Community Health Organizers Bring Student Voices to Big Issues
Four undergraduate-graduate student pairs are rounding out their first semester as Community Health Organizers. The eight students, selected from more than 130 applicants, represent some of USC’s most passionate community and public health advocates.
“These students care deeply about contributing to a culture of well-being here at USC,” said Andrea Moore, USC Student Health’s health promotion specialist, who oversees the program. “It is a pleasure working with these bright, engaged students who want to be a part of the change process.”
Each pair is charged with conducting listening sessions and gathering student feedback around one of four areas deemed priorities by the Division of Student Affairs and USC Student Health – equity and inclusion, mental health and thriving, consent and healthy relationships, and alcohol and other drugs.
The students are working closely with cross-departmental committees focused on addressing each priority, and their findings will ultimately inform university policies and programs to build a health-promoting campus that advances student health and well-being in these areas.
“The Community Health Organizers are part of a larger community engagement strategy inclusive of faculty, staff, alumni, and local businesses. We know that health happens in the spaces where students live, work, learn, and play, and that ultimately, health promotion belongs to all of us,” said Amanda Vanni, associate director of community engagement for the Office of Health Promotion Strategy.
“Thus, we try to abide by the saying, ‘nothing about us, without us’ to ensure that the student voice is represented at the decision-making tables.”
Sophomore Lana Bridi and MFT candidate Jennifer Tarm are looking to better understand student experiences with equity and inclusion. Junior Sabrina Rivas and MPD candidate Timothy Yeh have teamed up to explore students’ mental health and the capacity for thriving at USC.
Junior Jarod Majeika and Doctor of Pharmacy candidate Ayah Bany-Mohammed are examining factors impacting consent and healthy relationships. And sophomore Jackson Cook and MCM candidate Sierra Murdock are taking on the use of alcohol and other drugs among students.
“Some of the deepest and most effective conversations are peer to peer,” said Yeh, who was inspired by his public health internships in Brazil and Thailand. “USC is a huge campus, and while there are many resources, there are some communities that feel overlooked.”
In their roles as community health organizers, the students are meeting with diverse student communities to better understand their experiences throughout the 2019 fall semester.
Murdock says she was drawn to the opportunity to “be a voice for the voiceless” and improve the lives of fellow students.
“We are students as well. We’re not some grown-up researchers coming in and prying into your lives. We are in similar positions, and we’re trying to understand what students are going through so we can take it to the change makers. And enact change,” she said.