By Leah Jones, Features Editor

Nothing exists in isolation; yet traditional tracks of studies at universities artificially divide knowledge into discrete and separate courses of study and branches of knowledge. Even the best scientists and doctors must learn to write well to communicate their findings, and the best creative writers must have some concept of the people and cultures about which they are writing. Two new certificates and a proposed major at the University of Missouri–St. Louis reflect this interdisciplinary approach to knowledge.

On April 5, UMSL held two panel discussions to celebrate the launch of two global studies certificates. The programs aim to help faculty, staff, and students become more aware of the global role that St. Louis plays in the world, as well as how to become more culturally competent as St. Louis becomes a more interconnected place.

Launched last fall, the Certificate in Ethnicity, Migration, and Human Diversity, and the Global Health and Social Medicine minor not only give students unique and marketable skills in a global world; they also enable students to showcase these skills on their transcripts for future employers. Students who study topics as diverse as foreign languages and cultures, anthropology, social work, criminal justice, public health, cross-cultural education, medical research, biological sciences, international business, urban planning, and political Science can all benefit from these interdisciplinary minors.

Betsy Cohen, the Executive Director of the St. Louis Mosaic Project, opened the first panel on demographics, integration, and the Global Cities Initiative. She cited a study conducted by Jack Strauss, who conducts demographic research and St. Louis University’s Simon Center for Regional Economic Forecasting. In the study, Strauss found that in 2015, St. Louis was the 20th largest metro area in the United States. However, it was 43rd in the number of people who were born in a foreign country, with less than 5 percent of the population being foreign-born in 2012. Compared to the top 20 metropolitan areas in the country, Strauss found that other cities’ economies were growing 40 percent faster than the economy in St. Louis, indicating that slower immigration rates negatively affected our city and driving the argument that St. Louis should do more to become a welcoming place for immigrants.

Even though St. Louis’s foreign born population has diminished, affecting its reputation as the Gateway to the West, St. Louis has always been a destination to which people from all over the world travel, including the French, Irish, and German.

Dr. Joyce Marie Mushaben, the new College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) professor of global studies and Curator’s Distinguished Professor for Comparative Politics, who helped to create the Certificate in Ethnicity, Migration, and Human diversity explained: “People in this town are very proud of their heritage. What they do not realize is that this is still going on. We still have waves and waves of these people arriving because of the International Institute that has been around for over a hundred years. … Since we’ve had this going on for a hundred years, we have the institutional capacity [to help refugees]. As soon as these refugees come in, they get put in language classes, job training and citizenship classes.”

As such a global place, anyone who works in St. Louis will inevitably encounter these cultures. This is where the certificates come in, helping students to learn about different cultures. “There  are  basic statistics as to why St. Louis needs people coming in to repopulate the city, and our certificates are supposed to teach people how to deal with cultural differences,” Mushaben said.

“We see this as a three-legged stool,” Mushaben explained. “The one [leg] will be the ethnicity, migration, human diversity, in general. Then the global health and social medicine is much more biology [based]. … The third leg would be more involvement with the international business programs: trade, finance, international political economy, and economic potential here in the St. Louis area.”

The Certificate in Ethnicity, Migration, and Human Diversity requires 18 credit hours and offers students the chance to take courses in anthropology, sociology, social work, criminology, political science, history, teacher education, and international business, as well as requiring students to take a capstone course.

Mushaben said that she tried to get the certificate off the ground back in 2009 but met with some opposition in bringing the certificate into fruition then. The idea initially stemmed from Mushaben’s work teaching political science senior seminars even earlier, in the mid 1990s. Students came into her courses knowing about American politics, but as a German scholar, Mushaben knew that sticking with just American politics was limiting, so she asked her students to look locally to find global connections.

Students explored fascinating and unique topics, such as the rise of Spanish masses in Catholic churches in St. Louis and ethnic entrepreneurship in Bevo Mill after the influx of Bosnian immigrants. One student wrote about how the crackdown on H1B visas is causing Indian entrepreneurs to return to India where they begin startup companies with which St. Louis companies are now competing. Another student wrote about the connection between Monsanto’s patented GMO seeds and increasing suicide rates in India. Mushaben explained that when Indian farmers could not pay for new seeds every year and replanted Monsanto’s patented seeds, Monsanto sued the farmers. This caused them to go into debt and, in some cases, kill themselves.

“It was those projects over time that made me think that this is a rich area for research projects. There is just lots of stuff you can do here,” Mushaben explained. “This town is just popping with all of these global/local connections. If we can give people a piece of paper, some line in their DARS that says they’ve got some skills in trying to understand these cultures, [and] trying to interact [with these cultures] … [that gives the students something] that other people don’t have.”

While the Certificate in Ethnicity, Migration, and Human Diversity offers students the chance to complete research projects, it also offers students the opportunity to gain practical skills as well. “Our idea is pragmatic as well as it is an interesting research field. There are lots of topics that we are working on. … Academically, it’s an up and coming field, but more importantly it has serious economic implications for the future of St. Louis, which has always been a city of migration, [and] integration,” Mushaben said. “We want to make this more hands-on for local police departments, for social workers, [and] for people in hospitals.”

Mushaben used the example of service workers who may deal with families from different countries. “You can’t go into the family and talk to the 8-year-old just because the 8-year-old is the only one who speaks English. You have to at least go through the motions of addressing the father of the family, who will then ask the 8-year-old to translate. Otherwise, you’ve just destroyed his authority in the family, and so you’re not going to get anybody cooperating with you,” she said.

The Certificate in Ethnicity, Migration, and Human Diversity features a variety of interesting courses, including a core course called Diversity in the City: The Ethnic Experience in St. Louis. Mushaben explained that the course will feature panels of people from different ethnic backgrounds coming in to speak with students about diversity topics, including religion, food, and possibly even music.

Another popular course which Mushaben teaches and which will count toward the certificate is “Sex Trafficking in a Cross Cultural Perspective,” which will focus on the local, national, and international levels of sex trafficking. “The people who are sex and human trafficked here [in St. Louis] are not necessarily foreigners. They are runaways. [However]in Europe… after Kosovo in particular, all of these women were sex trafficked out of Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria [and] they were used in the brothels in Amsterdam,” Mushaben said, explaining the global differences in sex trafficking.

As one of the founding mothers of the Women’s Studies Program at UMSL, Mushaben intends to talk about gender issues in the course as well, including how sex trafficking has affected women in the wake of the recent refugee crises. “One study showed that over 60 percent of the women who had come in from Africa were pregnant by the time they got [to a refugee camp in Malta]. They may have been assaulted on the way over,” Mushaben explained.

Additionally, she said that Nigerian women who were being used for sex trafficking were being smuggled into camps on refugee boats. “Not a happy topic, but somebody has to talk about it,” Mushaben said.“Mega Cities and Diasporas: Understanding Global Migration” is another popular course which Mushaben teaches. The class focuses on non-Western cities with millions of inhabitants and the interrelated and systemic problems that these cities face. Mushaben explained, “When you are talking about a city of 22 million people and no toilets, you’ve got an ecological problem, not to mention health problems.”

Students have some freedom to choose which cities and issues pique their interests and then can further develop these interests during the course of the class. In the past, students have taken an interest in issues such as the pavement dwellers in Mumbai and Delhi. “They literally have to carve out a section for themselves on the street. That’s all they have. There are millions of them,” Mushaben explained.

Others have become interested in the people who create livelihoods by collecting trash and selling plastic. “The human resilience [is amazing], and then you think …we can’t even get people to put stuff in a recycling bin. These people are creating a livelihood for themselves out of collecting garbage. It’s just amazing and inspiring,” Mushaben said.

The Global Health and Social Medicine minor takes a different angle than the Certificate in Ethnicity, Migration and Human Diversity but maintains the interdisciplinary focus, the attention to cultural differences, and the connections between the local and global communities.

Like the Certificate in Ethnicity, Migration, and Human Diversity, the Global Health and Social Medicine minor has been in the making for a while now, and was included in the first five-year proposal under the previous UM-System president, Timothy Wolfe, who took office in 2012. Dr. Susan Brownell, professor of anthropology who worked to create the curriculum for the minor, said Dean Ronald Yasbin first proposed the idea for a bio-cultural course of study with the department of anthropology and archaeology as a core contributor. While the idea was approved at the campus-level, it was not approved at the system level at that time.

Since the minor has been approved, Brownell has also put together the curriculum for a major in Global Health and Social Medicine, which is currently pending approval at the University of Missouri System level again.

The minor currently requires students to take 15-16 credit hours in diverse fields, including anthropology and archaeology, as well as courses in biology, sociology, and gerontology. The proposed major would offer students the same variety of courses, as well as additional courses in psychology, philosophy, criminology, economics, and a capstone project, totaling 37 – 42 credit hours.

“Increasingly, science is starting to realize that public health… involves the interaction of the environment, lifestyle, genetics, humans, and animals, interestingly,” Brownell said, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of the programs. “[Social medicine is] grounded in sociology, anthropology, economics, and gerontology.”

Brownell said that social medicine differs from biology in the level of focus. “The focus [in social medicine] is on population-level health. The biological approach [focuses on] the individual organism and medication and how to treat individual disease and individual people. The social approach looks more at disease patterns in a bigger population,” she said.  

She cited questions such as why AIDS disproportionately affects drug users and African Americans, as questions that might be addressed by social medicine. Other questions center on why diseases like obesity and diabetes remain prevalent, despite the fact that doctors are aware of the risk factors and causes of these diseases. “You are trying to parse out, at the population level, what is causing certain diseases to be more prevalent in certain people. The answer to that is often not a biological one, it is a social one,” she said.

While the degree focuses on the population-levels of health, it will still take into account the individual with its attention to cultural differences. “In the profession of medicine, they are starting to realize that the doctors that they have been training, perhaps in part because of their single-minded focus on biology, biochemistry, and the hard sciences, are not trained to deal with real people. Cultural sensitivity… is a recognized issue that doctors often lack.  You often have doctors who are maybe white, male, middle-class, and increasingly, they are dealing with immigrants, for example. So, they are just not necessarily prepared to deal with people of different cultural backgrounds. Cultural sensitivity is an acknowledged issue that needs more attention for both nurses and for doctors and physicians,” Brownell explained.

Like the other certificate, both the Global Health and Social Medicine minor and the proposed major focus on the connection between the St. Louis community and the global community. As an example of this, Brownell cited the recent pandemic scares which have reverberated throughout the medical community, including zoonoses, or diseases that originate in animals and then mutate and infect humans.

“I think that the people who study pandemics don’t get a lot of sleep at night because they know that [with] the situation we are [in] right now, we are just ripe for a pandemic. Whatever hits [other parts of the world] is going to be at our doorstep. Health is now global…We saw that with Ebola, we saw that with Zika, [and] West Nile Virus. For selfish reasons, we can’t ignore the crises in healthcare elsewhere in the world because they are also our problem,” Brownell said. “We started to realize that, in terms of…infectious diseases and diseases that might become pandemics, that we needed an interdisciplinary approach that brings together social scientists, biologically-based doctors, and even veterinarians and environmentalists. [It is a part of] this bigger change in medicine towards this more holistic, interdisciplinary approach to looking at illness.”

As with the Certificate in Ethnicity, Migration, and Human Diversity, social justice is also a concern for the Global Health and Social Medicine minor and proposed major. Brownell said that poor countries and poverty-stricken areas of the urban United States can become cesspools of disease that then affect the rest of the world as well. “There is a concern about social injustice because, among other things, it threatens the health of all of us. Not to mention, it would be good if injustice were gone,” Brownell explained.

Brownell said that students can benefit from both the minor and the pending major in a number of ways. Firstly, she said that while it is not an easy major, it also equips students with skills that will benefit them on the job market, including the ability to do math with classes like social statistics. These skills will help students to perform the different types of analyses that they might be asked to perform in different jobs, as well as help them to write number-driven grant proposals.

The degree programs are also specifically tailored toward student interests, as Brownell looked at student survey data to determine which courses should be included in the programs.  While biology often requires students to learn about things other than the health of human beings, such as animals, cellular functions, and high-level mathematics, the Global Health and Social Medicine minor and the pending major would focus on humans specifically. Additionally, the major would offer an alternative route into healthcare professions for students who do not wish to become physicians.

Popular classes in the minor and pending major include “Alcohol, Drugs, and Society,” “Body and Culture,” and “Medicine, Culture, and History.”

“Anyone involved in the healthcare profession needs to understand alcohol, drugs, and society because that touches upon so many healthcare issues,” Brownell said, highlighting the relevance of the course.

The “Body and Culture” course examines not just cultural practices of body modification, such as tattooing, piercing, female genital mutilation, and medical traditions, but also the things that people believe about their bodies which drive some of these practices. “[These are all] things that [students] might be likely to run into in their practice. [It will] help them make sense of it.”

Brownell teaches the “Medicine, Culture, and History” course and said that she enjoys teaching it and has learned a lot from it. “I am educating my students and I think they are better aware of why some of these issues are important, [such as] why it is important for the U.S. Congress to allot funding for controlling Zika. [They are becoming] a better-informed citizenry so that they know the potential threats and so that they can guide policy makers into putting funding where it should go,” she said.

While the certificates differ in their focus, the interdisciplinary nature of both minors and the proposed major offer UMSL students several advantages. Both Brownell and Mushaben said that students take their required courses first, and often are not even introduced to some of the professors who do global work until their junior or senior year.  “Even if a student were able to fit [all of the classes] into their schedule, they would have trouble finding them all. They wouldn’t know where to look,” Brownell pointed out. With the certificate and pending major, the courses are brought together in a coherent and easy to find way. In addition, the minors and proposed major take advantage of unique faculty and classes that already exist at UMSL.

The interdisciplinary nature of the programs enable students to not only augment their transcripts and job applications, but also gives them critical thinking skills and the ability to think across disciplines.

Mushaben, who studies new social movements and youth protests, and has lived and studied in Germany for 18 years, said “I can’t do any research on Germany without knowing history. I can’t continue my research without thinking of demographics, [and] what future that holds for economics. I clearly can’t do my research without [knowing how to speak a] foreign language. I think that [we should teach] students at the beginning that it is good to know a little bit of everybody’s discipline, because you’re not here to become a specialist. You’re here to learn how to think. You are here to learn how to take pieces of information and to synthesize them…You can do this when you hear that this is the way that historians approach it. This is the way that political scientists approach it. Then you are going to go to an employer and you can say ‘We didn’t think about this,’ as opposed to saying, ‘I only know this. I only care about that.’ You can’t do business in. St. Louis without knowing about foreign cultures and foreign companies anymore”

Brownell agrees. Though UMSL offers a few interdisciplinary minors, as well as a Bachelor’s degree of International Studies and a Bachelor’s degree of Liberal Studies, Brownell said that she hopes that UMSL continues to build their interdisciplinary degree programs. “In my opinion, we need more of this at UMSL. It offers more opportunities for creativity,” she said. “I would like to see more such [interdisciplinary] degrees at UMSL. I think that they make better use of existing faculty expertise. They are more in tune with the complex interrelated world that we live and with intellectual trends that are out there are in the realm of the sciences.

Just as courses of study to not exist in isolation, people and nations do not exist in isolation either. Both of the certificates and the proposed major attest to this fact and seek to introduce students to complex and interdependent systems in St. Louis.

For more information on the Certificate in Ethnicity, Migration, and Human Diversity, visit http://www.umsl.edu/committees/senate/files/pdfs/ethnicity-migration-human-diversity-cert-4-26-16.pdf

For more information on the Global Health and Social Medicine Minor, visit http://www.umsl.edu/committees/senate/files/pdfs/global-health-social-med-minor-4-26-16.pdf

http://bulletin.umsl.edu/artsandsciences/interdisciplinarystudies/