News  SSMU conference investigates intersections of equity and health

Researchers call for increased social support

On March 13 and 14, speakers ranging from undergraduate researchers to PhD candidates came together to discuss their research on equity and health at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Equity Committee’s annual Equity Conference.

“The goal of the conference is pretty simple: it is to create a forum of discussion and education on the subject of equity and health,” Farah Momen, the Conference’s coordinator, told The Daily. “I think the conference is good not only for the people who are already interested in these issues, but also people who aren’t familiar with them.”

During the Conference, researchers presented on a wide array of topics. Sarah Berry, a course lecturer in the Sociology department at McGill, spoke about the intersections between poverty, mental illness, and homelessness.

According to Berry, increased access to social welfare, healthcare, and mental health services are all needed for Canada to tackle homelessness. However, Berry also insisted that a cultural change is needed as well.

“There is a lot of fear around [homelessness, poverty, and mental illness] – fear of violence – and this assumption that you are so fundamentally different from somebody who experiences those things,” Berry told The Daily. “Poverty and homelessness, and exclusion and marginalization can be invisible to other people, or the humanity of someone who is experiencing those things can be invisible to you.”

Anvita Kulkarni, a U3 Political Science and Physiology student, presented research on the “taxi driver MD” phenomenon. According to Kulkarni, international medical graduates are often seen as a solution to a lack of physicians in rural areas in Canada, but this often can mask the various issues they face, such as licensing.

“I was motivated to research this topic because I have had a lot of personal experience in knowing people who have immigrated to Canada as physicians, and [knowing] the barriers they faced in getting a license and being able to practice in Canada,” Kulkarni told The Daily.

Rania Wasfi, a PhD candidate in the Geography department at McGill, presented research on the link between active transport, health, and the environment.

Wasfi explained that when people use active transport – such as walking, biking, and public transport – they can often meet the World Health Organization’s recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

Wasfi also emphasized that accessible active transport reduces greenhouse gas emissions and asthma rates, and is important for people who may not be able to drive, such as seniors.

Overall, Momen hoped that the diverse range of topics covered at the conference will help frame the McGill community’s discussion of equity issues.

“Around campus, lately, there’s been a sort of negative feeling towards equity, and equity issues. While it’s important to criticize constructively, I think it’s important not to dismiss equity, and to look at the ways in which equity has meaning in different fields,” Momen said to The Daily.

Kulkarni expressed similar views, telling The Daily, “I think it’s really important for people to keep an open mind, and I think that framing the conference [in terms of] health and equity is a very good way of getting people to think about how equity intersects with a lot of things.”

Berry hoped that the conference would help push students from apathy to active interest beyond campus politics.

“[A conference] is different than a formal lecture – people have to be [at a lecture], they’re doing it for credit. There is a different level of interest and enthusiasm in actually doing things if you go to a conference,” Berry told The Daily.

“It is important to break [the invisibility of equity issues] down. We have to be intentional about it and actually make changes and work against it.”