Nashira Baril, class of 2001, discusses how her interdisciplinary studies shaped her career path and led her to her current job as the co-director of the Center for Health Equity and Social Justice in Boston. In 2008, for her leadership and her steps toward improving community health, she was honored by the Boston Celtics as "A Hero Among Us".
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in two small towns in CT, Middlebury and Colebrook.
You studied Women’s Studies and Legal Studies at UMass Amherst. Did those studies impact your decision to pursue an MPH and if so, how?
My studies in WOST and Legal studies at UMass definitely shaped my career path after graduation. I knew I wanted to work in the community on social justice issues and women’s health. I did not realize until a few years later that a Masters in Public Health was the best way to further my education in those areas.
What sparked your interest in the public health field?
Public health represented to me the intersection of community organizing, advocacy, and social justice with a population focus. I was interested in public health, before I knew that was the name of a field of study and practice. I have found a career niche for myself in doing health equity work because it gets at the social and racial justice work that I enjoy and is interwoven with policy advocacy and community organizing.
Your biography says that you’ve had experience with women’s health projects in western Massachusetts. What were you involved with here?
I was a trainer with the Everywoman’s Center at Umass as well as part of the Women of Color Leadership Network. Through both of those programs I was a part of training and dialogue both on campus and in the greater-Umass area about women’s issues and women’s health.
You’re currently the co-director of the Center for Health Equity and Social Justice in Boston; would you tell us a little about your job?
I work at the Boston Public Health Commission, the city’s health department, in the Center for Health Equity and Social Justice. The Center works to support BPHC’s vision to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities and build health equity through community, policy, and systems change. In service of the Commission’s priority to work collaboratively with communities to eliminate health inequity, the Center provides funding, training, and technical assistance to communities and organizations in Boston and Southern New England. We are also working on an exciting initiative to provide all BPHC employees with the training and tools to address health inequities through their work.
What’s your fondest or funniest memory of UMass?
My senior year I lived off campus with my two best friends and 4 of our other friends lived in the apartment upstairs. Everything about that year was fun! One fond memory I have was a massive snowball fight in the parking lot of our apartment complex. It lasted for two days while classes were cancelled.
Any advice you would give to undergraduates pursuing a degree in the humanities and fine arts?
My advice is: a degree in the humanities and fine arts is a gateway to much more than you can imagine. You are not expected to know exactly what you want to do when you graduate. In fact, I think you should be open minded and take the time to learn what others with this degree are doing and you’ll see that there are endless possibilities.