2018 Summer Research Program Reflections – Reflections From A Bus Tour of St. Louis, Missouri

June 8, 2018

The blog is following the student participants in this year’s Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program. Each student will be providing their own reflections from a Summer Research Program Seminar Series event. Some students will also reflect on their experience in the summer program.

By Austin Smarsh, master of public health student, University of Michigan

On our first day together in St. Louis with the Summer Research Program, we were lucky to have been given a tour of the city by Professor Bob Hansman.

We started at the former site of the Mill Creek Valley community and proceeded to all sorts of locations throughout the city. We visited the original site of The Peoples Hospital, Sumner High School, the Ville, the former site of the Pruitt-Igoe community, the Hill, the former site of the Homer G. Phillips Hospital, and many places in-between. As we visited these places, Professor Hansman described to us the history of not only these areas, but, more importantly, the people and systems that played a role in both the creation and, sometimes, destruction of these sites.

This was not the type of tour that one typically expects when coming to a new city, but it was the type of tour one needs, especially when planning to work in public health. With each new site, we learned about how the people and systems in power continued to suppress marginalized groups, specifically African-American individuals in St. Louis, time and time again. At each stop, the emotion in Professor Hansman’s words was palpable.

Often, health professionals focus on the here and now without taking the time to understand what has led to this point or taking the time to talk with and get to know those they want to help. How can we ever better the present and the people in it, if we don’t understand what led to this point and we don’t ask the people we want to help? At the end of the day, it became obvious.

Change is possible, but only by truly getting to know and compassionately caring for one another. We still do not have equity, so we must strive for it.

This post is part of the “Summer Research Program” series of the Institute for Public Health’s blog. Subscribe to email updates or follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive notifications about our latest blog posts.

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