In 2017, St. Lawrence University developed a public health curriculum designed to help students build unexpected connections between more than 60 courses from across more than 20 academic departments and the public health needs around the world. An anonymous $15 million gift to The Campaign for Every Laurentian in early 2019 has funded two endowed public health chair positions, which were awarded to Associate Professor of Anthropology Mindy Pitre and Associate Professor of Global Studies Madeleine Wong. Get to know these faculty members, what they envision for the program, and their plans for empowering students to blaze new trails as they tackle public health issues.
Question (Q): How do you define public health?
Mindy Pitre (MP): Public health isn’t easy to define. It starts with understanding people, societies, and the environments they live in to decipher the biological, social, economic, and environmental determinants of health. It builds on this knowledge to design and implement bottom up and town down solutions e.g., public policy innovations and health promotion campaigns, to empower people to improve their health. It recognizes that the problems and solutions may be local, national, and/or global in scope. That being said, most people think of public health as concerned with present-day problems and solutions. As an anthropologist, I study ancient public health. Specifically, I attempt to understand the presence and experience of disease in the past through an interdisciplinary lens using human bone, material culture, and historical sources.
Madeleine Wong (MW): Global studies uses a critical ‘public’ approach to address contemporary health challenges facing populations and communities across the world. Within the U.S., we address issues ranging from the opioid crisis created by drug prescription practices, to urban air pollution and disease to gun proliferation and violence, to refugees being made unhealthy by mass detention, and so on. For us, public health is an interdisciplinary field that recognizes health as a ‘public good’ that is undermined by powerful interests. Thus de-naturalized, we draw on insights from disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, and health studies among others to understand political, economic and cultural aspects of health and illness. We consider how social relations such as those of class, sex and gender, racialization, and disability as well as social and environmental inequalities shape core public health issues with implications for prevention, protection and health promotion. We emphasize the importance of quickly learning of threats and addressing root causes with public consensus built via advanced communications and media strategies to work towards effective interventions locally and globally.