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Forging Community for Black Public Health Students

Doctoral Student Launches New Association to Create Hub, Welcome Space for Black Student Researchers

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Headshot of Naomi Whitaker and headline about new student association

Doctoral student Naomi Whitaker, Ph.D. ’27, has been a member of Black student organizations at every higher education institution she’s attended.

In the wake of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders in 2020, Whitaker founded a Black student athlete organization at East Carolina University. While completing her MPH at Emory University, she joined the school’s Black public health student organization. And in September, at the start of her Ph.D. program in the Department of Family Science, Whitaker founded the Association for Black Public Health Students at University of Maryland.

In just five weeks, the organization garnered 80 new members by word of mouth alone.

Black box with vertical red, yellow and green lines through it, surrounding the words "Association of Black Public Health Students."

Whitaker started the association to create a hub for Black public health researchers and create a welcoming space for those who are struggling to find their place at the school. 

“[At predominantly white institutions] we can feel a little isolated and not really know how to form a community,” the Virginia native said. ”We want to form community, not just for professional gain but just for personal gain. Building community is necessary for our mental health. We can’t tackle this journey alone.”

“Also, it’s important as we’re trying to build up this body of research around Black experiences that we have one central place where we can communicate with other Black scholars,” she added.

The association is open to undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students. Whitaker emphasized that it is not only for students pursuing a public health degree but anybody at UMD with an interest in public health.

“I want us to be seen as fighters and movers for social justice and try to break down that racial barrier that exists in public health,” she said.  

Whitaker dreams big for the club, aspiring to perform community service, have a scholarship in the association’s name and create a national network for similar organizations. Most importantly, though, she wants the association to be more than a social club.

“There are a lot of social injustices and real life problems that need to be solved in public health,” she said. “I truly do hope that us coming together and being a resource for people and educating more people on topics will actually create better scholars and more people tackling issues in this area. Because right now, there are not enough of us.”  

Interested students can contact Whitaker via email: nwhitak1@umd.eduThe Association of Black Public Health Students at UMD is also on Instagram


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