Use of Undergraduate Curriculum as a Vehicle for Breaking the Cycle of Environmental Health Disparities within Disadvantaged Communities
Authors: Dominique Bibbins and Joanne Chu
Abstract: Environmental health disparities (EHD) are disease issues that disproportionately affect particular populations due to complex interactions with environmental conditions. Perpetuation of EHD can be viewed as a closed “cycle” in which factors such as poor living conditions and limited health care exacerbate disease states. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether using an undergraduate curriculum that promotes awareness of EHD among students to develop a potential for leadership and empower them to consider a career and community involvement that could help reduce EHD and develop creative ways to “break the cycle”. In the fall of 2007, sophomore and senior students in the biology department at Spelman College examined a case study of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination on an African-American community in Anniston, Alabama, a landmark case of EHD. Students were interviewed following the conclusion of the course regarding their attitudes and awareness of EHD. We predicted three qualitative outcomes from our study: 1) students would show increased interest in health disparity careers, 2) students would show increased interest in non-medical environmental health disparities careers, 3) students would show increased awareness/interest in community involvement with environmental health disparities issues. Data from our interviews supported some of our predictions. Implications for future use of undergraduate curriculum to promote interest in the cycle of environmental health disparities are discussed.