Course syllabus

Spring 2014

Public Health 690F

Public Health and Social Justice

F 12:20-3:05pm

LGRT, Room 173

Professor:  Aline Gubrium, Ph.D.

Office location:  304 Arnold House

Office phone:  413.545.2244

Office hours: By appointment


Course blog:

PDF of course syllabus

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to the topic of public health and social justice. We will conduct an in-depth examination and discussion of the theories of justice, social determinants of health, and learn about community-based participatory research and narrative methods that may be used to address social injustices and public health inequities. The course is designed to provide students with theoretical principles, methods, and skills essential to plan, implement, and evaluate community development activities.

Course Objectives

  1. Identify and understand the social determinants of health
  2. Learn about theories of justice related to the field of public health
  3. Learn about community-based participatory research and narrative methods that may be used in health promotion, research, and education programs
  4. Understand community developmental theoretical frameworks, dynamics and dimensions associated with social change, such as empowerment, community participation, and capacity building
  5. Identify roles and responsibilities of the public health educator, other practitioners, and community members as agents of change
  6. Construct a complex understanding of community, social justice, and health by integrating theoretical and experiential learning

Public Health Outcome Competencies

After completing PUBHLTH690F “Public Health and Social Justice,” you should be able to:

  1. Identify, analyze and interpret factors influencing people’s health status through a strong foundation in the social determinants of health and the community developmental theoretical frameworks associated with social change
  2. Discuss key theories of justice informing the field of public health
  3. Demonstrate sensitivity to diversity in communities
  4. Communicate the mission of public health as associated with social justice strategies.

Course Format

Over the course of the semester we will discuss course readings and you will learn about several community-based participatory and narrative research methods that may be incorporated into community health outreach programs. Class format will include seminar discussions around course readings and films, individual and small group work activities to provide you with both a theoretical framework and practical skills, and weekly film screenings. Each week you will contribute to a course-based blog as a way to reflect upon the course readings and to provide a starting point for class discussions of the readings. The course uses the notion of the classroom as a “community of learners” as its foundation.  As such, each class member is expected to participate in both learning and leading discussion as the semester unfolds.  This not only assumes preparation, but also active engagement.

As you will notice in the course outline below, our class sessions are made up of a first part centering on discussion and activities on the week’s assigned topic. To promote student engagement, you will each sign up to be part of a group that will lead discussion for one class session. The second half of most classes will include a film screening. A key strength of film is its ability to contribute to deeper understandings of identity and the construction of social problems. “Digital production as creative construction…embodies the manipulation of gendered, racialized and sexualized identities. Visual evidence of this constructedness can be found in the video production itself” (Mitchell 2011, p. 90). Films evoke and make visceral public health and social justice concerns. Indeed, as can be seen from the protests and revolution in Tahrir Square in Egypt and other locations in the Middle East (i.e., the 2010–2011 “Arab Spring” protests), filmmaking is more than just an academic pursuit. Through the use of cellphone cameras and the ubiquitous nature of YouTube and the Internet, it has become fundamental to community organizing and social change movements (Rheingold, 2003).

Requirements and Responsibilities

Readings: Articles for this course are available on the course blog.

Grading Rubric: Evaluation of class performance will be based on performance in three areas: active class engagement, blog responses, and final paper.  An “A” or evaluation of excellence in the course will be based on an exemplary performance in all of the following course components. Students are expected to read all assignments prior to the class for which they are assigned.  This class will be primarily discussion based/seminar format and hands-on in nature. Course discussions are intended to supplement, not replace, the readings.  That is, assigned readings are expected to be read, and at times responded to, despite the possibility that time will not permit us to discuss all of them.

Assignments: All students are required to fulfill the following responsibilities.  Your final grade will be based on the following percentages as indicated below:

  1. Active in-class engagement                                        30%
  2. Weekly blog posts                                                      20%
  3. In-class group presentation of weekly topic               20%
  4. Research project                                                        30%

1. Active in-class engagement: This includes contributions to the class discussions based on required readings and films. This component will account for 30% of your final course grade. Your presence in the classroom is key to your active participation. Your conscientious efforts to keep up with course activities will determine the quality of your contributions. Each class member is expected to actively participate in learning, teaching, and writing as the semester unfolds. Attendance will be taken during each in-class session and will contribute to the grade you receive for this component.

Class discussion will be organized according to the group’s needs. On weeks where we do not have a group presentation, we will start off each class by writing as many questions as we can think of on the board, and we will orient our subsequent discussion around those questions. The goal is to build intellectual comradeship through the work of naming our honest questions and particular   agendas. “Academe has trained us all to think of learning as a competitive affair. One scholar is right, another wrong; students compete against each other for the highest grade. In truth, though, all learning and thinking takes place in the context of intellectual communities—written, virtual or face-to-face. Institutions of higher        education like this one afford us the privilege and pleasure of reading together and learning from each other. Our job in this seminar is to create an intellectual community, one in which we all are enriched by each other’s readings and questions. This imposes on each of us the responsibility of reading carefully, speaking up about our insights and questions, and listening respectfully to each other (which is not to say always agreeing)” (Briggs, 2012).

2. Course blog posts: Over the course of the semester you will be writing blog entries on the course blog ( Your blog posts essentially serve as reflection papers on the course readings. Further, they may be used as resources when assembling your in-class presentation. Make an effort to draw connections between the readings in your blog posts.  Blog posts are due online the night before class (Thursday by 5:00pm). I also encourage you to respond to each other’s blog posts—the blog is a forum for creating a community conversation on the assigned topics.

Blog posts will be graded using a “check” or “check-plus” format. Blog posts receiving a “check” are those that review the readings, and engage with discussions and course activities in a summary fashion, but do not expand much beyond this. Blog posts receiving a “check-plus” are those that review course materials, link course materials to outside experiences and alternative ways of learning about course materials, and critically consider what is learned from course readings, discussions and activities.

3. In-class presentation of weekly topic: Each student will be part of a two-three person group that is responsible for presenting and leading discussion around one week’s assigned topic. High quality presentations include 1) a handout that summarizes key conceptual or theoretical points from the readings; 2) questions for discussion or activities to promote student engagement with the topic; and 3) additional relevant material to guide and provoke discussion. These materials must be ready for the class presentation. Late materials will not be accepted.

You will be responsible for presenting for approximately 45-60 minutes on the chosen topic to guide class discussion. Your presentation will be evaluated on the quality and accuracy of its substantive content and the organization and creativity embodied in the form of the presentation. Your presentations should be public health and social justice knowledge-based, creative, and interactive (presentations will be assigned after the semester has begun, and you will be allowed to chose from among a select number of topics). Presentations should be preliminarily guided by the assigned reading to go along with your topic. However, I also expect you to do additional reading on the topic to develop your presentation.

4. Research project: (This assignment is modeled after a project described by Millian Kang in her Body Matters: Gender, Sexuality, Race and Power in Body Politics Fall 2011 course syllabus). Students will choose, develop, research and analyze a topic of their choice: either independently, working collaboratively in a group, or possibly working together in partnership with a community-based organization to design a project based on public health and social justice. If you are already working on a project for another purpose (i.e. MPH project, independent study, dissertation research), I am happy for you to enhance this work through the research project assigned in this class. This assignment is designed to help you synthesize and apply the readings toward understanding and changing your own social worlds, foster collaborative learning, develop public presentation skills, and shift from passively consuming information to actively contributing to knowledge production. You will report and analyze your project in both oral and written form as follows:

a) Prospectus (10%) Your will write a plan for completing your research project, including the topic, goals, initial argument, implementation, contribution by each individual member (if working in a group), collaboration with local community organization (if applicable), schedule and selected readings (both from assigned readings and independent sources).

Due emailed to me by 5pm on February 28th 

b) Final Class Presentation (10%) You will present your project to the class using visual aids, multimedia materials, and group activities to make your presentation original and engaging. This is an opportunity for you to present the arguments and findings from your research project.

Due presented on the last day of class, April 25th 

c) Final Paper (10% total) (5-7 pages) A final paper will include two parts. First, you will prepare a report on the findings of your research regarding a particular social justice-related issue. Second, you will critique the project, analyze its strengths and weaknesses, reflect on your own perspective and experiences, and relate your findings to arguments in the readings. You are expected to cite relevant background sources, but rather than conducting extensive library research, you should synthesize and apply the assigned course readings and class discussions to your project.

Due emailed to me by 5pm on May 2nd

Academic Honesty Policy: Since the integrity of the academic work of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students. Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University of Massachusetts. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty. [Examples of behavior that constitutes academic dishonesty can be found at:] Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible. Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair. The procedures that are intended to provide an efficient and orderly process by which action may be taken if it appears that academic dishonesty has occurred and by which students may appeal such actions are described in the Dean of Students Code of Student Conduct, available at:

Students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity. Ignorance of these standards is not sufficient evidence of lack of intent.

Accommodation policy: I follow the University of Massachusetts Amherst policy on special accommodations. If you have a documented disability that requires an accommodation, please notify me within the first two weeks of the semester so that I can make appropriate arrangements. Please bring with you the form for instructors given by the Disability Services (DS), Learning Disabilities Support Services (LDSS), or Psychological Disability Services (PDS).

Cell phone and laptop/tablet policy: Turn your cell phones off or to the “silent” mode during class. Students seen texting, chatting, or checking email on their laptop computers, tablets, or cell phones will be asked to leave class for the day and will be considered absent for the class period.

Course content and outline

A description of class meetings, assigned readings (due to be read on the date they are noted on the syllabus), class activities, and class assignments is included in the schedule below. Please note that my syllabus change policy is that, except for changes that substantially affect implementation of the evaluation/grading statement, I treat this document as a guide for the course that can change according to your needs, interests, and requests.

Week 1:  January 24th: Introduction to course content and requirements

  • Review course syllabus and blog
  • Sign up for group presentations
  • Film: Unnatural Causes: Episode 1 “In Sickness and in Wealth” (56 minutes)

Week 2:  January 31st: Public health in/equity

  • Reading: From Public Health and Social Justice: Chapter 1 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” pp. 5-10 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Unequal Lives: Health and Socio-Economic Inequalities: Chapter 1 “Health inequalities and inequities,” Graham, pp. 3-18 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor: “On suffering and structural violence: Social and economic rights in the global era,” Farmer, pp. 29-50
  • Film: Escape Fire (99 minutes)

Week 3: February 7th: Social determinants of health

  • Reading: From Public Health and Social Justice: Chapter 3 “What we mean by social determinants of health,” Navarro, pp. 21-38 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Public Health, Ethics, and Equity: Chapter 3 “Social causes of social inequalities in health,” Marmot, pp. 37-61 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Toward Equity in Health: A New Global Approach to Health Disparities: Chapter 8 “Incessant displacement and health disparities,” Fullilove, pp. 141-152 (eBook)
  • Reading: “Reframing school drop out as a public health issue,” Freudenberg & Ruglis in Preventing Chronic Disease, pp. 1-11
  • Group 1 presentation
  • Film: American Promise (142 minutes, first half)

Week 4: February 14th: Theorizing justice

  • Reading: From Health Care Politics, Policy, and Services: A Social Justice Analysis: Chapter 1 “A primer on theories of social justice and defining the problem of health care,” Almgren, pp. 1-48 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Public Health and Social Justice: Chapter 2 “Public health as social justice,” Beauchamp, pp. 11-19
  • Reading: From Social Justice: The Moral Foundations of Public Health and Health Policy: Chapter 4 “Social justice and public health,” Powers & Faden, pp. 80-99
  • Guest lecture: David Buchanan, Professor, Community Health Education
  • Film: American Promise (142 minutes, second half)

Week 5: February 21st: Class cancelled

Week 6: February 28th: Intersectionality, oppression and privilege

  • Reading: From Oppression, Privilege, & Resistance: Theoretical Perspectives on Racism, Sexism, and Heterosexism: “Five faces of oppression,” Iris Marion Young, pp. 37-63
  • Reading: From Oppression, Privilege, & Resistance: Theoretical Perspectives on Racism, Sexism, and Heterosexism: “Language and silence: Making systems of privilege visible,” Wildman & Davis, pp. 50-60
  • Reading: From Oppression, Privilege, & Resistance: Theoretical Perspectives on Racism, Sexism, and Heterosexism: “Toward a new vision: Race, class, and gender as categories of analysis and connection,” Hill Collins, pp. 457-462
  • Group 2 presentation
  • Film: White Like Me: Race, Racism and White Privilege in America (66 minutes)
  • Due: Prospectus emailed to Aline by 5pm

Week 7: March 7th: Community Development Theoretical Frameworks and Social Change

  • Reading: From Social Injustice and Public Health: Chapter 24 “Strengthening Communities and the Roles of Individuals in Community Life,” Aronson et al., pp. 433-448 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Community Organizing and Community Building for Health and Welfare: “Improving Health through Community Organization and Community Building: Perspectives from Health Education and Social Work,” Minkler & Wallerstein, pp. 37-58
  • Reading: From Community Organizing and Community Building for Health and Welfare: “Mapping Community Capacity,” McKnight & Kretzmann, pp. 171-186
  • Group 3 presentation
  • Film: #ReGeneration (81 minutes)

Week 8: March 14th: Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR)

  • Reading: From Community-Based Participatory Research for Health: Chapter 2 “The theoretical, historical, and practice roots of CBPR,” Wallerstein & Duran, pp. 25-46 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Community-Based Participatory Research for Health: Chapter 3 “Critical issues in developing and following CBPR principles,” Israel et al., pp. 47-66 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Community-Based Participatory Research for Health: Appendix A “A protocol for community-based research,” Brown & Vega, pp. 395-398 (eBook)
  • Guest lecture: Jen Sandler, Director, UMass Alliance for Community Transformation (UACT)
  • Film: Doing Time, Doing Vipassana (52 minutes)

Week 9: March 21st: No class/Spring break

Week 10: March 28th: CBPR Case Studies

  • Reading: From Community Organizing and Community Building for Health and Welfare: “Building partnerships between local health departments and communities: Case studies in capacity building and cultural humility,” Ellis & Walton, pp. 130-147
  • Reading: From Community-Based Participatory Research for Health: Chapter 11 “Using Photovoice for participatory assessment and issue selection: Lessons from a Family, Maternal, and Child Health Department,” Wang & Pies, pp. 183-198 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Community-Based Participatory Research for Health: Chapter 15 “Methodological and ethical considerations in community-driven environmental justice research: Two case studies from rural North Carolina,” Farquhar & Wing, pp. 263-284 (eBook)
  • Group 5 presentation
  • Film: Gideon’s Army (96 minutes)

Week 11: April 4th: A Participatory/Dialogic Approach

  • Reading: From Tell Your Life Story: Creating Dialogue among Jews and Germans, Israelis and Palestinians: Introduction “My journey through the whirlwind,” Bar-On, pp. 1-22 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Tell Your Life Story: Creating Dialogue among Jews and Germans, Israelis and Palestinians: Chapter 1 “Developing a methodology: Narratives and stories,” Bar-On, pp. 23-36 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Tell Your Life Story: Creating Dialogue among Jews and Germans, Israelis and Palestinians: Chapter 4 “Story-telling in the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian context,” Bar-On, pp. 121-159 (eBook)
  • Film: What I Want My Words to Do to You (84 minutes)

Week 12: April 11th: Media and Activism: New Ways of Framing Public Health Issues through a Lens of Social Justice

  • Reading: From Prevention is Primary: Strategies for Community Well-Being: “Using media advocacy to influence policy,” Dorfmann, pp. 157-180
  • Reading: From Literacy & Justice through Photography: A Classroom Guide: “The Best Part of Me: Questioning Appearances, Exploring Identity,” Ewald, Hyde & Lord, pp. 14-58
  • Group 6 presentation
  • Film: How to Survive a Plague (120 minutes)

Week 13: April 18th: Against Health? Understanding Public Health and Social Justice from the Inside Out

  • Reading: From Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples: “Imperialism, history, writing and theory,” Tuhiwai Smith, pp. 19-41
  • Reading: From Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality: Chapter 4 “Against global health? Arbitrating science, non-science, and nonsense through health,” Adams, pp. 40-58 (eBook)
  • Reading: From Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States: “Introduction: ‘Worth risking your life?’” Holmes, pp. 1-29
  • Film: Who is Dayani Cristal? (82 minutes)

Week 14: April 25th: Research Project Class Presentations

Final papers due emailed to Aline by 5pm on May 2nd