Particularly in this time of global chaos, everyone is feeling like they need to be doing something. Something to make a difference, something to be engaged in their community, something that matters. Along with collaborators from the School of Public Health, this week Sara Beckman (my advisor) and I launched the first workshop in a series aimed at engaging students from across campus in real-world issues. The workshop series has several objectives:
- Engage more people in critical in public health issues
- Teach students concrete tools they can use when working on complex problems
- Start a conversation on campus that can lead to ideas + action
The session on Wednesday night focused on thinking through the implications of the global gag rule. If you're unfamiliar with the policy that's also known as the 'Mexico Policy', it restricts federal funding from going to organizations that provide abortions or even offer advice around abortion as a reproductive health service. We posed the following central question:
Despite a rainy and cold Berkeley night, over 40 people showed up including undergraduates, faculty, medical and graduate students, and Bay Area community members. We went through using a web of abstraction to better understand the broader context the challenge sits within. We further introduced the concept of systems mapping as a mechanism to explore problem spaces. The resources used all are posted on our *new* and *branded* website: reimaginingx.com! I pulled it together super quickly, so while it could look better - it's at least there.
So what happened? People left talking and thinking. They didn't come up with any solutions that will transform the landscape of reproductive healthcare but that wasn't the expectation. Individuals with like interests met, exchanged ideas, made plans for follow up conversations, and learned a skill. To me that seems like a success in two hours. It wasn't without critique. A faculty member stated that to actually start working on the problems described you need to contextualize the problem and get specific about where and what you are discussing. To which Sara responded, "Exactly!" It's our hope that events like this show faculty members how desperately students want to contribute to something "Real" and engage in work on important on impactful problems. We're kind of figuring out where this will go as it happens - and have had the thought "Hrmm it'd be better if this happened in the fall because there could be continuity to a Spring class.." However, after the session a student came up and said she wants to start a DeCal (student-run course at Berkeley) on Maternal and Child Health in the Fall and is looking for challenges to work on -- the workshop content could certainly lead to problem frames for them.
So this is a start. A start of a multidisciplinary conversations and experiments around problems that matter. Excited to see where it goes from here!