November 12, 2013

MISSION MATTERS: Responsibility for Health

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"The University seeks excellence in the fulfillment of its corporate purposes of teaching, research, health care and service to the community."

One of the lasting joys I experience from working at SLU is the emotional connection with other coworkers who are drawn to work here as I was because of the University's mission statement to pursue truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity

But the second sentence of the mission statement that follows the oft-quoted first line carries great meaning for me, as well, and I cite those words above. In particular, I reflect on the intentional choice to describe SLU's corporate purposes — these are purposes that embody the University's work or that make up the body of the University (from the Latin word corpus, which means "body"). These are the same words that inspire me to volunteer as a medical research subject whenever I can.

Decades ago, one of my favorite undergraduate professors told our genetics class that we were all lucky enough to be educated and healthy adults. He argued that we had a moral obligation to help advance medical research by donating our health, which — as he pointed out — is always a temporary status of privilege. One bad sports injury, one car accident, one slip and fall or one genetically predisposed condition that has yet to surface in our realities could alter our lives for the short-term or the long-term.

Over the years, his argument has grown with me into a series of logical steps: I recognize that I am privileged enough to have whatever good health I have. Next, I recognize that I am privileged enough to be in school or be employed in an institution of higher education, and that institution is a Catholic, Jesuit organization that recognizes a moral conviction to serve the underserved and benefit all people in all communities. Finally, the university that employs me now happens to be Saint Louis University — the only Catholic, Jesuit college or university in the United States with a College for Public Health and Social Justice.

Public health is a profession that recognizes the interconnectedness of individuals and communities and is an academic discipline that not only informed my own dissertation research, but that forces educational engagement with health as an individual experience that is intimately connected to community capacities. Public health unites teaching, research, health care and service in its promotion of social justice in the world.

Therefore, of the many reasons for volunteering to be poked or prodded or tested or assessed, my primary motivation is simply this: everyone's health is everyone's responsibility. My health is not just a report of diagnostic metrics that some degreed expert tells me: it is evidenced in my everyday capacity to laugh, cry, love, wonder, imagine, reflect, feel, dream and think. In a word, my health is simply my life. But I cannot claim my own good health if there is suffering, war, malnourishment, dehydration, sickness, poverty or oppression anywhere else in the world. In our modern globalized understanding of an interconnected human family, I know that one person's health is every person's responsibility.

So, I encourage you to consider honoring the gift of your own health and well-being by serving as a volunteer in any of SLU's research studies — yes, those announcements that perhaps you gloss over when you see them announced in an email or on Newslink. This decidedly selfless act is one relatively simple way of recognizing the privileges we each carry, and can lead to the betterment of lives in improved healthy communities all over the world. If you ever wanted an opportunity to contribute to social justice on a global scale, look no further than the research happening on our own campus (for example, at the Center for Vaccine Development).

Please volunteer to assist with this kind of important research. Just as the Catholic Church is made up of its many people, the body of this University relies upon each of us, as the living beings who manifest its mission and its corporate purposes to the world.

At this very moment, you are probably just a few computer mouse clicks away from activating your own healthy responsibility to serve others and make the world a better place for everyone's lives.

— Ray Quirolgico, Ed.D., assistant vice president for Student Development

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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