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Public Health Outside of the Classroom: Immersion experience In Nogales, AZ

by Jenesca William

Every Spring, the department of Campus Ministry has multiple immersion trips to accompany to the community around different social justice issues. In the Spring of 2020, Michael Vega, a junior, majoring in public health, took part in the Kino Border Initiative Immersion Program to Nogales, Arizona. 

The immersion experience in Nogales was a week of being in accompaniment with the migrant community. 

As a child of immigrants and a student in public health, the experience brought together Michael’s identities and passion to address health related issues migrants face. 

“It’s almost impossible to separate, when I’m in public health, I cannot forget about my other identities...it’s all intertwined,” Vega said.

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Michael Vega

During the week, the group of students volunteered at the El Comedor, walked a portion of the Arivaca desert, and sat in during Operation Streamline. El Comedor is a soup kitchen, on the Mexico side of the border, that serves food and have conversations with migrants who were recently deported. 

The Arivaca desert is a common route for migrants attempting to cross into the U.S.. Lastly, the Operation Streamline is a court system to expedite the immigration process of numerous immigrants at once. The events during the week allowed for students to hear and share the human experiences of migrants at the southern border.   

The week in Nogales was meaningful for the group of students.

In addition, the concepts and courses in public health Michael has taken in undergrad, such as Health Care Ethics and Introduction to Global Health, came into action 1,400 miles away.  This experience put things into perspective and became an inspiration to continue his dedication to addressing health disparities and social justice on a community level in diverse local, national and global settings. 

“So, many of the things that I experienced in the immersion program, ultimately, it’s all related, it’s all health,” Vega said.

Michael believes that issues at the border are more of a humanitarian and public health crisis. Public health isn’t just physical wellbeing of a person and is so much more than the body. Public health is how you are treated, how the world recognizes people. This is public health. 

While looking forward to what’s to come for Michael, this experience at the border and his remaining time at Saint Louis University, he wants to learn the skills necessary to participate in creating solutions for public health and social justice issues. 

College for Public Health and Social Justice

The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind, studying social, environmental and physical influences that together determine the health and well-being of people and communities. It also is the only accredited school or college of public health among nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States.

Guided by a mission of social justice and focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex health problems, the College offers nationally recognized programs in public health, social work, health administration, applied behavior analysis, and criminology and criminal justice.