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EP01 Health and Human Rights at NYU with Mehreen Arif and Lindsey Killett
Deborah Onakomaiya: Hey, guys, welcome to another episode of I AM GPH. I am your host Deborah Onakomaiya. And on the show today we have Lindsey Killett, who is here to talk about the Health and Human Rights club at NYU. Lindsey is the executive director of the club and a second-year MPH student at NYU. Lindsey also interns at Doctors Without Borders as an exhibition intern. In her free time she likes to try out new restaurants and attend free music concerts around the city. In the future, she hopes to serve as a global health leader, tackling infectious diseases and human rights issues across the globe. Additionally on the show today we have Mehreen Arif, who is also a second year MPH student. She will be talking about the Justice Initiative, which is a branch of the Health and Human Rights club at NYU. Mehreen interns at UNICEF USA and has had extensive experience abroad doing public health work in Nepal and Florence. She is interested in the intersection of migrant health and human rights. Not many people know this about Mehreen, but she used to be a beekeeper in undergrad. This just goes to show guys that GPH is very diverse. Welcome, guys, to our show. It's very nice having you on.
Lindsey Killett: Of course.
Mehreen Arif: Thank you for having us.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Awesome. Please tell me a little bit about the Health and Human Rights club, and then we'll shift to the Justice Initiative.
Lindsey Killett: Right. Well, the Health and Human Rights Association, this is the second year we've been established, so we're growing and that's why we now have a branch, which we'll talk more about, but with Health and Human Rights Association, we're focusing on the interconnectedness of health and human rights in the community, so it's not just focusing on health. A lot of people think, oh, so health means you just see your doctor or you go to a public health consultant. But there's so many different sectors that are interconnected with human rights. For example, when the whole air-ban thing happened, people couldn't come in. Well lawyers came out and had to help people with their rights. So that's just one example. So highlighting and building community around issues like that, showing students how they can get involved. That's what we are and that's what we do.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Awesome. That sounds amazing. You've mentioned a branch, I'm going to switch over.
Mehreen Arif: Yes. So I personally am very much interested in human rights as is, but the Justice Initiative is sort of like the brainchild of two GPH students, Baktamah Ahmed and Leah. And they took a J term class with professor Ernest Drucker, who teaches at John Jay School of Criminal Justice and at NYU as well. And that class focused on the prison system and public health. So the intersection of the criminal justice system and public health. And I was also brought on the organization meetings and all, and then we decided to turn this into an org and be a branch of Health and Human Rights because currently there are about 2.4 million prisoners, adults and adolescent inmates across the United States. There are a lot of like human rights issues within the prison system and we basically want to highlight that and then also extend in the future months and extend to do global justice issues and the intersection of global justice issues with public health and human rights.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yeah, that sounds awesome. So Lindsey mentioned a merger between the two branches. How did that come about, and so far has this merger been between the Justice Initiative and the Health and Human Rights club?
Mehreen Arif: So the Justice Initiative, this was the first year that we're starting it. As Lindsey mentioned, the Health and Human Rights organization has been up and running since two years now, right?
Lindsey Killett: Oh, yes, this is our second year.
Mehreen Arif: Yeah. So the Justice Initiative, since I mentioned that the public health and justice intersection that we want to explore is highlighting crucial human rights issues, we felt that it was imperative for us to be under the health and human rights banner as is. So hopefully we will have joint events and joint talks and...
Lindsey Killett: Yeah, exactly. Health and human rights is more of an umbrella, I guess you can say, like public health as a whole, and there's so many different sectors. We're more of like general resource based. So not only do we look at justice issues, we also look at health issues as well. So in the future hopefully we'll get some more branches going. We don't look at like one specific issue. We try to highlight everything that's going in the community and motivate students to get involved. What drives them. If they want to go out, we can find a way to support them.
Deborah Onakomaiya: That's awesome. These are activities, you know that you guys have highlighted so far. Very inspiring. Very amazing. And just to go into that, like what are your motivations or what personal experiences do you have that drive, you know, this passion for health and human rights for justice?
Lindsey Killett: Well, I'll say last year when the association started, I went to the first meeting, and it was literally right after the election. Probably December.
Mehreen Arif: Oh yeah. I remember.
Lindsey Killett: Yeah, you remember.
Mehreen Arif: Yeah, both of us were there.
Lindsey Killett: Yeah, yeah, and it was my first time being in a setting talking about the whole election issue. For me it hit hard-
Deborah Onakomaiya: I think for everyone.
Lindsey Killett: Right, for everyone It was shocking, and it was probably the first name I said the current president's name since he was elected. But being in that community with everybody really made me feel connected and a lot more passionate. Because I know for that month I was like, what can I do? I even had a conversation with a friend, like what can we do? All this stuff. He's talking about doing, all this stuff and progress we've made as a country, like how do we protect it? And meeting with all those students that first day, I was like, I want to be involved with this 100%, and it manifested into me becoming like the executive director now. But yeah, that was my drive. Trying to keep that community and make sure people understand that there's a lot of connections. It might, you know, the media doesn't show it, but there's a lot of people still out there trying to fight for what's right.
Mehreen Arif: So I also got involved in this in Health and Human Rights organization. Much like Lindsey, I attended one of their meetings, and we talked a lot about, you know, what's going on in the United States and how that will impact different factions of society within the United States that identify as immigrants or refugees. I myself am an immigrant to the United States. So the topics that we were discussing last year were very relevant, they had like a profound effect on me because I found a community that was, you know, willing to discuss these human rights issues. And after that I attended other events as well. So the Health and Human Rights Association was founded by Liza and Mirtala, who have graduated now. They were also MPH students, and they both received the Gallatin Global Fellowship in Human Rights. And through that they wanted to form this Health and Human Rights organization. And again, I also got on board much like Lindsey, I was really interested in the organization and other personal experiences that I have had are I also received the Gallatin Global Fellowship in Human Rights, and I did a lot of work on the mental health of Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu, Nepal and just that and just dealing with, you know, the new US administration and even looking at other health and human rights issues, especially in South Asia where I'm from. Those sort of manifested in me getting involved with this organization and then with the Justice Initiative as well.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Wow, that's amazing. I mean it sounds like you guys have, you know, really strong personal experiences that drive your passion, and I'm guessing that's kind of what you look for in new members. What do you look for in someone who might want to join? How can people get involved with health and human rights as well as the Justice Initiative? If you could just give us for interested students that have these anxieties, but also they want to feel like they're doing something. They want to feel like they are kind of changing the world. How can they get involved in what you're doing or even if not what the health and human rights are doing? How can they get involved in making the world a better place.
Mehreen Arif: Yeah. No, no we get it.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Could you guys just touch on that a little bit?
Lindsey Killett: Yeah, sure. I'm overall formally joining as a member, right now there is no formal way. Like I touched on before, it's really about building community, and a lot of people think getting out and fighting for rights means like, Oh I have to go protest. And I know a lot of people aren't comfortable with that. So even volunteering in the community, I know there's so many people doing work like Mehreen has done. There's so many different ways to get involved. And if you follow us on social media at NYU HHRA, we really highlight what's going on here, not only in the New York University realm but also in the community because it takes more than just being involved in the university. We should actually go out into the community and reach out. So if you follow us, and we also are trying to get more emails going out about things going on in the community. But if you just pay attention to your email and social media, you can find so many different ways and see what really drives you and what you're passionate about.
Mehreen Arif: The Justice Initiative doesn't really have a fancy social media plug right now, like the Health and Human Rights
Lindsey Killett: We feature them.
Mehreen Arif: Well, yes I was going to say so they are kind enough to like feature any of our events as well. Again, there's no formal method of students, you know, applying because this is a club, it's like an organized student organization. So anyone with not even a passion, like anyone who just wants to discuss human rights and health issues and they need like a platform to do that, can join Health and Human Rights Association and the Justice Initiative. And again, it's all about volunteering. You don't really have to protest if you don't want to. So even with the Justice Initiative, some of our members they are going to volunteer at prisons around New York City, you know, tutoring adolescents or adults. So there are a lot of like cool initiatives that we want to incorporate and anyone who would want to be a part of that or just want to be part of the gender discussion involving the realm of the criminal justice system and public health, they are welcome to join.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Oh that's, I think I feel like I have to drop a link at the end of this interview. We're going to be winding down in a little, but one question that I just have to ask, especially when it comes to student clubs is that the work you do is very important, especially for this population that you're advocating for. So sustainability is key to continuity. In what ways or what activities do you do to ensure continuity of the club? To keep things going?
Lindsey Killett: Well, once again, community, I know we've been harping on that a lot lately in this interview, but reaching out to the newer students, I would have to say is the biggest way, since it's our second year. The first year was kind of like, hey, this is who Health and Human Rights is. This is what we do. And now we're really trying to, I guess, get people excited and really motivated to join. So I would have to say looking at people who just came into the university, whether it's undergraduates or first-years, because I feel like when they first come, it's kind of daunting and they're kind of overlooked. We kind of focus on people who are already here. But by looking at people who just came in, I would have to say they're the most excited if not more excited. So that's where I would say we're tackling sustainability, really motivating people. No matter if you just came out of high school or if you just came out of undergrad or from the workforce wherever you came from. We're a community here to support you in what you're interested in.
Mehreen Arif: And I would also say that I think for us, like Lindsey, Baktamah and I, we were student orientation leaders and that really helped in getting the first-year MPH students involved in these organizations, not just health and human rights or Justice Initiative, but seeing their drive to be a part of the broader global public health realm was really inspiring. And I think in terms of sustainability, like Lindsey said, it's all about getting the new folks involved because Justice Initiative, like I mentioned, it's a new club and we are open to feedback from the first-years or see what topics they really want to discuss or what they're interested in. So that will, I feel like it'll echo the sustainability in the long run.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yeah. Awesome. And just finally, I want you guys to tell me who or what are your public health inspirations? Not interests.
Lindsey Killett: I do love Michelle Obama. I love what she did with the Let's Move thing. That's when it comes to who. What motivates me, human rights overall. I like how versatile it is. There's so many issues that are out there that I feel passionate about all of them to be honest. It's hard for me to just pinpoint one by no being a person of minority in every way. I'm African American female. So that's like a double dose. Even my family, just knowing issues that have happened in my family, that's what motivates me. And witnessing other people go through things that I feel like they shouldn't. I would say that's my motivation because I feel like everybody has the right to prosper and live what they feel is a healthy life. And yeah, I think that's what motivates me.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yeah. I mean it's, it's very passionate and I think that kind of motivates a lot of people, especially in public health. So thank you so much for highlighting that. How about you?
Mehreen Arif: Yeah. So I, what motivates me is basically being able to help others. And again, it also stems back to who I am, where I'm from. And you know what I've seen growing up, a lot of public health inequities and gaps in the care that is given and gaps in human rights as well. And that really motivates me to help those who are facing similar, if not worse situations, and focusing a lot on migrant health and refugee health. That really motivates me to work in public health.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Oh, awesome. Awesome. It was so wonderful to learn about what you guys are doing, about the club, like you've even inspired me to want to get involved.
Mehreen Arif: You should.
Lindsey Killett: Please do.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yeah.
Mehreen Arif: You should.
Deborah Onakomaiya: I'm very inspired by what you guys have said today, and I will be dropping links you know, to your social media.
Mehreen Arif: Of course.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Thank you guys so much for being here.
Mehreen Arif: Thank you. Thank you for having us.
Lindsey Killett: Our pleasure.