Communication in Action – NCA Convention 2014

Recently, I attended the 100th National Communication Association Convention in Chicago with 3 fellow students (pictured) in order to expand my understanding of where I could go and what I could do with a communication degree. So far I only knew that I enjoyed studying things on a global scale and that I was interested in health and political topics. I went to numerous panels, fairs, and receptions over the course of the convention in the hopes of gaining some insight for what my future could look like. Little did I know, going to this convention let me grow in academic and personal ways.

NCASCDinner

For starters, my favorite events were the panels. They were organized by topic and then 3 or 4 distinguished communication professionals would showcase their work for the topic and answer questions. It was essentially an academic version of speed dating – intro, information, questions, then on to the next person! The panel that resonated with me most was the “Future of Health, Risk, and Crisis Communication”, which is where I met Dr. Chan Thai from the National Cancer Institute. Her objective for research is incorporating theoretical perspectives into objective-based research; in other words, academia into real-world application. I found this interesting since I want to work in a government or private sector organization. When I told her that, she said to “research everything, but always have an application in mind. Constantly be asking ‘What’s next?’ of your research to make sure it can have impact. A positive outcome from research is one of the most effective ways people can change society, especially in health related circumstances.” Her advice is incredibly valuable and I expect to focus on how my research projects can be used in society from now on.

Second, the graduate school fair was amazing! I immediately gravitated towards the University of Kentucky for its Crisis and Risk Communication focus. (Just to say – I went to the other tables, too!) There I became interested in working with governmental organizations – something UKY does often. I immediately asked the representatives at the booth of which faculty members were at the conference and where I could find them. Little by little, I worked on making connections.

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By the end of my conference, I was exhausted. I was, however, determined to meet Dr. Shari Veil from UKY. After attending Ohio University’s reception party, I went to the Kentucky’s. I cannot stress the importance of confidence enough during events like these! Even though I was shaking and genuinely stressing out in my head, introducing myself to Dr. Veil went a long way! She was excited to meet someone interested in the university and introduced me to everyone – from faculty member, Dr. Spence, to current graduate student, Marjorie Buckner. When I asked Dr. Spence about what makes a good communication student, he told me to “build on every piece of work you write. Make sure that it’s a continuation of research and that the topics are related – not random and scattered. That’ll set you up for major projects and will make you more knowledgeable.” Every person I met gave amazing advice and were all very welcoming. This experience proves what I’ve been told my whole life – A little bit of confidence goes a long way! After all, I wouldn’t have even made it to the reception if I was too shy. By the end of the night, I had handed countless people my business card. I honestly couldn’t believe how quickly I had made those connections – it was a true “networking” experience.

I have gained an entirely new mindset from this conference. If you are a communication scholar – You need to go! All of the advice I heard (from professionals, faculty, and students) about the communication field and how to excel in doing what you love, while still maintaining humanity and emotions, is priceless. With them and this convention, I am a better prepared scholar and a more holistic person. They truly had an impact on where I think I’d like to go with my degree and what I can do with my research to have a positive impact on society.

How did you find your passion? What made you decide your career path? How can communication research apply to you?

Public Health – What’s Everyone Talking About?

In America, health care and health policies are becoming more and more of a debated issue. What is the right way to handle the issue? What stance should be taken? Well, for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions, they are gearing up for the same topic. I was intrigued on what was being focused on in their recent health discussions, but there are still areas that need to be covered and given the attention that they deserve. This post will be covered Non-Communicable Diseases, Mental Health (Disabilities), and Refugee Healthcare discussions.

Region

Non-Communicable Diseases

As I understand, non-communicable diseases are illnesses that cannot be transmitted – the only develop from genetics or mutations. In MENA regions, diseases such as heart disease (44%), stroke (35%), and diabetes (87%) are causing more premature death and disability than they have in past years. This is hypothesized to be because of poor diets, high body mass indexes, and large amounts of smoking in the region. The rates of these types of diseases are increasing as time goes on because the environmental factors cannot be overcome.

The leading causes of disease were diverse and, sometimes, surprising. Between preterm birth complications in Algeria and Palestine, depression in Jordan, and coronary heart disease in Egypt, Iran, and Lebanon, there are obviously a multitude of areas that need attention but do not respond to the same treatments. Unless effective preventive measures are implemented effectively and quickly, the illnesses could have significant social and economic consequences, especially in areas where transmittable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, are there already.

Mental Health

Accounting for 13% of the total global burden of disease, untreated mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of disability, causing lasting disruptions in mood, thinking and daily functioning. As outlined in Access to Mental Health Care in the Middle East, mental health is not a strong priority in the MENA region and services are not widespread despite the increasing efforts made. The decreased prioritization around mental health issues means that government implementation of the available resources (if there are any) in each area are not concentrated on this issue just yet.

There are different options to handling mental illness cases, especially since they differ individually, but it has been reported that Arabs endorsed greater beliefs in supernatural causes of mental illness. This comes from Islamic beliefs in “a dangerous, unprovoked spirit”, “a spirit that was angry because someone did wrong” and “evil eyes”. It has also been established that Arabs generally hold stigmatizing beliefs towards seeking professional mental health services, both within the MENA region and in the United States.

Figure 1While there are many similarities within the Arab nations and cultures about mental health, cultural and religious variations are predicted to be the keys to the success or failure of attitude and treatment towards the problem.

Refugee Healthcare

As taken from Global Health Middle East, “[Syria and neighboring countries] are struggling to cope with the staggering number of refugees, who have strained health, education and other infrastructure. As more refugees stream over the border every day, the UN is being forced to prioritize the most vulnerable due to lack of funds.” Attention needs to be paid to the healthcare needs of refugees both in terms of war/trauma injuries and emergency care, but also to the long-term healthcare polices for those with chronic diseases and mental health issues, as seen by the tweets below. There is an express interest in aiding refugees in the most efficient ways possible, but it seems like no one truly knows how. There are many organizations that have focused on emergency response, but that only goes so far.

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The rapid shifts in disease burden place poor people in low – and middle – income countries at high risk of not having access to appropriate services and incurring payments for health care that push them deeper into poverty,said Timothy Evans, Director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group. The question is, with an ongoing war and a need for humanitarian aid, where will the long-term funding for refugee health come from? What possibilities are there for regional areas to contribute aid?

Currently, most health services in the MENA regions are based on a curative model, which is expensive to maintain and ineffective in addressing the emerging health challenges. With the rapid growth of health discussions, it is clear that there are efforts to change how the issues are handled, but who is going to answer and solve these problems? Who will be accountable for delivering services to those who need them?

References: Providing Healthcare in Crisis, Social Barriers to Mental Health Services, The Middle East and Health, Public Health in the Middle East, The World Bank

Right To Love

In the Middle East, perceptions of “gay” or “homosexual” are different from those of the West, and even Ohio University. Simply going against cultural norms can cause one to be labeled as “gay” in the Middle East; this categorization of homosexuality may be on pure assumption as well. Unlike Western culture, there are many classifications of “gay” in the Middle East, including words that do not have English translations. Another contribution to the mislabel of “gay” can be the lack of distinction between “sex” and “gender”, which, as a communication studies major, I have recently studied extensively. It’s not easy to be gay in any part of the world, but in the Middle East it’s almost like being invisible and at risk at the same time.

Recently, homosexuality has become readily accepted in many countries, including the United States, but in the Middle East it is the excuse for the arbitrary detention, arrest, torture, and deaths of hundreds of people. There are, however, always differing treatments across countries in the Middle East, similar to the U.S.’s state treatments. Israel is often seen as the exception by accepting homosexuality and even allowing “Pride Parades” to occur throughout the country, but many residents of the Middle East have been reported to claim homosexuality is a Western “problem.” They emphasize the differences between Eastern and Western cultures and claim that homosexuality cannot be tolerated. But are we truly that different?

“In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country.”

-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Source)

I identify as a follower of Catholicism, a religion that is seemingly intolerant of homosexuality entirely, and I wondered if Islam followed that stance. Just like Catholicism, Islam is interpreted differently by different followers, but generally its teachings regarding sexuality (homosexual or heterosexual) can be reduced to the importance of procreation and formalized frameworks for sexual activity. Criticisms of homosexuality are generally found in Hadith, history or teachings of the Prophet Muhammad that were passed down orally through history until they were recorded in writing. Many Hadith reports contradict each other, but they include severe condemnations of homosexuality.

The Pew Research Center, as part of a fascinating new report on global attitudes toward homosexuality, asked people in 39 different countries a deceptively straightforward question: “Should society accept homosexuality?” People could answer yes, no or decline the question.

The “yes” answers are mapped out below. In red countries, less than 45 percent of respondents said homosexuality should be accepted by society. In blue countries, more than 55 percent said it should be accepted. Purple countries fall in that middle range of about half. Additionally, as you can see in the line graph, they plotted where a country’s tolerance for homosexuality falls.

Homosexuality Map

Homosexuality Scale

However, even with oppressive forces against them, homosexual individuals in the Middle East have found ways to flourish. Beirut’s vitality as a Mediterranean capital of night life has fueled a LGBT scene like any other and in recent years, Lebanon has become one of the most liberal Arab counties when it comes to sexuality and sexual behavior. Also, isolated and secret groups have been known to form to provide support to the LGBT community, despite popular discrimination.

Whether because of politics, religion, or common cultural practices, homosexuals within the Middle East continue to fight for their lives and their right to love. Only with the cessation of these practices and the advocacy of human rights for all people will human beings truly achieve peace. What have we done in Athens to promote a peaceful environment? What cultural values do we show when we are accepting of LGBT identities?

References: The Washington Post, The New York Times, theguardian.com, International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Humanitarian News & Analysis, Human Rights & Human Welfare