ILS and Eck Institute offer course exploring Hispanic/Latino health challenges

Author: Christine Grashorn

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Long working hours and the rapidly changing climate are leading to serious health challenges for the 2.2 million farm workers in the United States who identify as Hispanic.

Efforts to address the health concerns often face additional obstacles, including limited options for care, language barriers, and financial instability.

The interrelatedness of these issues led Clayton Glasgow, a Latino studies and sustainability minor and environmental science major, to take the Latino Health: Social, Cultural, and Scientific Perspectives seminar cosponsored by Latino studies and Health, Humanities, and Society (HHS).

Glasgow wrote about the health challenges in his paper, "Doubly Burdened: Latinx Farmworker Health in a Changing Climate. The paper, written for his capstone requirement for Latino studies, won the José E. Limón Best Paper Award competition for contributing exemplary research in the field of Latino studies.

“The primary threat right now for farmworkers is extreme heat and heat-related illness, but shifting vector-borne and fungal disease distributions, more intense storms, and food insecurity are emerging issues that need to be considered,” he said.

The idea for this unique, cross disciplinary course emerged from conversations in 2021 between Karen Richman and Nydia Morales-Soto.

Richman, a cultural anthropologist, is director of undergraduate studies at the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS), and is an affiliated faculty member in HHS, the Eck Institute for Global Health, and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

Morales-Soto, a microbiologist and molecular biologist with global health expertise, is assistant director of the Eck Institute for Global Health, and an affiliated faculty member in ILS and HHS.

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Richman and Morales-Soto recognized many undergraduates like Glasgow — who were majoring or minoring in Latino studies — had a strong interest in Latino health.

They envisioned a course that critically analyzed health challenges that intersected with socio-cultural and scientific discussions.

The Latino Health: Social, Cultural, and Scientific Perspectives course resulted from the collaboration between them and their respective institutes.

Julia Ruelle, a biological sciences major and Glynn Family Honors Program, HHS, and Latino studies minor, is enrolled in the course and works in the Culture of Medicine Lab directed by Vania Smith-Oka, a professor in the Department of Anthropology.

Smith-Oka, director of HHS Program of the Reilly Center for Science Technology and Values and a faculty fellow of the Eck Institute and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, has conducted extensive research about decision-making regarding cesarean sections in Central and Latin America.

Ruelle’s work in the lab uses a classification system to compare high rates of cesarean sections in Saint Joseph County as well as in Puebla, Mexico.

“This semester I have learned so much more about the gender dynamics that are present in various Latino cultures, especially Mexico,” said Ruelle. “These dynamics can influence the societal valuing of women’s health, especially as it relates to decision-making during childbirth."

Richman said the course's combined professorial expertise creates a multifaceted, integrative approach to Latino health, "which considers both the scientific bases of specific diseases affecting Latinos as well as the social, cultural, economic, and environmental factors that increase risk and limit access to therapy.”

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Richman and Morales-Soto seek to educate scholars committed to a deeper understanding of health inequity in minority communities and inspired by the potential to apply these skills to health-related careers.

Morales-Soto said the collaboration fosters a more inclusive and informed generation of leaders — irrespective of their field of study — by enabling students to explore the complexities of community health and critically examine challenges that disproportionately affect Hispanic/Latino populations.

Latino Health: Social, Cultural, and Scientific Perspectives is offered each fall. For more information on this and additional ILS courses, visit its website.

Christine Grashorn, Communications Specialist
Notre Dame Research / University of Notre Dame / 574.631.4856 / @UNDResearch

About the Eck Institute for Global Health

The Eck Institute for Global Health (EIGH), an integral part of Notre Dame Research, builds on the University’s historical strength in infectious disease research, including vector-borne diseases, while broadening the interdisciplinary expertise into other key global health areas including maternal, newborn, & child health (MNCH), community health, mental health, nutrition and non-communicable diseases, the environment and health, health analytics and technologies, and health systems and organizations. Our team of interdisciplinary researchers and their students holistically address health disparities around the world. EIGH faculty affiliates recognize health as a fundamental human right and promote research, training, and service to advance health standards for all people, especially those in resource-poor countries who are disproportionately impacted by preventable diseases. The EIGH is training the next generation of global health researchers and leaders through undergraduate, Master of Science in Global Health, doctoral, and postdoctoral programs.

About the Institute for Latino Studies

The Institute for Latino Studies (ILS) advances understanding of the fastest-growing and youngest population in the United States and the U.S. Catholic Church. It strengthens the University of Notre Dame’s mission to prepare transformative leaders in all areas of society, including the arts, sciences, business, politics, faith, and family life. The vision of ILS is to foster a deeper understanding of Latino communities to empower faculty, students, and society to make better strategic decisions as to what kind of a country is being created for children and grandchildren. The ILS strives to achieve its mission by providing faculty and student support in the areas of Research, Academics, Leadership, Community Engagement, and Latino Spirituality.

Originally published by Christine Grashorn at on October 12, 2023.