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Dr. Michael Forster

Celebrate diversity, work for justice

This morning USM School of Social Work students sponsored a “Diversity Dash” 5K run.  I was invited to make a few brief opening remarks on the significance of celebrating diversity.  Those remarks follow.

Good morning!

So – We are here to “celebrate diversity.”  But why should we celebrate human diversity, anyway?  Let’s consider a few reasons:

Because, first of all, diversity is good in itself, just as the qualities of healthiness, of rich variety, of depth and beauty, or the experiences of joy, or belonging, or accomplishment, are good in themselves.  As these good things are ends in themselves, so is human diversity an end in itself.

But diversity is also “useful”; it serves other important human and social purposes.  We know, for example, that:

In communities, diversity builds social capital – it forges connections and shared commitments, its many strands increasing the strength of the whole community.

In organizations, diversity makes for better decisions and better outcomes – decisions and outcomes reflecting alternative points of view and experience, and pointing to alternative and otherwise foreclosed possibilities.

In interpersonal relations, diversity encourages tolerance and empathy, undergirding the expansion and broadening of our caring capacity.

In politics, diversity expands democracy and the promise of equality, pushing us toward the fulfillment of the democratic project – which we all well know is “one nation…, with liberty and justice for all.”

But let’s us not delude ourselves into thinking that any of these good things are simply given.  Without a firm and sustained commitment to justice, the phrase, “celebration of diversity,” can too easily ring hollow, can too easily degenerate into banal bromide or superficial slogan.  We must never forget that the ancestors of today’s native Americans were victims of a genocidal march of conquest across the continent; or that most of the ancestors of today’s African-Americans were brought to this country in chains and condemned to slave labor; or that among the extensive diversity of our brothers and sisters and fellow citizens alive today, far too many have been and continue to be victims of exclusion, exploitation, marginalization, or oppression of one kind or another.

Diversity and justice should, therefore, indeed must therefore go hand in hand.  In the words of Rev. King, the marriage of justice and diversity turns “lip service” into “life service”; this marriage is our best, our truest, basis for celebration.  As Dr. King also said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

On this wonderful Saturday morning, then, let us dedicate ourselves simultaneously to the celebration of diversity and the struggle for social justice.

Katherine Nugent

Encouraging News for BSN Graduates

Last month, the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) released data that showed that graduates with a baccalaureate or master’s degree in nursing are more likely to have job offers at the time of graduation or within 4 to 6 months following graduation (Journal of Professional Nursing, 2014).   That is encouraging news amidst concerns about new college graduates finding employment in today’s job market.

This is not only encouraging news for the graduates of our program but for the current and future population who access healthcare.  For the past decade a significant body of research has demonstrated that nurses with a baccalaureate-level preparation are linked to better patient outcomes.  Based upon these studies, the faculty at Southern Miss has designed the curriculum to prepare graduates who have strong clinical decision making skills and are prepared to practice from a culture of patient safety.  The use of simulation and case studies in the classroom enhance the acquisition of the knowledge and competencies needed for successful nursing practice.

In a recent conversation with an administrator at one of our health care agencies, I was inspired to hear the success of our recent graduates who are working together in a patient care unit and making a difference in the quality of care in that agency.  Just one example of our baccalaureate nurses making a difference in the State of Mississippi.

Dr. Michael Forster

Smoke and climate change “resilience” are both bad for health

I just completed a solid three days of attendance at two conferences linked only by geography – the state chapter conference of the National Association of Social Workers, which met at Biloxi’s Imperial Palace casino, and the “Race, Gender and Class” conference, sponsored by a section of the American Sociological Association, in New Orleans.

The two conference experiences prompted distinct but equally troubling health-related thoughts.  The Biloxi experience had nothing to do with conference content, but rather with location.  Despite a major push in recent years by health advocacy groups to pass smoke-free workplace legislation in Mississippi, casinos in the state remain havens of ”smokers’ rights,” and you certainly know it as you move about the Imperial Palace.  The smell of cigarette smoke is everywhere and seems to cling to everything, including your clothes long after you’ve left the premises.

The New Orleans experience, on the other, was all about content.  Several presentations by university-based researchers focused on the extremely troubling health impacts of environmental degradation and climate change, with emphasis on disparate impacts related to race, gender and class.  Yet it’s clear that virtually all the attention of both policy-makers and practitioners today is on ameliorating the effects of this degradation and change; little is going to addressing underlying causes, which are largely, if not exclusively, human in origin.  Most discussion and an increasing measure of action is devoted to “impact mitigation” and “building community resilience” to climate change.

Both conference experiences prompted me to consider the madness of our current state of collective thinking and behavior, and our seeming inability to take appropriate action in response to unequivocal scientific evidence.  Despite massive and no long disputed evidence of the extreme health risks associated with second-hand smoke, we still allow thousands of workers (many of them low-income) and thousands more patrons to suck in second-hand smoke at Mississippi casinos every day.  This is an outrage, and evidence, I think, of a certain kind of behavioral madness, a species of “denialism” that revels in thumbing its nose at the data.

In like vein, an overwhelming scientific consensus has emerged to conclude that human activity is responsible for climate change, and hence all the deleterious health effects already flowing from it and expected to cascade rapidly as climate change advances.  And yet we appear incapable of acting to address the underlying cause of our troubles – an extractive economic order that is “healthy” only when it’s growing, ever increasing on a global scale the very behaviors that are threatening the essential conditions of human existence itself.

“Resilience” in response to known threats to human health and well-being is not the answer.  Resistance to the forces driving our destruction – be they personally behavioral and psychological, or collectively political and economic – is.

 

Ann Blackwell

People Who Inspire

This week I spent time reflecting on the many opportunities afforded to me as an educator to be motivated and inspired by others.  It really is quite amazing.  I have the privilege of regularly interacting with people who care deeply about the welfare of Mississippians and who choose to invest their time, energy, and expertise in work that yields a positive difference in the lives of our citizens.  They are fueled by a level of commitment that accepts nothing less than work of the highest quality and work that produces a significant impact.  We have many such people in the College of Education and Psychology at Southern Miss and throughout the state of Mississippi.  They regularly motivate and inspire me by the work they do.

My reflection was actually prompted by three individuals who made a tremendous impression on me and our Southern Miss teacher interns at a Professional Development Seminar this past Monday.  Anne Travis, CEO, The Bower Foundation; Scott Clements, Director, MDE Office of Healthy Schools; and Larry “Coach” Calhoun, fitness instructor, Clinton Public School District; presented Move to Learn to a packed audience in a fast-paced, engaging, and informational manner.  To say that these individuals entertained and inspired those in attendance is an understatement.  They quickly won the audience over with fitness activities that elicited smiles and laughter combined with convincing facts that highlighted the impact of fitness on education.  Their message and unique delivery provoked a genuine response.

The impact of these three individuals through Move to Learn and in two short years is remarkable.   What is their secret?  They care deeply about the welfare of Mississippians.  They choose to invest their time, energy, and expertise in work that yields a positive difference in the lives of others.  They are fueled by a level of commitment that accepts nothing less than work of the highest quality and work that produces a significant impact.  I find it most inspiring.

For more information on Move to Learn and its resources for educators, please visit www.movetolearnms.org.

Dr. Michael Forster

Guess what? Policy works to promote health

Some good news – While cautious researchers wonder if the numbers will hold in the long term, it looks like obesity rates among pre-school children are coming down markedly, a good portent for the future.

More good news – The FDA is moving forward on revised food nutrition labeling, despite objections of “Big Food,” making smart selection decisions easier for consumers.  And last but not least, it’s certainly good news that new USDA regulations should make it tougher to market sugary drinks and junk food to public school kids.

One takeaway from these small signs of progress on the heath promotion front is that positive change is possible through enlightened policy.  Another, however, is that we should be doing a lot more, a lot faster.  Obesity rates across the population remain at “epidemic” levels.  So much of what is available in grocery stores is only masquerading as “food”; most of it needs elimination, not better labeling.  And why should there be any junk food marketing to our kids in schools?

The recipe for broad-based health promotion, our best protection against chronic disease, is simple – whole foods, regular exercise, and proper rest.  Either ban or tax the hell out of junk food, and subsidize the production and sale of fresh veggies and fruits.  It really ain’t rocket science (and even if it were, we know the formula for the right fuel)!