New group formed to address public health crises
A dozen concerned faculty, staff and students met on March 28 to form a group that aims to use science-based, public health-informed methods to address current crises--beginning with gun violence. Dr. Amy Sapkota (MIAEH) facilitated the discussion. The meeting was attended by more staff and faculty than students and she said that figuring out how to better engage students is of prime importance.
PhD candidate Sara Olsen (BCH), a 17-year Navy combat veteran, acknowledged that many of those in her social circle would not be a part of this meeting, assuming that a group like this one would have an agenda with a strong and emotional bias against gun owners.
"We need to go to those opposed to change," she urged, noting that it would be more productive to speak in terms of responsible gun ownership. "What makes you a responsible gun owner?" she said we should be asking. "Let's flip the conversation to, 'how do we make everybody look like you?'"
Dr. Cynthia Baur, director of the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, said, "What we want to do is facilitate productive, fact-based conversations." She also said they should recognize that the issue of gun violence includes mass shootings like the recent one in Florida; it also includes ongoing street violence and the flood of guns on American streets. She asked the group to consider, are we addressing the multiple facets of the problem, or focusing on just one?
Junior student Chinedu Nwabuisi (Public Health Science) said, "We must find ways to bring different groups together, like responsible gun owners need to talk to those who think guns should be banned."
Dr. Lis Maring (Family Science) agreed that it would be helpful to faciliate discussions among people with differing views. She pointed to the university's Words of Engagement Intergroup Dialogue Program, an initiative of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion that facilitates conversations among students from various social identity groups with a history of tension or conflict between them. Dr. Maring suggested that this approach might be a productive way to start conversing productively about gun violence.
Dean Lushniak suggested that they may want to bring in an expert to discuss what we may and may not do as a school of public health. He noted that he recently spoke before the Maryland state legislature in support of a ban of weapons at institutions of higher learning, and he wondered what else is possible and appropriate. "How do we inspire the feds to put more money into this? What are the parameters, what are our options?"
The group will meet again at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, April 4th in the Friedgen Family Lounge. Pizza will be served. For more information, contact Dr. Amy Sapkota.