David W. Boles, MFA

This course
was created for:

University of Medicine and Dentistry of
New Jersey

School of Public Health

Department of
Quantitative Methods:
Biostatistics and


David Boles Image

Public Health Crises Reflected
in the Humanities

We concentrate on three aspects of the Humanities:  Popular Expression, Literature and Public Perception Changers.  Over the crest of the course you will interact with selected examples from these categories and then provide your insight as to how the pieces reveal something about Public Health policy, or a health crises, or a conflict of the human spirit.

Former Students Reflect...
Here are what some former students have to say:

"I’ve learned a great deal on the history of Public Health and how important it is for Public Health students to become more aware of the literature and how certain issues are portrayed in the media. Books that we have read in class have inspired me to become a stronger leader and speaker in Public Health. I was really inspired by the book My Own Story written by Ryan White because he was such a young Public Health leader who took charge of his life and was determined to accomplish milestones in life before his death. The line 'can’t we pretend I don’t have it,' was really touching because no one with AIDS wants people, especially family members, to feel sorry for them. Ryan just wanted to live a normal life like the rest of his friends. The book, Bad Blood also made me more aware of how research among different races was conducted and without the IRB and human subject protection law, unethical research experiments would still be conducted.

I also learned how to become a stronger writer as a public health student and to support my opinion through the discussions in WebCT. I believe that the requirement of posting discussion issues on WebCT is very educational and informative because it gave me the opportunity to learn about other cultures. I was afraid in that this class would only consist of writing intense papers and that the class would just read boring books on public health issues. Little did I know, this class made me into a better person and a more enlightened student in the field of my studies. Literature and movies shed a new light on how I would approach public issues in my career. In addition to the literature, the class discussions were very interesting and I enjoyed learning about different cultures and lifestyles that were presented by my peers.

At the end of this course, I have gained tremendous knowledge in different types of literature and forms of media which try to make society more aware of the public health issues that continue to plague our society today. I would like to thank Professor Boles for presenting the fine literature and music which nfluenced me to think and study literature and songs from a different perspective."
Linda Lurslurchachai - MPH Student
Final Project: Christopher Reeve - A Cape and a Crusader

"The two most poignant parts of this course for me concerned the topics of popular expression and public perception changers. I dove into this course with a sense of naiveté because I did not know what to expect. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised with what I learned through class conversations about popular expression of public health crises in the humanities, namely that while cultural customs appear different at face value, they are actually quite similar when discussed further. I learned aspects of other cultures from classmates that perhaps would not have occurred over the course of normal conversation outside of class. I was also humbled by the comfort members of the class exhibited with sharing their personal and familial experiences to enhance class and WebCT discussions.

Regarding public perception changers, I learned a great deal about people I had only heard of but did not know much about. The affect that public perception changers had on me even influenced my topic of choice for the final paper, where I thoroughly enjoyed the autobiography A Special Kind of Hero by Chris Burke; I would highly recommend it to be incorporated into the syllabus for the future of the course if it were possible. Overall, I am inspired by this course to think of public health outside of the technical aspects I have been accustomed to within the Epidemiology concentration. Pubic health crises are not contained within the context of isolated events. Culture, literature, media, etc. share in the development and the movement and the perceptions of public health crises. From here on out, I will think 'outside the box' with public health."
Chioma Uzoigwe -MPH Spring 2005
Final Project: Life Goes On with Chris Burke

"The overall inspiration for me throughout the semester can be located in the space allowed to read and reflect on public health crises in the humanities. I don’t really think there is such a notion as a failure in a course like this because every 'non-success' offered the opportunity to work through my own thoughts on a particular subject. Although I struggled with the conflict presented in Sound and Fury, that struggle allowed me to truly ponder the issues of the deaf culture in ways I had never been able to previously consider. Similarly, the simulated experience of being a deaf-blind person also allowed me to begin to identify with the obstacles and joys of those disabilities. When I first placed the earplugs in my ears and the blindfold over my eyes I felt great comfort in the silence that surrounded me. I gained a peacefulness that I can rarely attain because my hearing world is so littered with sounds, many of which can be distracting and annoying.

Despite the fact that I was revolted by the contents of Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment I enjoyed the book immensely. As a class, we were able to discuss issues of conflict in the book, such as whether Nurse Rivers was 'good' or 'bad,' and this discussion shed light on the complexities of the experiment. The paper I wrote focused on this book offered the opportunity to explore issues of racism in medicine that persist into the present. As a white woman going into this field, it was incredibly important that I delve into these issues in order to confront my own misperceptions of race relations.

I was also inspired by several of the short stories and poems we read. Of particular note were: On Dumpster Diving, Daddy, Two Scenes from a Hospital, and Looking for a Rain God. At times, I found myself putting off work for other classes to focus on the reading for this class. It was refreshing for me to be able to investigate public health issues through the lens of the humanities. I could also do this work without having to turn my statistics brain on. I could sit back and absorb what I was reading without having to force myself to do so.

I have always found great comfort in literature. I took this class to formally discover the intermingling of science and the humanities. It was through literature and the humanities that I discovered public health. It was interesting and stimulating to be able to re-discover literature through public health, and to do so in a class where I truly felt comfortable to voice my thoughts, regardless of whether they were in agreement with everyone else.

I over-analyze the world. Perhaps I felt so comfortable in this class because my over-analytical tendencies served a greater purpose, one that not only allowed me to explore the works we read, viewed and listened to, but also to find some insight into the nature of my interest in science and the humanities. I like science for its logical progression. I like the humanities for its emotional umbrella. I am sad to know that his class is over. I could really do this forever."
Tami Wisniewski - MPH Spring 2005
Final Project: The Art of Survival - An Assessment of the Contribution of Art to Survival During the Holocaust

"Last semester I was talked into taking this class by my friend who took the class the semester before. She told me that if I read the books and wrote the paper I would do fine. So, I thought of this class as an easy grade and thought I would do what I was told and do fine. I thought of this class as an elective that had nothing to do with Epidemiology. Here I am taking classes like Linear Regression, Life Tables and Categorical, these classes were supposed to teach me things in public health. These were the “important” classes that I needed to focus on; these classes were believed to help my career. These were the classes I was suppose to learn the most from. Of course, I was very wrong. Sure Linear Regression, Life tables and Categorical taught me the statistical part of public health, but this class in particular taught me how important public health is in all aspects of life.

Before taking this class I did not realize how movies and literature contributed in educating people without there knowledge. Movies like, And the Band Played On, portrays how each group reacts to the disease and the fight for a cure. Watching the movie you can’t help but think how people were so uneducated about the disease once upon a time. This movie truly captures the emotions of those involved allowing the viewers to feel the emotional triumphs as well as all the tragedy, loss, deceit and struggle experienced by those who fought for the truth and the cure. Documentaries like, Sound and Fury, gave us a good debate from two very different sides of an important issue. This movie was both educational and insightful as it colorfully compared and contrasted the values and lifestyles of both worlds. Literature like, Angels of America, is filled with substance and I have gained a great appreciation of it. I would have to say that I learned more from this particular book about humanism and history then any other book that I have read. Also the book, Bad Blood was another book that I couldn’t put down. This book offered me a historical background and sociopolitical context to explain how the Tuskegee Experiment evolved. It helped me to realize that it was a result of existence of racism, economics, and social political and cultural forces. Reading chapter by chapter, I found myself finding more appalling things as I read on.

As you can see I can go on and on about what I have learned from this class and the materials we were assigned to read and evaluate. There were some stories I already knew about and others that were introduced to me for the first time. Some materials I could talk forever about and that effected me deeply like, Angels of America and the Ryan White story. Of course there were stories that I did not like at all like, Oedipus Rex and Endgame. I found both stories uninteresting and really didn’t come away with anything.

I found myself enjoying going to class and having discussion on different topics on public health. I enjoyed hearing other people view on movies, documentaries, literature and poems. This gave me the opportunity to see other points of view that I might have not seen or read on my own. I have a lot from this class on a personal level and a social level. I realize that public health does not stop in the class room. That public health is everywhere we look. Public health can be a vehicle of communication. It has the power to communicate to those who are exposed to it and open to hear its message whether it is through culture, music, television or films. It is evident that public health is all around us. We can use it to educate, influence and generate public awareness in our society."
Indira Debchoudhury - MPH Student
Final Project: Magic Johnson Impacts AIDS

"Upon entering this class I was excited, eager, and confident. I have been exposed to various types of humanities and felt I would have a working knowledge of the material. However, I realized early on that this class would take me beyond my general knowledge. Public health crises have long been reflected in the humanities but it is often rare that it is discussed in such depth in normal every day conversation.

Through class discussions I learned that many of the works we studied contained so much more public health meaning than I originally thought. I was amazed when reading 'Enemy of the People' and watching 'JAWS' and locating social commentary parallels between the works. I have always considered myself an extraordinarily open and socially and culturally sensitive person, but many times my own essence of acceptance was challenged.

For instance, watching the movie 'Sound and Fury' taught me about the 'deaf' culture I had never even knew existed because I had thought they categorized themselves as 'impaired' as I did. Even with this accomplishment of understanding, it was only through the class discussions and interactions that I was fully able to accept and respect 'deaf' culture. Initially 'deaf' culture seemed like a foreign concept but has now taken on a beautiful and complex identity. This type of revelation and discovery continued throughout the course oftentimes frustrating and thrilling me simultaneously.

My major success of this class was essentially taking this class and allowing myself to absorb a new way of looking at public health. As already noted, I find myself reaching beyond an upfront simple answer and searching for the complex unnoticed answers which many times lie farther below an obvious level. In studying public health we are easily caught up with the systematic Biostatistical, political, health administrative approaches that we often forget to examine the true nature of humanity and human suffering. We forget to remember the very lives we are attempting to help and remedy. Therefore, the other major success in this class was remembering to actively involve myself in the environments of those I wish to serve in the future; to delve deep into lives of those and not to linger in the logistics of public health education. This class takes our public health education and experiences to another level as it develops our skills to question every step we make in our public health endeavors.

My major failure of this class was formulating my opinions and judgments before class discussions. Even though I had an open mind, I was conflicted by my own preconceived perceptions. Reading poems and books and watching movies dealing with public health crises is not sufficient for understanding, but it is the true analyses of the works that gave birth to new meaning and enlightenment. Though the very content is the essence of the work, oftentimes it was necessary to know who wrote or created the work, the history and life of the author or artist, or the time and place in which it was created.

I sternly recommend this class for anyone who is in or not in the field of public health, no matter what age, sex, or race. Even with a small class size there was still social and cultural diversity that brought fascinating and unique perspectives that fueled healthy discussions which often led to the enhancement of personal understanding touching us in some way. In conclusion, this class should be made a CORE class for everyone in the Public Health program and can only be taught by someone as qualified and talented as the current instructor. "
Erica Sison - MPH Fall 2004
Final Project: Public Health Crises Reflected in Black & White

"With great anticipation, I looked forward to the start of this course. At least it would be quite different from anything I had taken before in the MPH program. Certainly the instructor’s enthusiasm contributed to my decision to register for this course, and that enthusiasm was contagious.

Personally, I found this course to be enlightening. It serves a purpose no other course does. It takes policy, needs assessment, and management to a new level. Although all pubic health issues have a basis in the organizational and managerial levels, we seem to become too oriented on the issue and process and detached from the humankind factor. When discussing cochlear implants, we were exposed to the process, the method of choosing appropriate candidates, and instruction to the patient and their families. However, we went beyond that and began to understand the culture of the deaf world. Especially in an urban setting, we will never be successful in a public health forum unless we understand the depth of the cultures we are facing. My success in this class took me beyond what I thought I knew about other cultures and my own acceptance of them, and the discrimination they face. It made me understand so much more. I realize that I may never fully understand different cultures, and thinking I can is somewhat discriminatory in itself. I realize the importance of incorporating the full community into decisions about their own health issues. We must also understand the importance of compromise. Sometimes neither side is completely right, and reaching a middle ground is what’s best for the public.

My failure in this class was in falling short of understanding other viewpoints. However, I think that is probably normal in the course of true acceptance of other’s viewpoints. Education about various issues helps us to finally understand them more clearly. It does not mean we need to agree with them, but we need to work hard to get a glimpse of the other side’s viewpoint. So I may have failed at understanding certain issues initially, but further discussion brought me much closer. I learned that my viewpoint may change dramatically from my first impression.

This course made us aware of the moral responsibility we each have in our positions. Perhaps that is the greatest success of the course itself. We can follow the outline of a research project, or implement a health initiative, but we must begin and end with a moral responsibility to the patient and ourselves. We now have a much more personal understanding of what that means."
Deborah Nuber - MPH Spring 2005
Final Project: Abuse Advertising Aimed at the Abuser

"When I first saw this course listed in the spring classes, it appeared to be different. It sounded like a history class about different public health crises. What I failed to understand or appreciate was the “reflected in the Humanities” part. The first assignment was to sit in front of sculptures of women with different stages of cancer and reflect what the surgeon may have thought as he performed the surgeries and then express those feelings this in form of a poem. For someone who lacks expressive art talent, writing a poem took me out of my comfort zone.

I wanted to quit the class because I was scared, but the first class experience made me stay. My classmates all knew more than I did and were more comfortable about the subject than I appeared to know or feel. The instructor was very enthusiastic about the class. I instantly felt reassured and believed I would learn something from the class.

I was right. The class provided a missing part of my education -- the expressive art. I needed to take what I knew and thenpresent it to the public in a form they can appreciate. This may be in the form of music, film or a book. At the end of the class I was able to write a poem! I can now put my emotions about the HIV pandemic in words. I am able to listen to music, watch a film or read a book and at the end come out with a message the artist was trying to relay instead of just another sound or another story. For the first time, I now listen to the lyrics in a song.

My shortcoming during the course was the fact I was taking the course at the same time I had a very busy schedule and it was a short period to move me from the low level I was in with regards to the expressive art to where I rather be. I hope I will get another opportunity to take classes like this.

I strongly recommend this course to anyone who has always been in the sciences and who, as part of his or her career future hope to communicate their works, research, and opinion to the general public. It takes much more than knowledge of the facts to impact people’s life; it requires you to be an effective communicator, reflecting your opinion or work in the humanities."
Echezona Ezeanolue, MD - MPH Spring 2006
Final Project: Dr. Oleske, AIDS & the Human Value of a Tin Roof

The Lila's Breast Poem Project
One assignment for this course was to write a poem as a response to the "Lila's Breast" plaster casting cancer display of three bodies. Each student was assigned a point of view "the missing breast; the surgeon; the wound; the plaster casting; the cancer; the awakening woman, etc." and to then write a poem concerning that condition.  Selected poems were subsequently published here.