The following article was previously published on The Flat Hat’s website during the week of Oct. 23. However, due to an unforeseen technological glitch, it was removed from the website for a period of time and was re-uploaded today, Nov. 6.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the widespread effects of a global health crisis have plunged regular citizens into the world of health, safety and precaution. Now more
than ever, a focus on personal and public well-being has been brought into the limelight. However, a group of students at the College of William and Mary, driven by a passion for public health and student well-being, has been acting on the same mission since well before the start of the pandemic.
The Public Health Club is a student- run organization that works to inform the College’s general student body about important public health issues in hopes of promoting awareness and education. Meeting weekly on Thursdays in Room 1280 in the Integrated Science Center, this group of students works to create a healthier and safer living environment for the broader community.
“I think as a whole, the Public Health Club seeks to promote general knowledge and health on William and Mary’s campus but also in our community,” Halle Boroski ’25, Public Health Club vice president, said. “So whether that be through campaign topics or guest speaking events, basically everything that we do is to promote a general sense of good health practices on campus.”
The club’s main focus is on researching prevalent public health issues and posting them around campus through infographics and posters. Members meet once a week to decide on what the next public health campaign will look like.
“We’ll pick something that we think is at least somewhat pertinent to college students on our campus, but it doesn’t have to be,” Ella Smith ’24, the club’s secretary, said. “It’s supposed to be a somewhat contemporary public health concern that we think that more people should know about than they do.”
To ensure that students are receiving information from a variety of sources, the club also updates students about current global health issues that are emerging around the world. Club President Hita Yalla ’24 described the importance of a campaign she led recently. “So for example, I did one this semester earlier about the flooding in Libya and how that environment might be conducive to an epidemic and cholera, any outbreaks and emerging diseases like that,” Yalla said.
Members of the club not only work on student-targeted missions within the campus, but they also actively engage in volunteering and interacting with organizations in the greater Williamsburg community. Prior to the pandemic, the club would volunteer to serve meals once a month at the Williamsburg House of Mercy, an organization that provides services for the local community.
During the pandemic, this collaboration was unable to continue, but the club has just recently started reinstating their pre-COVID volunteering practice. The club hopes to visit the Arc of Greater Williamsburg, an organization that assists adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
With Public Health Club’s broad mission, anyone and everyone is encouraged to join, regardless of their major or knowledge of the public health field.
“We try to advocate for people interested in different majors joining because public health really is about policy, government and economics,” Yalla said. “So we always encourage people that are in those fields of study to join, but it does tend to pull bio, public health, neuroscience and pre-med people.”
Smith emphasized the intersections between different areas of study and how they can all pertain to issues related to public health.
“The great challenge is convincing people that public health is so many fields of study that coalesce into what public health is, and you can be an expert in a bunch of different things and still have a lot of interest in public health,” Smith said. “I mean, if you like people at all, which I think is most of the William and Mary population, then you have some interest in them being healthy, and on purpose we try to pick campaigns that aren’t super science heavy.”
The Public Health Club also allows students of different backgrounds to develop new skills that are applicable to a variety of fields. Boroski described that participating in the club can help develop communication skills necessary for conveying technical information in a way that is easy for a lay audience to understand, which contrasts the often complex academic writing that students are typically taught.
“I think definitely researching and making it digestible to the general public is a really important skill that if you’re pre-med, you don’t necessarily have to dabble in as much because when you’re writing a research paper, you’re writing it for a professor who’s literally an expert in that topic.” Boroski said. “So I think making sure that you can make research accessible, but not generalized, then making sure you’re finding good sources and giving the best information possible to a whole student body is a really important skill that I think is good that you learn through our club.”
The club prioritizes the social aspect just as much as the academic. Boroski expressed that the atmosphere of the club allows for connections between members, who are linked through much more than just being in the same student group.
“I’ve made so many friends in the club which, obviously you can do anywhere here, but it’s really nice to know that we all have this mission of promoting good health on campus,” Boroski said.
Smith affirmed that the club’s community service is balanced by a low-pressure environment where one can simply delve further into a common area of interest.
“We just kind of try to make it a fun space to get your mind off your class and on to a bigger picture thing for a few minutes a week,” Smith said.
The Public Health Club provides students with a way to explore the vast field of public health through something as simple as providing health reminders to something as profound as working hands-on within the field in which they hope to find a career in.
“I do feel like I’m definitely making a difference on campus, which feels really good to be able to do, even if it’s something as small,” Boroski said. “It doesn’t take much time for me to research something that is so simple that people don’t usually think about and is just important to know so that you’re prolonging and bettering your life. So I feel like I definitely have aided in making a difference.”