Despite the extraordinary times Drexel University students find themselves in now, along with the rest of the world, it’s actually the perfect time to study the intersectionality of the arts, wellbeing and community health through a new minor now offered by the Dornsife School of Public Health.
The graduate minor in arts and community health, which is open to graduate students across the University and entails two core courses and two electives that can be chosen from a sweeping list of cross-college offerings, provides students with an interest in arts and community health an “opportunity to focus on what matters, and what can change the world,” said Dornsife teaching professor Nancy Epstein, MPH, who created the minor.
“With COVID-19 also raising the visibility of public health, it’s a perfect time to really examine arts and public health, and how they reinforce and support each other and how they grow our ability to work with communities around pressing public health issues,” she said. “Arts provide avenues for expression and for addressing those [issues], and we need that within the public health sphere, especially as we deal with the compelling crisis of structural racism and racism in our country, and the pandemic.”
Compounding on the good timing for this minor being offered, Epstein said the field of arts in public health has been growing nationally following two groundbreaking studies which were released last year. One from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the arts play a major role in the prevention of ill health, promotion of health, and management and treatment of illness across the lifespan, following the review of more than 3,000 global studies on the topic.
The minor’s foundational course, “Arts for Community Health and Wellbeing (CHP 530),” was offered for the first time this past spring term, and drew interest from students in Dornsife, the College of Medicine and the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. Though there are currently only MPH students enrolled in the minor, Epstein said the minor is a compliment to many different programs of study, including creative arts therapy, urban strategies, or even nonprofit management. The minor’s core courses are also open to undergraduate students in public health and in the Pennoni Honors College.
Sharefa Duhaney, an MPH student enrolled in the minor who completed CHP 530 in the spring, said it wasn’t immediately apparent to her when seeing the description of the minor how declaring it could aid with her planned future work in community reentry for incarcerated individuals. But taking the foundational course helped Duhaney realize how much the minor could help her see things from a broader, more creative lens.
“When you think of arts and wellbeing, you think it's going to be a simple class, but it actually picked my brain a lot, but in a good way. It made me think about things I've never really combined before, like arts and social justice,” Duhaney said. “[The class] wasn't just strictly structured to only focus on public health, since we were trying to do a cross-sector collaboration. Nancy pulled in information and text and readings from all fields, pretty much. It was very broad.”
This broadness and intersectionality is what makes the minor a great addition to so many different core fields of study, Duhaney said, and she would implore other graduate students to explore how this course work could compliment their career goals and future interests.
“I wouldn’t have thought I’d have a minor in graduate school. It's something you don't hear often,” she said. “If there's a minor that someone wants, you might as well take at least one class to see if you like it.”
Current graduate students interested in the minor can look toward taking any of the approved electives — the list for which Epstein said will be updated every year — as well as taking CHP 530 next spring and CHP 531 the following fall. In the meantime, Epstein is excited to introduce more and more students to these important concepts for which she is so passionate about.
“In my mind, the arts are both powerful organizing tools in communities, and also really important and valuable expressions of our human experience,” she said. “And so, I think of this course in arts and health as a new lens and a new way of looking at spirituality — the secular spirituality — or that which is bigger than us and gives meaning to life. How do we explore that in the public health sector? I can think of no better way to do that than through the arts.”
For more information about the minor, contact Epstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.