New College aligns with MAT

President Don O'Shea
New College President Don O’Shea

From SRQ Daily 10-10-20

As our local minority communities continue to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, New College students and faculty are working alongside the Multicultural Action Team (MAT) to help.

The MAT initiative—funded by a $342,000 grant to Tidewell Hospice through the Manatee County CARES Act—focuses on serving at-risk residents through prevention, education and research. Nine interns/scholars and three professors from New College are currently collaborating with Sarasota’s Multicultural Health Institute (MHI) on the effort.

“This is a way that I can give back when the community is struggling and suffering,” says Alia Quadir, a New College thesis student who has interned with the MHI since the summer and is continuing to work with the MAT this semester. “It gives this whole pandemic and the series of crises right now a kind of purpose.”

The MHI, founded in 1995 by Dr. Lisa Merritt (an adjunct professor at New College), has helped more than 10,000 people receive direct pandemic-related assistance since March. The organization has also distributed over 13,000 masks locally and nationally.

“It has been our honor and privilege to care for and educate the community on health equity issues while also developing future healthcare leadership,” Merritt says. “We are excited at the opportunity to solidify longstanding collaborations into the MAT, which will continue to improve awareness of health and wellness issues while preventing spread and complications from COVID-19 amongst vulnerable populations.”

Some of the MHI’s community services include educating individuals on best practices in multiple languages; testing and connecting people to health resources while tracking results; and developing long-term solutions to problems within social institutions and the healthcare system.

“Over the summer with the MHI, I was working on a podcast, interviewing people who had COVID-19, to amplify their voices in the community and provide a cultural, historical context for the pandemic,” Quadir says. “I also tried to find people who needed food, health or rent assistance and connect them to local resources.”

MHI interns helped track the weekly COVID-19 case data provided by the Florida Department of Health, and maintained a Google map that identified cases by zip code in Sarasota and Manatee counties. They were part of a team that compiled pediatric case data and advised local school boards about stricter protocols for reopening campuses. New College has been involved with the MHI for years, but the interns currently helping with this work are Quadir, Olympia Fulcher, Charlotte Leavengood, Austin Mason, Perry Spike, Megan Galeski, Erika Calle, Cyriac Versini and Ryan May (an alum).

The New College faculty members leading the project are Uzi Baram, professor of Anthropology and Heritage Studies; Queen Zabriskie, assistant professor of Sociology; and Kristopher Fennie, assistant professor of Epidemiology. The professors are hosting weekly meetings to mentor the interns, as well as providing various perspectives on the pandemic and the significance of community outreach. And students like Quadir are working with the MHI and the MAT while taking a remote course this fall at New College entitled “COVID-19: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Pandemic.”

“New College attracts people who want to work on changing the world and increasing social justice,” Baram says. “These students are willing to go beyond their own personal struggles and challenges to make a difference for marginalized groups.”

Our socially-conscious students—guided by their supportive professors—are truly making us proud.

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