Friday, December 30, 2011

Academia? Action? Translation please, pt. 1

This is a four-part mini-series on global health discourse and translating it to be meaningful in the lives of university students. Part 1 - Introduction; 2 - Answers from academia; 3 - Does my action matter?; 4 - Translation. Contact:

Part 1: Introduction

Let's talk about global health inequities.

Firstly, a few questions:
1) How do we understand the relationship between health and inequity?
2) How do we go about building a more healthy and just future?
3) Whose ethical responsibility is it to ensure global health?

We might as well be asking, "How do we bring about world peace?" Before getting overwhelmed, let's just take a moment to marvel in the magnitude of each question. The complexity. The stakes. The implications. The power relations. The faces. The beating hearts.

Finally, let's think about possibilities.

The problem with big-picture questions like this is that it's easy to get lost. Before coming to any reasonable conclusion, we have to coat our statements with layer upon layer of big ideas in an effort to find something that's universal. Before you know it, we've used a lot of words to say nothing at all - obscuring more than we're illuminating. After peeling back layers of verbiage, we are left looking at nothing of substance.

As an university student, I see that issue - of muddling more than making clear - brought up by others when analyzing competing scholarly arguments. And as a senior trying to write a thesis, I still feel uncertain when trying to identify what the author is really trying to say or how everything fits together.

Take this perhaps familiar scene: One sad day at the library, I might be poring over articles from peer-reviewed journals and come with up a new key term I want to run on Google Scholar. Maybe I'll run into an article my school doesn't have access to, and be met with - $24.99 for access to this 7-page article please. It took me three hours of data entry at my first job to make $24.75. Barriers to entry much? While I'm distracted by this thought, I might take the opportunity to find an excuse not to write this assignment by surrounding myself in self-deprecating thoughts. I'm 21 years old. I am sitting in an air-conditioned building on an ergonomic chair intently reading something written by someone I don't know so I can write something for someone else I don't really know. I haven't really done anything of substance, and haven't proven I can even support my own living. Sometimes I can write sentences that sound convincing where I really say nothing at all. Sometimes I'm not convincing. Does this matter? Do my actions matter?

I want to use this blog post as an opportunity to say that our actions, as university students, do matter.


Because in real human moments, we all have a presence. And whether to your select close circle of people (your mom, your dad, your best friend from middle school, and your roommate in college), to the university administration (ah yes, accepted student 3254/5784 who's currently majoring in Biology), to politicians who want your vote, or to companies that view you as a potential consumer, you count.

Stay tuned for the next post, where we'll read some big-picture answers from persons you're may already be familiar with - Paul Farmer, Jeffrey Sachs, and Jennifer Ruger.

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