by Caroline Martin, C'20
As members of the Sewanee community, we are fortunate to have full access to health care services. Not far beyond the gates, however, health disparities threaten the livelihood of locals in areas like Grundy County. During the week of February 13th, SMHS (Sewanee Multicultural Health Society) hosted its annual “SMHS Week.” The week consisted of panels, presentations, and discussions to educate our community on health disparities and overall well-being.
In February, SMHS hosted the Diversify Health Panel. Four panelists came to speak on pressing health disparities across rural Appalachia. Ms. Katie Goforth, the coordinator of Project AWARE, works as a youth educator with Volunteer Behavioral Health. Her mission is to bring awareness to young people about mental and physical health precautions. Dr. Jim Peterman, a professor and community outreach director at Sewanee, spoke on the startling factors that influence the leading causes of death in Tennessee. These factors include tobacco use, obesity, physical inactivity, and substance abuse. Dr. Peterman also compared Grundy County and McDowell (West Virginia) to Williamson County. Williamson County leads the state in health care access and overall wellness. Grundy and McDowell counties, on the other hand, lead the state in premature death, excessive drinking, and teen births. Moreover, the ratio of patients to health care providers is a startling 2,690:1 in Grundy County. Dr. Garrett Adams, medical director of the Beersheba Springs Medical Clinic, spoke about how America’s wealth inequality affects the nation’s health and society. He also highlighted the benefits of publicly funded national health programs. Gabby Valentine, a senior majoring in American Studies at Sewanee, works with the Otey Parish Community Action Committee (CAC) and the University’s Food with Friends (FWF) program. Her goal is to “foster environments that bring people together and tear down some of the barriers put up by class and age.” During the panel, she encouraged listeners to become involved in outreach programs like CAC and FWF.
On Tuesday, a discussion led by Professor Troisi explored the psychology of love. To improve the quality of our relationships, Dr. Troisi explained the importance of finding a balance between connection and self-protection. During an exercise, he asked the participants in the room to share information with each other one-on-one. The first set of questions was fairly general (name, class year, etc.). Next, participants were asked to share something more personal (lifestyle, hobbies, etc.). Finally, they were asked to share even more personal details (fears, how they want to be remembered, etc.). While sharing personal experiences feels vulnerable, Dr. Troisi explained that embracing risk is important in relationships. Expressing gratitude towards the people we care about is also important. Showing we care by writing a letter or even just sending a sincere text is key to improving relationships.
On Wednesday, the “A Dose of Disparities” gallery walk presented several topics. One table summed up the panel discussion on Monday evening. At another table, a representative from Chattanooga Cares discussed the issue of HIV/AIDS across varying demographics and promoted safe sex. Mr. Adams even demonstrated the strength of regular condoms by impressively fitting nine oranges in one. There was also a table informing people on anorexia. The last table was led by David Terrell, a Sewanee student who spoke on the stigma behind mental health within the African American community.
The week concluded with a gala held in the Women’s Center. Sewanee faculty and SMHS members gathered for an evening of delicious food and discussion. Co-presidents Melanie Vaughn and Kevin Nguyen presented a video featuring several SMHS members. The members answered various questions regarding the organization’s mission. Ultimately, the SHMS mission is to promote awareness of health disparities and to better our efforts to eliminate them.