Health Studies course debuts

When students received a copy of the Blue Book this summer, some were excited to find a course they thought had been missing for too long.

This semester, the lecture “Global Health: Challenges and Promises” is the first course to be offered in Health Studies — and not cross-listed in any other department. While the class has met with a positive reception, the future of Health Studies as a major — something which students have been petitioning for for over two years — is still in question.

The lecture, which is being taught by Epidemiology and Public Health Professor Kaveh Khoshnood, has enrolled 34 students this semester, its full capacity.

According to Sam Diamond ’10, the creation of the class is the result of effort by both the Yale Public Health Coalition, which collected thousands of signatures in support of a Heath Studies major, and Khoshnood, who was instrumental in building faculty support for the class.

Robert Nelb ’08 MPH ’09 said he began pushing for a Health Studies major when he arrived on campus in 2004. He and other students distributed petitions and helped pass a Yale College Council resolution in support of the initiative.

They also drafted a road map to meet the goal set in 2003 with the release of the Yale College Committee on Education’s Report on Yale College Education, calling on the University to offer undergraduates a major in Health Studies.

For a while that goal seemed elusive, Nelb said. Identifying interested faculty, fleshing out a curriculum and working within the traditions of a 300-year-old university have not been an easy task, he said.

But with the class’s inception this year, Nelb said he is optimistic that the campaign is succeeding.

“We are hoping this is the turning point,” he said.

Justin Berk ’10, a premed political science major in Khoshnood’s lecture, said he is glad Yale has filled what he perceived to be a gap in its curriculum.

At the same time, he expressed his frustration that the University has not moved quickly enough in creating a Health Studies major.

“These [students] are the ones that will stop HIV infection, assist in the development of Africa, and prevent the spread of [diseases],” he wrote in an e-mail. “Each year that goes by without a Health Studies major is another year that Yale remains behind other top universities.”

Harvard, Duke and Brandeis universities are among Yale’s peer institutions that offer formal Health Studies programs.

Khoshnood serves on the Health Studies Advisory Board, a group of faculty tasked with exploring ways to make Health Studies a major.

While he said he is happy with the progress the board has made, he emphasized the need for the major to reflect the truly interdisciplinary nature of the field. Because Health Studies encompasses so many different areas, students should still have another primary concentration.

“Take my class as an example: The students are majoring in history, political science, biology, economics, history of science and medicine and there is even one French major,” he said. “In my opinion, Health Studies should be offered as a second major, along the lines of International Studies. You can’t just major in Health Studies.”

Dean of Science Education William Segraves, the advisor to the Health Studies program, cautioned in an e-mail to the News that it may be too premature to discuss what form the major will take.

“We still have a few more pieces that need to come into place before we can be sure we’ve laid the proper foundation for a robust major,” he wrote.

Some students worried that a Health Studies major would be overrun by premeds who will zero in on the Health Studies major and not explore the other courses that Yale has to offer.

Diamond, a political science major, pointed out that premed students are required to take a rigorous science curriculum as undergraduates.

Health Studies is not a science, she said — it is a liberal art, closer aligned with history than biology.

“Anyway,” she said, “I am not premed.”

As for Khoshnood, he has a simple response to student concerns.

“I raise the question, can we afford to live in a world where children and adults die in large numbers due to diseases for which there are inexpensive cures? Because that is what it is like out there,” he said. “The students who want these courses are already involved in public and global health initiatives, we just need to give them the tools to succeed.”

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