Health Equity Work Group

The Health Equity Work Group (formerly the Health Disparities Work Group) mission is to give greater visibility to health inequalities research at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and nationally; develop collaborations with faculty and community partners; and ensure SPH students are well trained to work in a diverse society.

The HEWG meets quarterly and welcomes new members.

HEWG Member Spotlight

M. Kumi Smith

Faculty: M. Kumi Smith, PhD

Assistant Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health

The goal of my research to better harness cutting-edge science for prevention of HIV and STIs to tackle these diseases where their burden is greatest: resource-constrained settings. I combine methods such as infectious disease dynamics and surveillance-based methods to identify public health gaps. I then work closely with behavioral scientists, economists, and  community members to identify and evaluate novel ways to close these gaps. Much of my work to date has focuses on health outcomes in marginalized communities including commercial sex workers, people who use drugs, and sexual minorities.

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My work has a special focus on society’s most vulnerable population at risk for violence (especially bullying) and injuries:  children, persons with disabilities, agricultural workers, minorities, and rural populations.

Some of my most recent work has brought attention to the lack of mental health care in farming communities and the high suicide and homicide rates in farmers. Farmers have a suicide rate that is three to five times higher than other occupations. Another area of my work is focused on violence prevention in children. We are currently assessing adverse child experiences and stress biomarkers in hair and toenail samples from children and parents of color in community settings. Based on my body of work, I developed Link in collaboration with experts in mental health and health communications. Link is a trauma-informed program of psychological first aid that uses motivational interviewing techniques (a culturally-sensitive method of communication). We are currently evaluating the effectiveness of Link in reducing the effects of trauma (e.g., suicide and externalizing behaviors), improving connectedness, and increasing resilience.

Student: Sara Horton

Sara has always found conversations regarding social justice and health equity incredibly interesting. Understanding how institutions mold future outcomes, how systems deliberately disadvantage groups of people, and how individuals play into these injustices, has been an interest to her throughout her program in Maternal and Child Health. Critiquing the same institutions that have led to her own success is something that she feels is necessary for improving the health and wellbeing of everyone and the health equity minor has provided an opportunity to engage in courses and dialogue with other students who share that mindset. The skills gained in the health equity minor will not only play into the decisions she makes as a public health professional, but will enable her to be an advocate within her workplace for systematic change that promotes equity.

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She currently works at the Minnesota Department of Health on the Child and Adolescent Health team where she works on two adolescent sexual health grant programs. She has created Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and Let’s Talk Month awareness materials as well as completed program evaluation and analyzed data for the grants she supports.

Caitlin has many public health areas she is passionate about including, but not limited to, childhood obesity, women’s reproductive health, management of chronic illnesses, nutrition, and global health. After graduation Caitlin would love to work in advancing health equity, breaking down barriers currently present through program development and implementation.

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