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Health Studies Minor Goes Viral

You may have never heard of it, but the Bi-Co is offering a new health studies minor which has already become popular with students from a range of disciplines.

Director of Health Studies Kaye Edwards explained that health studies is an “emerging field in undergraduate education,” and said that there was “clearly student interest” in the subject at Haverford. In 2009, five students formed independent majors related to health studies. Faculty from the anthropology, biology, psychology and many other departments developed the minor after recognizing that students would benefit from a more structured program instead of having to cobble together classes on their own.

Christopher Roebuck, a visiting assistant professor of anthropology who co-teaches Introduction to Health Studies alongside Edwards, explained that the minor expands on notions of health, recognizing that “public health problems are complicated and multifactorial.”

Modeled on the successful Environmental Studies program, the Health Studies minor requires taking an introductory course, four electives, and a capstone course during one’s senior year.

Students must take at least one course in each of three core tracks: M (mechanisms), S (structures), and R (representations). The M track focuses on the mechanisms of disease and the maintenance of the healthy body, the S track looks at responses of familial, social, civic and governmental structures to issues of health and disease, and the R track examines cultural, literary and visual representations of health and illness. Broadly speaking, the M track tends to align with natural science courses, while the S track often encompasses social science classes and the R track emphasizes humanities.

Marie Vastola ’16 is one of 16 students who declared a minor in health studies last spring. She described the core tracks as “the most challenging but also the most rewarding aspect of the minor.” As a biology major, Vastola tends be more comfortable with the M track, but she acknowledged that the minor’s interdisciplinary emphasis “pushes me outside of my comfort zone” and encourages her “to consider new ways of thinking.” Vastola explained that encountering students from a wide variety of backgrounds is “what helps us broaden our views.”

True to form, the first batch of health studies students represents a spectrum of disciplines including anthropology, biology, chemistry, psychology, Spanish, and religion. Current seniors like Leah Hollander ’15 were unable to take part in the minor because the capstone course will not be offered until next spring. A biology major and anthropology minor, Hollander was glad the program was finally created since “there’s been a lot of desire for this for a long time.”

According to Hollander, one of the greatest benefits of the health studies minor is that it informs students of a variety of health-based careers. She expressed that “there are a lot of people who are interested in health but not necessarily interested in going pre-med…we need people in other aspects of public health.” Hollander hopes that the Health Studies minor will facilitate work in fields like health activism and community-based health work.

Increasing enrollment shows that student interest in health studies is growing. Last spring, when Introduction to Health Studies was offered for the first time, 27 students enrolled. This year, 39 students registered. Is it any surprise that the health minor is becoming infectious?

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