In this Issue
In higher education, grant funding is often a major key in moving forward with research programs.
In the case of a grant recently earned by Touro University California’s Public Health Program, the funding is paramount to tackling a major health issue.
The program earned a sizable grant through The California Endowment, which spans the course of a decade, totally $225,000 a year each year, with the possibility of expanded funding after the initial the-year term.
Public Health Program Director and Assistant Dean for the College of Education and Health Sciences Dr. Gayle Cummings said the grant is to help strengthen Black leadership capacity to address the pervasiveness of systemic racism, interlocking systems of oppression, and their adverse health and life impacts on Black communities in Vallejo - Solano County.
“While the grant initiative seeks to get funding out to leaders and organizations in the Vallejo/Solano County, TCE believed TUC to be a solid grant-worthy partner who serve the needs of the community fairly and equitably,” Dr. Cummings said.
The PH Program has hosted a social justice seminar/webinar series on various topics of equality, justice, and inclusion since the Fall of 2015. In recent years, with the development of a Health Equity and Criminal Justice focus, the program has taken even greater steps to both study and remedy the underlying causes of poor health outcomes for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities.
Best of all, the PH Program won’t have to make many adjustments to suit the grant purview.
“This grant fits into the current framework of our program’s current community engagement focus which seeks to promote systems change through community engagement and collaborative partnerships that contribute to improving the health of residents in Vallejo and Solano County,” Dr. Cummings said.
“Additionally, this grant will contribute to our current research efforts within the MPH Concentration Health Equity and Criminal Justice focusing on the intersection of health and the U.S. justice system and addresses the public health impacts of criminal justice involvement and mass incarceration on individuals, families and communities,” Dr. Cummings added.
In a statement on the matter, Cornell University researchers noted that, “it is abundantly clear” that these elements of structural racism are “lethal” to BIPOC communities.
Dr. Cummings concurred, saying, “Racism does not exist in a vacuum. Federal and state policies and practices have been created over time to perpetuate and systematize discrimination based on race and have limited access to power for BIPOC people to change these systems under which they must live.”
Adequate access to proper housing, education, health care and employment opportunities all contribute to health outcomes, and for predominantly BIPOC communities, the inadequacies thereof are the foundation of poor health outcomes, Dr. Cummings stated.
To unravel these decades and, in some cases, centuries old oppressive conditions, we must be mindful that we need to also increase our capacity to address and heal from generational trauma , Cummings said. All of this in on top of addressing other factors at work, such as gender, age, socio-economic status and others, is a complicated puzzle.
Given the urgency of the moment, an investment in healing informed, Black led organizing and movement building for systems transformation is the right approach to address the short-term needs being manifested by the racialized impacts of COVID-19 and other disasters as well as the long terms systemic changes needed to address state. This support will provide support to invest in long-term healing for Black residents and build upon these healing informed practices to support a base of leadership working to advance systems transformation.
“Racial discrimination affects access to safe and affordable housing, healthcare, education, and employment – essentially every dimension of living as a BIPOC – while also dis-empowering members of these communities from having a voice or sense of agency in their lives,” Dr. Cummings said.
This grant funding should help TUC slowly start to repair this reality
Life often has a way of putting a person in the exact spot they need to be in at the time.
For school administrator and Touro University California alumni Ernani Santos, he’s been in that place all along.
Santos grew up in Vallejo, graduating from Hogan High before moving on to earn his undergraduate degree at St. Mary’s College.
Santos had heard about an opportunity to become a substitute teacher – being plucked by an early mentor and literally driven to the Vallejo Unified School District Human Resources Department to apply. Once there, he was hired full time on an emergency teaching credential.
It didn’t take long for Santos to realize his path had led him to the right place.
“After teaching for one month, I knew that teaching is what I wanted to do and that working with young people was my calling/passion,” Santos said. “Teaching and working with young people was very fulfilling for me knowing that impact that I could have in their lives, as my mentor had made a difference in mine.”
Now an administrator at Elite Public Schools, Santos is a nearly ideal role model in many ways for his students – a man who grew up in the same town as they’re growing up in now, earned his college degree and later continued his education through Touro, and now works at a school in the same place where he grew up.
But there are more potentially great educators – particularly those from predominantly communities of color, who would then largely work with students of color – who fall by the wayside all the time.
Many of the same cultural biases that make testing an inhibiting obstacle for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals when entering higher education from high school, are hurdles for BIPOC teaching candidates, Santos points out.
“I have seen some of these potential candidates operate with our young scholars and have a tremendous impact, but cannot get over the hurdle of tests, Santos said. “It can be disheartening at times when the best people for our scholars are not able to get into the field.”
But every problem has a solution.
Santos helped develop a new program with the Graduate School of Education’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusive Education program coordinator Dr. Ijeoma Ononuju called “BlackademX,” which aims at addressing the shortage of BIPOC teachers in the education system.
“We figured, maybe if we could give black and brown teachers more exposure, and show the world how brilliant they are with dealing with our children, that maybe it will have an impact on other folks considering teaching as a viable profession,” Dr. Ononuju said.
The hope is to not only open more doors, but to improve education in general.
“We want to really shine the light on good teaching,” Dr. Ononuju said. “We want to not just give exposure to the best non-white teachers, but to the best approaches to teaching and learning.”
Part of the effort to build a more diverse collection of teachers is in discovering educators who can connect with students on a meaningful level – like Santos has, having grown up in the same place and under the same circumstances as many of his students.
“The more diverse our teaching force becomes, the more likelihood there is that I will have a teacher who has experiences similar to mine where they understand me,” Dr. Ononuju said.
BlackademX seeks to not only pave the way for teachers of color, but to do so in a way that allows them to feel comfortable teaching within their own cultural framework. This is meant to help teachers and students alike.
“We hope to increase student motivation to engage in instruction on a daily basis because their participation is critical,” Santos said. “The hope is that we can also plant a seed into our black and brown students that teaching is vital, and a viable option for them to explore . . . that they can do so with their very own flavor and have a powerful impact on future generations.”
But the affect doesn’t just end with BIPOC students. Dr. Ononuju sees BlackademX as a powerful force to benefit all students.
“Diversity opens up new worlds, new possibilities, new inspiration, but most importantly, it opens you up to a freer living experience,” Dr. Ononuju said. It traces back to the notion of, “you don’t know what you don’t know,” he said, so non-BIPOC students have much to gain from classrooms lead by teachers of color.
“When you are exposed to teachers that don’t look like you, you gain cultural capital and the skills to acquire cultural capital that allow you to be able to interact with people on a global scale,” Dr. Ononuju said. “One of the things I’ve noticed about Americans is that we lack cultural capital, but that’s simply because we lack exposure.”
Mackie chosen as featured speaker for Sustainable Solano web event
Dr. Trina Mackie, an associate professor from Touro University California’s Public Health Program, served as the guest speaker for a webinar hosted by Sustainable Solano, January 15.
The central focus of the webinar was on air quality. “Air quality has a huge impact on our health,” Dr. Mackie said. Air pollution increases the risk of asthma, respiratory diseases, stroke, heart attack and lung cancer, and can exacerbate symptoms for these diseases. Air quality was at the forefront of everyone’s mind over the summer when wildfires throughout the state created some highly polluted air that was evident just with the naked eye.
Hazardous air conditions, however, aren’t always so obvious, Dr. Mackie pointed out. Even when we cannot see or smell it, there are year-round sources of pollution impacting our air and our health. Vallejo has a number of complicating factors that influences air quality from one part of town to another, including close proximity to several refineries and other industrial sources, along with densely trafficked corridors like Interstate 80. Prior to Dr. Mackie’s presentation, a short presentation by the Vallejo Citizen Air Monitoring Network (VCAMN) demonstrated this point clearly highlighting some of the past threats to Vallejo air quality that helped spur Vallejo residents to form VCAMN.
Citizen monitoring networks like that of VCAMN, comprised of numerous discreet air monitoring stations throughout the region, are important because air quality can be very different even a few miles away, as well as at different times of the day.
Dr. Mackie used the VCAMN maps to highlight not only how different the air quality is from city to city, but also between various parts of individual cities. “These exposures are not distributed evenly,” Dr. Mackie said. “Low income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to polluted air, and these are the same groups that already have higher rates of asthma and higher rates of COVID19.”
“Air quality has a huge impact on our health,” Dr. Mackie said. Air pollution increases the risk of asthma, respiratory diseases, stroke, heart attack and lung cancer, and can exacerbate symptoms for these diseases.
Stress, anxiety and a lack of adequate healthcare access can compound the problem, as well.
“In normal times, indoor air quality is actually typically worse than outdoor air,” Dr. Mackie said. Now is the time when we are spending more time inside, and with continued COVID restrictions that only increases, but Dr. Mackie highlighted more concerning connections between air pollution and COVID19. She described the research that shows that people exposed to higher air pollution may be at increased risk of respiratory infections like COVID19, and that those with higher exposures to poor air quality are also at increased risk of health conditions that can subsequently increase their chance of complications if infected with COVID19. “All of these things working together makes everything worse,” Dr. Mackie said.
We already spend as much as 80-percent of our time inside, and even more during the cold wet winter months. There are many things we can do to reduce sources of indoor air pollution such as those from mold, fumes from cooking and cleaning supplies, wood fires, personal care products, and smoking. Air purifiers can also help make a big improvement in indoor air quality.
I am Touro: Paisley Rosengren
As we edge slowly toward the end of winter and the start of spring, we’re reminded that every ending often brings with it a new beginning.
Such is the case with new Director of Student Success, Paisley Rosengren. Rosengren takes over the position in the absence of her retired predecessor, Dr. Jill Alban, under whom Rosengren served as Touro University California’s Learning Specialist.
Dr. Alban’s departure was a tearful one for many of the students she helped assist over the years, but having Rosengren as her replacement was a boon.
Rosengren is beloved by many of the students for her calming effect on them, owed partly to her experience with practices like meditation and yoga, as well as her professional background in mental health services.
Removing stress and doubt is a major part of her role with Touro.
“I am humbled by the students’ commitment to becoming healthcare professionals. It is a very challenging profession but it can also be very rewarding,” Rosengren said. “I spent the first part of my professional career working in county mental health and have an understanding of how hard the work is and how amazing it feels to empower someone to move from a place of discomfort to a place of growth and change.”
As comforted as Rosengren makes students feel as they work their way through demanding and challenging coursework, she herself is humbled and comforted by the students’ strong sense of compassion and justice.
“I find it really moving when students see someone being excluded or not “seen” and then they work to create policies and take positions to actively support diversity and inclusion,” Rosengren said.
To create that sense of calm and to rid anxiety sometimes takes very little, she said.
“As little as 5-10 minutes can make a difference,” Rosengren said. “If I am having a day of feeling down or anxious, I try to take a moment and go out into nature and notice the sky, the clouds, the breeze and then I think of 3 things that I am truly grateful for. It is an amazing way to give myself an attitude adjustment.”
Dr. Alban’s shoes are big ones to fill but Rosengren is well-equipped to build on the legacy of success Dr. Alban helped establish.
One major goal is to ultimately improve on the diversity within healthcare and education fields, which starts with improving diversity in the Touro student body.
“I would love to centralize all of the wellness programming at TUC so that it is easily accessible to all students and even to the Vallejo community,” she said. “I want TUC to become a household name in Vallejo and something that Vallejo is proud of. Wouldn’t it be great to have the TUC campus be as diverse as Vallejo?”
DSS, Touro teamwork helps save lives
The coalition between Drug Safe Solano and Touro University California has paid off in lives saved.
One of Drug Safe Solano’s major program efforts has included a series of Narcan training sessions over the past year, and Touro student-doctor Chrissa Karagiannis has been a major spearhead for that effort, DSS officials report.
According to Drug Safe Solano, Karagiannis has represented DSS over 30 times in the last year, helping present to more than 1,000 participants in that time, including 967 Narcan trainees. Those training sessions reportedly led directly to two lives being saved.
Karagiannis was recognized for helping produce three different custom Power Point presentations, including numerous updates over time, and for being “an integral part of the addiction, MAT, and probation training for the Probation Department.”
Drug Safe Solano found her participation to be notable and remarkable considering she is also a full-time medical student, as well as one of the student coordinators of Touro’s Integrative Medicine Symposium, which was held Jan. 3.
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