wealth inequality

GV Counseling Center starts conversation on health and social justice

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This semester the Grand Valley State University Counseling Center is helping students facilitate conversations about social justice and healthcare in the United States.

On Feb. 3, the Counseling Center hosted its first event at the Kirkhof Center. 

These weekly events focus on episodes of the documentary series “Unnatural Causes,” which aims to answer the question: is inequality making us sick?

“Unnatural Causes” events are INT 100/201 approved. All GVSU students are welcome to attend and learn more about social disparities in healthcare.  

Associate Director and Director of Prevention and Community Education at the GVSU Counseling Center, Melissa Selby-Theut, said that conversations about health inequalities related to social justice issues are important for everyone to take part in. 

She said learning how social determinants interact with healthcare can open students’ eyes to the consequences of health inequality and the importance of future healthcare reforms. 

“We all have a responsibility to both acknowledge and play a part in breaking down these health barriers,” Selby-Theut said. “Regardless of one’s major or what field they’re pursuing, as a member of our campus community, of our larger community and of our society, we’re making sure people understand so that they can actively dismantle these systems.”

Each session, which is led by peer educators from the Counseling Center, will look at how different factors such as race, socioeconomic status, geography and gender impact health and longevity amongst Americans. 

After watching the week’s episode, attendees will have the opportunity to participate in discussions about key themes and takeaways from the documentary.

“’Unnatural Causes’ is one of the ways we practice our commitment to social justice in the campus community,” Selby-Theut said. “We determined that it would be important, not just for us as members of the staff to be out talking about this stuff, but for students to be having conversations with students about social justice and talking about the importance of eliminating barriers to access and barriers to care.”

Last week’s “Unnatural Causes” episode, titled, “In Sickness and In Wealth,” examined how wealth disparities among classes impacted people’s health and life expectancy. 

Although the episode length didn’t allow time for a group discussion, peer educator and GVSU junior, Jodi Jenkins, said she hopes attendees were able to reflect on their own experiences and learn something new about wealth inequality’s relationship to health.

“I for one didn’t know that the correlation between health and wealth is so linear and predictable as well,” Jenkins said. “I hope that people learned something new and informative and they can be a little bit more reflective about their own experiences or other’s experiences going forward.”  

The “Unnatural Causes” episodes were produced in 2008, yet many of the issues explored in each episode are still relevant today. 

Although the footage may seem dated, peer educator and GVSU junior, Cameron Lindsay, said the unfortunate parallels between then and now are easy to spot.  

“It’s 2022 and we’re seeing the same trends,” Lindsay said. “Despite how old the information might be, the actual themes and the prevalence, the semantics, the meanings; that’s all remained the same. I think we’re creating space where students can reflect but also address them and consider them within their own lives.”

The next “Unnatural Causes” event will be held on Thursday, Feb. 10. 

The documentary episode, titled “When the Bough Breaks,” and the following discussion will focus on the high infant mortality rates in the African American community and the factors that may contribute to the increased risk amongst pregnant women.

More information on Unnatural Causes and other campus counseling resources on social justice issues can be found on the GVSU Counseling Center website.

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