Tufts Health Advocates to assess health services, provide voice for student concerns
Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 3, 2013 02:10
There is no shortage of health-related groups at Tufts. The most recent addition, Tufts Health Advocates, plays a role distinct from others, fusing student activism with administrative access.
Tufts Health Advocates (THA) is not a new organization but instead a revitalized and repackaged version of a group previously known as the Student Health Advisory Board (SHAB).
According to Director of Alcohol and Health Education Ian Wong, most universities across the country have SHABs.
“They’re usually the student branch of the health services that helps look at health insurance, the way things are being done in health service [and] advocacy for the students,” Wong said.
These groups serve as the student branch of health services, helping to evaluate schools’ health systems.
“We changed our name from Student Health Advisory Board to Tufts Health Advocates because it sounds like they’re really working towards students and aren’t just a board,” Wong said.
Wong said that the group has been in existence since his first coming to Tufts seven years ago, and the emphasis on students’ needs forms the crux of the group’s revival.
“[We are meant to] provide a voice for the students and then try and get the administration to listen and implement what the students want and need,” sophomore Emma Brenner-Bryant said of the purpose of THA.
Last fall, Wong strived to revive the group after a few years of inactivity, and when Brenner-Bryant and fellow sophomore AJ Fields, who were both freshmen at the time, separately reached out to Wong to express interest in health issues on campus, Wong proposed the reorganization of the program as a way for them to take action.
“I think the idea that we’re not just going to sit around and talk about it, but we’re going to really do something about it and try and get the administration to make these changes makes more people excited and drawn to our program,” Brenner-Bryant said.
Although THA’s name change reflects a new direction for the club, the group remains an advisory board to Tufts’ Health Service. THA is the only group at Tufts that has this intimate relationship with Health Service. Wong pointed out that the status of the group is different from a peer group in that Tufts’ Health Service reserves this relationship for this student group alone, as THA really does advise its operations.
Brenner-Bryant and Fields said they think this affiliation will enable them to make a difference. They believe THA will not only advocate for students’ health needs, but will also succeed in initiating changes.
Wong said he is confident that students can bring fresh ideas and critiques to Tufts’ programs.
“Students will come and say, ‘well why don’t you do this,’ and my answer a lot of the time is, ‘I didn’t know you wanted that,’” Wong said.
Beth Farrow, health educator and prevention specialist at Health Service, agreed.
“Students can always evaluate the quality and quantity of services on campus very differently from an administrator. We’re not utilizing and accessing the services in the same way,” she said.
Wong and Farrow said that their role in THA’s operations is as pseudo-advisers.
Wong said it is important that students be able to talk without the reservations or inhibitions that might result from the presence of an authority figure.
“We don’t always attend meetings because we want it to be a student-run group,” Wong said. “So we don’t want any of us to be in there and have the students not say what they really want to say. Or just the opposite — feel like they’re talking to the director of health education when they should be talking to students.”
“What we do is we have surveys where we ask students things, and then we have open meetings where ... it’s open to the public for students to come talk to us about their experience with health services, their experience with what they want changed,” Brenner-Bryant said. “We’re still kind of working on other ways to get information.”
After collecting this information, the group proceeds by preparing a written brief of all the health issues brought up on campus as well as proposals for change. It then brings this report to Health Service in the hopes of implementing reforms.
Results from a THA survey conducted last year showed that students were most concerned about the drug and alcohol policy at Tufts. Sleep, stress and sexual assault are also among the greatest concerns about health on campus, according to Farrow, and she believes students’ opinions will echo these issues. As the alcohol policy was recently revised, Fields and Brenner-Bryant said they are interested in carrying out another survey to obtain feedback. More recently, condom quality was another issue students discussed and THA subsequently brought to the attention of Health Service.
Part of Brenner-Bryant’s and Fields’ roles involve implementing improved research techniques, which they cite as a key objective for the group.
“It’s a question of how to really get the information that we find and report back to be statistically correct and really sound and based on research,” Brenner-Bryant said.
Fields explained that Tufts Health Advocates has other links around campus through which they can gather information for the time being.
“The Peer Health Collaborative basically assembles all the health groups like Globe Med, pre-med society, anything you can think of, and tries to make sure that they don’t clash with each other in terms of events and stuff like that, and just also bringing up different issues,” Fields said. “I think that that really showed how the health efforts on campus aren’t really centralized into one process.”