A University-Community Partnership Established at the Height of COVID Stands the Test of Time

April 20, 2022

What began as a complimentary five-week seminar series on race and health disparities during the height of the pandemic and racial justice protests has become the Learning, Evaluation, and Assessing Resources and Needs in Informational Technology (L.E.A.R.N.I.T.)  program, led by a group of dedicated people on the Columbia University Irving Medical School (CUIMC) campus and including community members who continued to participate in meetings after the original series concluded. Volunteer-based, the interdisciplinary team of community members students, faculty, and staff at CUIMC were there from the beginning and played an invaluable role in the creation and evolution of this program.

The initial Race & Health seminar series, led by Prof. Robert Fullilove of Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and sponsored by the Columbia Summer Research Institute, was offered in Summer 2020 to Columbia University affiliates and again in Spring 2021 to CU and its community neighbors. The series was attended by not only Columbia faculty, staff, students, and leadership but Upper Manhattan community members and leaders as well. 

With most of the strategies to prevent COVID-19 dependent upon internet access and smartphone usage; vaccinations and testing in the community last spring were almost impossible to arrange without the help of technology. Motivated by this situation, the program was piloted in July 2021 to overcome these obstacles and, with its great success, L.E.A.R.N.I.T. now offers regular opportunities for members of the Northern Manhattan community to attend workshops designed to impact access to health care in order to understand how best to address and end the digital divide. 

In addition to addressing technological gaps experienced by marginalized communities, the project focuses on barriers to healthcare access in an increasingly technologically based society and building university-community partnerships. L.E.A.R.N.I.T. holds in-person events during which the team offers monthly one-on-one and/or workshop-based technological support. Participants are also provided with a technology and health resource packet to take home which includes mini-lessons on popular topics that community members have expressed interest in learning as well as health related resources such as vaccination sites and mental health services.

“Most heartwarming for me was the response that the Race & Health series received,” said Fullilove, professor of Sociomedical Sciences and Mailman School associate dean for Community and Minority Affairs. “I never expected such an amazing outcome of impactful community collaboration. Simply put, teaching Race and Health has produced one of the most significant town/gown collaborations of my 53 years of higher education experience.”

In addition to Fullilove, members of the core leadership team are Julie Glickstein, professor of Pediatrics at Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons; Tina Ting, MPH student at Columbia Mailman School; Jessica Idumonyi, clinical research coordinator at Columbia University Irving Medical Center; and Dave Crenshaw and Al Kurland, community leaders.

“If we have learned anything from the COVID pandemic, it is that effective health care requires collaboration between this medical center and the community it serves,” noted Glickstein. “L.E.A.R.N.I.T. is a grassroots project that has highlighted this partnership. It has been a privilege for me to work with such outstanding members of our Washington Heights/Harlem community along with wonderful CUIMC colleagues.”