Jan. 21 2019

Student Opinionmakers

This fall, first-year MPH students staked out positions on a variety of public health topics by writing op-eds. Five standout examples are published online today.

Their choice of subjects like abortion access, mental health, and universal healthcare was motivated by a mix of policy concerns, personal experiences, and sheer intellectual curiosity.

Annalise Eger was driven to inform readers about the proposed domestic gag rule restricting abortion access given her understanding of similar restrictive policies in her home state of Texas. Emily Schenkein wrote about the mental health effects of exposure to regular media accounts of mass shootings after her own scary encounter in a mattress store.

The assignment asked students to complete an initial draft then meet for peer-review sessions to revise and improve based on others’ feedback. Students agreed that this collaborative process helped make their prose shine.

In developing her op-ed, Mallika Walia, who like her classmate also wrote about the domestic gag rule, said feedback from her peers and TA “helped hone and focus my argument and forced me to interrogate what I truly believe and what pieces of evidence or knowledge I use to justify those beliefs.” Jonathan Burgess said his case for universal healthcare expanded with detail in early drafts before later snapping into focus. “Although some of my favorite sentences were deleted during the process,” he said, “the final draft reads well.”

As part of the op-ed writing process, students identified their audiences and potential media outlets such as the Dallas Morning News, Washington Post, the Atlantic, and the Huffington Post. Christina Kay targeted a general audience for her piece on mental health and homelessness, but would be happy if policymakers also took note. Should that happen, Kay says she “would be prepared to elaborate on the details of my ideas, if they wanted more specific information.”

Student op-eds were written as part of efforts to train MPH student to both sharpen their ability to write effectively and to use their public health knowledge to advocate to external audiences. The assignment is meant to empower students to add their voice to important public health conversations and to bring ideas and information that the world needs to make evidence-based decisions in the face of complex and conflicting information. In addition to engaging in new modes of communication, the op-eds challenged the students to draw on concepts, principles, and methods taught in the MPH Core curriculum.

The five op-eds published here were selected by Peter Taback, an adjunct professor in Sociomedical Sciences, who in 2017 helped create the exercise, which was then later refined and expanded by Julie Kornfeld, Vice Dean for Education.

Universal Education Revolutionized the World. So Too Will Universal Healthcare.
Jonathan Burgess

A Warning Shot in Texas: Implications of the Domestic Gag Rule
Annalise Eger

How to Fix the American Mental Healthcare System for Good
Christina Kay

Mass Gun Violence is Affecting My Mental Health
Emily Schenkein

Women’s Ability to Choose Under Fire, Again
Mallika Walia