and to lift up local to state-level policies that will actually reduce some of these harms that are rooted in our nation. Connecticut really has the opportunity to be an example,” Blackman-Carr said.
“We have these underlying — and also I think more and more outright — beliefs that Black [people] and Latinos are responsible for the gaps in their education and health experiences,” Jennifer McGarry, a professor in the department of educational leadership and executive director of Husky Sport, said.
“I think the disparities that we see are because folks, teachers and school leaders are not educated,” McGarry said.
McGarry mentioned that adults need to be caring so that students feel connected and like they belong.
“They do not come up in a system that believes Black and Brown students can exceed educationally,” McGarry said. “These systems just reinforce the discipline that raising your voice to children is necessary to get them to learn and listen and that testing in public schools is necessary, but none of that is true. It’s counter to what kids need to feel that they belong and are needed in that school setting.”
True education is the ability to question what’s going on around you and your place in that space.
The webinar ended on a note of what a better America would look like and what we could do as citizens of America.
“We often don’t think about poverty as a lack of time, but that is what it manifests as. The recommendations for health, nutrition and physical activity require time to invest in on an individual and family level,” Blackman-Carr said. “If you are working multiple jobs and [are] food insecure, then you potentially don’t have time to engage in those healthy practices. ”
“Education is not checking things off that you learned, it’s not showing up and doing the assignment,” McGarry quoted from a book she mentioned reading. “True education is the ability to question what’s going on around you and your place in that space. Until you’re able to do that, you are not truly educated. You may have acknowledged and learned things, but to be truly educated you have to be able to raise those questions and I think an enlightened America needs to be a place that we are all asking those questions.”