Breaking the Gun Control Legislative Stalemate | Medium


By Christine Nero Coughlin and Sandro Galea

As Congress returns from its summer recess, the Democratic Party has prioritized gun control legislation. The Republican-led Senate appears equally resolved that such legislation has no chance of becoming law. It has been over a generation since the federal government has made any meaningful inroads with firearm regulation. The 1994 bipartisanship that passed an assault weapons ban and barred felons from owning guns is but a distant memory.

This divisive political landscape, along with our social media echo chambers, may suggest we are at an impasse when it comes to gun control. We disagree. As a law professor and a public health scholar, we believe that people of goodwill across the political spectrum want to prevent future tragedies and to minimize the human consequences of gun violence. We also believe that a way forward is indeed possible. With 39,000 firearm-related deaths per year, and 87% of Americans considering gun violence to be a health threat, this moment in time provides us a unique opportunity to act.

Read the full piece on Medium.

Photo by Pixabay, from Pexels.

Where We Have Been, Where We Are Headed | Dean's Note

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The end of summer can be a melancholy time, but in academia it is an occasion for joy. Welcoming first-year students and faculty, along with returning members of our community, makes for a kind of second spring, as our school renews itself. It is a time to look to the future, but also to mark where we have been. SPH has undergone many changes over the last few years, building on the work our community has done over four decades to deliver a world-class public health education to our students. I would like to use this Dean’s Note to reflect on our evolution as a school, while anticipating, with excitement, the future. This is a time when the work of public health is more important than ever. It strikes me as fitting that, at the start of the academic year, we reaffirm why we do what we do, touching on the core values that animate our school, as we come together once more to build a healthier world.

Since joining the school four years ago, I have seen my role as working with the SPH community to make a great school even better, to advance our public health mission. At the heart of all we do is our core purpose, Think. Teach. Do. For the health of all. We think by generating knowledge, we teach by transferring that knowledge to the next generation, we do by engaging with key stakeholders and communicating our message to the general public, and by working within communities to create change.

In the area of think, we have worked to maintain and strengthen our position as a leader in scholarship and research by clarifying our faculty expectations rubric, creating a sabbatical program, and implementing an annual faculty review with clear guidelines and mentoring. In the area of teach, we have instituted changes to help support excellence in pedagogy, from creating an Office of Lifelong Learning, to renewing our MPH and launching a suite of new educational offerings, including the Executive MPH and a new hybrid MS in Population Health Research. We have shown our commitment to do by working to create a healthier world locally and globally. The hub for this work is our Activist Lab, which, since its creation, has helped students, faculty, and staff engage with the surrounding community through a range of projects, including our Life on Albany initiatives and our work with the Blackstone Community Center and the Boston Public Health Commission.

Buoyed by this progress, our school remains a leader in the field, with a dynamic and innovative educational program, a growing research portfolio, a track record of successful development campaigns, and a clear, internationally recognized voice on issues of public health consequence.

It is in this context of recent accomplishment, and excitement for the future, that we welcome our new students. This fall, we open our doors to 312 new students from 32 states and 18 countries. They join our 1,177 current students, our 315 faculty, 242 staff, and our global network of nearly 10,000 alumni living in 117 countries. As our community has grown, so has the need for what we do. In the last few years, we have seen many challenges to public health. The current administration has pursued a range of policies detrimental to the social, economic, and environmental conditions that shape health—from undermining reproductive rightsto demonizing immigrantsto blocking efforts to mitigate climate changeto doing little to address the inequality that informs a 15-year life expectancy gap between Americans at the top and bottom of the economic ladder.

Yet with these challenges, we have also seen new opportunities for addressing the structures that create poor health in our society, structures which have long seemed immovable. These opportunities have emerged from shifts in how we talk about health, which have informed social movements with the power to change the status quo. We have, for example, finally begun talking about gun violence and climate change as the public health challenges they are, which has opened the door to public health solutions that address the core socioeconomic and political causes of these problems. We have also seen dramatic changes in how we talk about health care, with the possibility of adopting a single-payer system—long seen as politically unfeasible in the US—now central to our national debate. This reflects a growing acknowledgement in this country that health is a human right and we should demand policies that promote it.

The progress we have seen in recent years on all these issues reflects not just a societal shift, but a generational one, with the next generation leading the way in pursuit of a better, healthier world. It is in the spirit of this pursuit that we welcome our students, who represent some of the most engaged members of this rising generation. I look forward to all we will do together to become the best school we can possibly be, towards our ultimate goal of creating the healthiest possible society.

To this end, we invite you to join our community’s ongoing conversation, by engaging with our many platforms for discussion, and attending our on-campus events. Throughout the year, our school hosts a series of Signature Programs, where we invite to SPH thought leaders who lead discussions about the issues that affect health nationally and around the world. In particular, we hope you will take part in our observation of 400 Years of Inequalitya national movement marking the October anniversary of the first Africans to be sold into bondage in North America. Through a series of projects and public fora, we will explore how four centuries of injustice shape health in 2019. To stay up to date on our programing, and everything else that is happening at the school, we encourage you to visit our website, and to read SPH This Week, our weekly e-newsletter. Our community is also active on Twitter—myself included (@sandrogalea)—where we share thoughts, discuss the latest research, and communicate about upcoming events.

I hope everyone has a terrific week. I look forward to the months to come, as we continue the conversation.

Warm regards,


Acknowledgment: I am grateful to Eric DelGizzo for his contributions to this Dean’s Note.

Independence Day and the Immigrant | Dean's Note

Like many Americans, I have found it hard to stop thinking about the heartbreaking photo of the bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, Angie Valeria, migrants from El Salvador who drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande to seek asylum in the US. I think about the hopes and fears that might have caused them to make such a dangerous journey—hopes for a better life in America, fears of having to return to face gang violence and economic hardship in El Salvador. I have especially been thinking about Óscar and Valeria this Fourth of July week, a time to celebrate the country’s founding, and the ideals of freedom and opportunity that characterize this nation at its best. These ideals are important to all Americans, but, I would argue, they are particularly important to immigrants. Indeed, they are the reason many immigrants come to this country, often in the face of difficult circumstances.

University Leaders Must Be Free to Air Views That Challenge Their Communities

Harvard University’s recent announcement that law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr would no longer remain faculty dean of one of its undergraduate houses raises profound questions for all university senior leaders.

The reasons for Harvard’s decision are complex, involving long-standing complaints about Sullivan’s administration of the house. But the recent focus on his leadership was precipitated by an outcry over his time on the legal defence team of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Some members of the Harvard community felt that Sullivan’s willingness to defend Weinstein, who has been accused of multiple sexual crimes, compromised his ability to provide a safe, supportive environment for students. Sullivan’s advocates, on the other hand, have said that although Sullivan no longer represents Weinstein, his willingness to do so is testament to the fact that even people accused of heinous offences still have the right to the best legal defence they can access. Some have even cited John Adams, a Harvard alum, who, in 1770, defended the British soldiers accused of carrying out the Boston Massacre, despite his personal sympathies for American independence.

The Sullivan controversy highlights the challenge leaders of schools and universities face as they navigate the conversation around difficult issues. As the dean of a school of public health, I have long pondered when and how academic leaders should take public positions on issues they feel are important. To my thinking, they must do so. But Sullivan’s case raises the fraught question of what happens when that position runs counter to the views held by many in the institution (since choosing to represent Weinstein has been perceived, rightly or wrongly, to amount to taking a position).

What Will Happen to Women’s Health If Abortion Is Banned? | Dean's Note

Access to legal abortion is under threat in the US as never before in the post-Roe era. Anti-abortion laws passed in states like Alabama and Missouri have all but ended legal abortion access in these areas. If legal challenges to these laws reach the Supreme Court, the Court’s new conservative majority raises the possibility that the precedent set by Roe v. Wade in 1973 will not be upheld, clearing the way for conservative states effectively ending access to abortion for millions of women.

The Public's Health: Homelessness | The Public Health Post

Homelessness is a brutal, demoralizing experience. Every day brings the difficult search for shelter, food, clothing, a place to wash, a place to go to the bathroom for more than 550,00 Americans, and those who find their way to shelters have three times the age-adjusted risk of dying compared to the general population. Those who go unsheltered, the so-called “rough sleepers,” have 10 times the mortality.

Homelessness has the power to move us to action like few other failings in a modern world. Unfortunately, our efforts to tackle homelessness have long fallen short. Historically, making housing contingent on sobriety and employment—forcing those who did not meet these marks to fall away and become chronically homeless—has imperiled millions. Housing First—a program that provides housing and support services without requiring employment or pretreatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders—has gained traction. Compared to treatment first, Housing First leads to improvements in housing stability, reduced hospitalizations and use of emergency departments, and better quality of life.

A Wish for Our Graduates | Dean's Note

On November 30, 1900, in Room 16 of the Hôtel d’Alsace in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, Oscar Wilde died at age 46. His death was not sudden. The poet, novelist, and playwright had been in declining health for some time. While there is still debate over the exact nature of his final illness, it appears to have been some form of ear disease. Despite his diminished state, Wilde’s famous wit never left him. As he slipped away in his dingy room, he is said to have joked, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us must go.”

Wilde had been among the most celebrated figures of the 19th century. Works like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray sealed his reputation as a popular entertainer. His humor and charisma made him, for a time, the toast of high society. Yet in just a few short years, he fell from his position of influence into the poor health that would kill him.