July 28, 2020
The ongoing public health crisis caused by the coronavirus has made abundantly clear the importance of our public health and health sciences workforce. In these unprecedented times, we all find inspiration in the work being conducted by our alumni as they work to help, care, educate, and protect our communities. Read about one experience in our "Stories from the Pandemic" series below.
Meenakshi Verma-Agrawal earned her MPH in Community Health Education in 2002. She is an Associate Professor of Practice and Assistant MPH Program Director at Simmons University in Boston.
How has pandemic affected you professionally?
Currently, I am the Assistant Program Director and Associate Professor at Simmons University. Our MPH program is focused on health equity and is 100% online with asynchronous material and live sessions. That part really did not shift for us, students were used to meeting remotely. However, now students were home with their families and all of the roles were colliding. Some lost jobs, some got COVID-19 and as faculty we had to be tremendously responsive to the needs of the students as the cracks and fissures of our society were revealed. This included conversations on how inequities have always been there, but have been amplified by COVID-19. Additionally, the relevance of the current work of the Black Lives Matter movement brought our critical conversations from the classroom to the work of protestors and policymakers. Our online program has offered me a lot of hope that we can continue to build community and accomplish brave things in the virtual space.
Like many others, I found myself rearranging some small spaces at home to accommodate my new home office. My children were home and I was simultaneously conducting administrative meetings and homeschooling while my partner could not work from home. We have found new routines and I still worry about the impact of this on our society but emerge with the hope that the pandemic is a portal (Arundhati Roy) and we may come out of it working through the trauma of our past history, especially in the US. I have also become a COVID baker. I need to figure out the sourdough starter, though! :)
How has your background in public health and/or health science fields helped you during this crisis?
My background in public health has amplified my voice in both the personal and professional space. When society asks for a vaccine urgently, I can reach back into my public health history and use my voice to share the challenges of that kind of mindset. Most of all, I would say the idea that this is a collective "we" problem and not an individual "me" problem comes from the core of my public health training at UMass Amherst, specifically from my mentor, Dr. Dan Gerber.
Do you have any advice for our current students?
My advice for current students is to continue to follow the science, learn the history and ACT! This is the time we have to act, to have difficult conversations and unlearn the harmful stock narratives that make up our society. Understand how structural racism impacts public health and health outcomes.