Black Health Inequality in the US
Hadiya Williams entered the University of Massachusetts Amherst Commonwealth Honors College in 2014 thinking she wanted to attend medical school to become a doctor. Upon her time at Honors College, Hadiya’s perspective shifted, learning more about herself and her career goals than she ever anticipated.
“I came in and came out with a completely different perspective,” Hadiya said. “I think my academics here helped shape my passion for equity and justice in health and translate that into a policy perspective.”
Through her time at UMass, Hadiya learned what her true passions were. While maintaining interest in the neuroscience field, she discovered that her interest in the social aspects of change outweighed medicine. After completing her Honors Thesis, “Black Health Inequalities: Genetics, Healthcare, and Structural Violence,” during her junior year, Hadiya went on to earn a dual degree in psychology/neuroscience and anthropology. Now finishing up her master’s degree in public policy at UMass Amherst, Hadiya plans on attending law school at New York University in the fall, focusing on policy and public interest.
Hadiya credits the Commonwealth Honors community for nurturing her interests and encouraging her growth.
“The first Gen-Ed class I took was an Honors course that introduced me to anthropology,” Hadiya said. “Doing my thesis completely shifted my perspective on how I could affect healthcare. I think I found more passion in it, and if I was a general UMass student, I wouldn’t have the advising to point me in that direction or the thesis to really explore my interests.”
Approaching her thesis with the hope of becoming a doctor, Hadiya realized her true passion for and the importance of policy in the medical field, noting her thesis project as the key determinant for her career goal switch.
“I approached my thesis first with the perspective that ‘I want to be in med school, there are people who aren’t treated equally in the medical profession, as someone who is going to be a doctor, how can I do something about it?’” asked Hadiya. “I left knowing people who make policies, implement med school curriculums, and invest in early childhood education can make the difference, and I felt more powerful in policy. My thesis was the big switch.”
Learning from Honors Political Science Professor Dean Robinson encouraged Hadiya to continue her path toward policy. Taking a class trip to Canada with Robinson, Hadiya was able to focus on comparative politics and policies between the U.S. and its northern counterpart, providing context for her thesis. As a graduate student, Hadiya still communicates with Robinson regularly, as they update each other on their research and careers.
“[Professor Robinson] is super understanding,” she says. “He does a good amount of pushing you, but also supporting you. He’s really flexible in his approach and tailoring each student’s learning styles. You can only get that in a small, intimate setting like CHC.”
Hadiya also cites her time studying abroad through Honors College as a fulfilling experience for her and her career goals. Spending time in Peru and Haiti, as well as working in disadvantaged areas such as Jonestown, Mississippi; New Orleans; and on the border in El Paso, Texas, she studied community health education, implemented STEM programs, and studied ICE detention centers — all helping to transform Hadiya’s career goals into the policy field.
After completing her thesis, she presented her work at the 2017 Undergraduate Research Conference at UMass, a cultivating experience that helped her work on synthesis and public-speaking skills.
Hadiya also referred to the warmth of the Honors College faculty and staff as the main contributor to finding her passions.
“Not being in CHC, I don’t know if I’d have been able to build relationships with professors from that early on in my college career,” she says. “I found lifelong…family in CHC.”
While there may have been bumps along the way, Hadiya is grateful for her time at the Honors College and its ability to get her to where she is.
“[Attending the Commonwealth Honors College] is one of the best choices you can make for yourself,” Hadiya said. “I think college is what you make of it, and why do it for an exorbitant amount of money when you get all the resources and opportunities here?”