Power and Privilege within Health Policy and Systems Research Teaching

How does power and privilege manifest with HPSR teaching?

Power and Privilege within Health Policy and Systems Research Teaching

By Rosemary Morgan, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

The HSG Teaching and Learning Health Policy and Systems Research (HPSR) thematic working group is holding a teaching clinic at the upcoming Global Symposium on Health Systems Research. Through mentorship and peer exchange, the aim of the clinic is to allow those teaching HPSR to share ideas and approaches to teaching across all contexts. During the clinic, participants will explore and discuss ideas related to such things as: developing syllabi and course materials, engaging in innovative strategies for teaching HPSR topics, effective coaching and mentoring techniques, and how power and privilege manifests in HPSR.

During a recent discussion about the clinic, the theme “power and privilege” was signaled out as one that lacks clarity and, thus, requires further explanation. This is unsurprising as these issues have only recently gained traction within the field of health policy and systems research – let alone teaching. A recent opinion piece in Health Policy and Planning is a notable recent example. In it, the authors discuss how privilege and (a lack of) inclusivity shape global health agendas, arguing for greater inclusivity (in terms of, for example, increasing the representation of Southern voices and women at conferences and within research commissions).

How does power and privilege manifest with HPSR teaching?

Power and privilege within HPSR teaching can manifest in multiple ways, including for example, within teaching processes and institutions, i.e. ways in which inequities in terms of gender, age, class, sexuality, dis/ability, ethnicity, and nationality affect who teaches and how teaching efforts are valued and rewarded; and what is taught, i.e. which voices and experiences are given priority within teaching and the development of curricula.

Curricula content

While there are many cases which exemplify the above, I will highlight a few here. Take, for example, recent discussions about decolonizing the curriculum in South Africa which explore the need to challenge and change curricula based on the language, worldview, and experiences of White English male speakers from the Global North. These discussions have raised some important questions relevant to HPSR, including: Whose worldview is our HPSR teaching based on? Whose recommendations and solutions are given priority? Whose ideas and issues are legitimized within teaching? And is our curriculum actually reproducing societal inequalities instead of addressing them?

Gender bias within academia

We can also look at how gender bias manifests within teaching in general. Evidence shows, for example, that female professors are often given lower ratings by students than their male counterparts. Female professors are also more likely to be evaluated on their appearance or fashion choices, while male faculty are more likely to be seen as more intelligent. One study found that female instructors were scored 16% lower in relation to the promptness in which they returned work, despite the work being returned at exactly the same time as the male instructors. Other ways in which gender bias manifests in academia include: the lower percentage of full-time female faculty members or those on secure contracts, and the need for women to fall in line with traditional gender roles or risk not being professionally respected.

Intersecting social identities

What about other social identities? How does such things as race, (dis)ability, sexuality, and language affect privilege within teaching? In this piece, Pamela Barnett discusses how different social identities produce different degrees of privilege among teachers within higher education while outlining which privileges are enjoyed by which identities. In it, she explores how socially determined privileges and disadvantages can impact faculty as teachers and colleagues, and how the ways in which others perceive us based on different social identities shapes “their expectations of us, their interactions with us, and our experience of academic community”. It is important to note here, however, that the ways in which these social identities intersect is complex and that and it is the intersection of these identities (not a single identity) that shape privilege and disadvantage within higher education.

Where do we go from here?

Being aware of our own social privilege (or lack of it) is important, especially if we are to create more inclusive HPSR teaching environments. It is important for those who enjoy social privileges to recognize the nature of such privilege and to become not only more informed colleagues, but also more supportive mentors to those who face different challenges working in university environments. As those teaching HPSR, we must also become better aware of the basis in which our curriculum is developed and taught. In this way, we can create a more inclusive HPSR teaching community and ensure that those who operate within this space are treated equitably and fairly.

During the clinic, we will explore these issues and discuss ways in which our HPSR teaching environments and community can become more inclusive and equitable. We hope that you can join us!

The clinic will be held on Tuesday 15 November from 8:00-12:00 in room 1430 SFU-Harbour in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Visit the Health Systems Symposium website for more information.

Can’t make it to the conference and interested in these issues? Comment below or contact Rosemary Morgan at rosemary.morgan@jhu.edu to further the discussion.

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