March 19, 2021—Onisha Etkins makes use of social epidemiology—and dance—to share nuanced tales about Black and Brown folks’s lives that heart their joys and wishes. In a current interview, she spoke about how a want to know the methods methods of energy form well being outcomes led her to Harvard T.H. Chan Faculty of Public Well being, and the way she’s been utilizing Caribbean dance to create digital areas for therapeutic and pleasure in the course of the pandemic.
I grew up in Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, with an enormous Caribbean diasporic group. Your entire block was a household. In the summertime, you’d have 15 or extra children coming collectively to play Double Dutch or hopscotch outdoors, and other people simply supported and seemed out for one another. It was my first expertise with what group care might appear like.
After I was premed as an undergraduate at Stanford, I turned pissed off by inequities I noticed in scientific settings. That pushed me to start out exploring the methods of energy that form well being outcomes. Social epidemiology gave me that lens. After I was wanting into PhD applications, I used to be actually drawn to the analysis by school within the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences, notably David Williams. He turned my advisor and actually mentored me and formed me into the crucial thinker I hoped to turn out to be.
Being a public well being scholar in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming. We’re seeing a variety of what we’ve been studying within the classroom about well being inequities play out in actual time. For me, it’s very private. We examine Black and Brown of us struggling, and people are actually my relations and family members. I’ve discovered help in my buddies right here who’re going by way of very related experiences. We’ve had deep conversations in regards to the ache persons are feeling proper now, however we attempt to additionally draw on the fun and the pleasures of our communities and search for what we will do to assist.
My coaching as one of many first Pedagogy Fellows on the Faculty geared up me with expertise to show my first solo course. I used to be invited to be a visiting teacher at Tuft’s Experimental School final fall, the place I taught a course on a topic I’m captivated with—Dancehall Queens. Dancehall is a style of Caribbean music, and the queens are unimaginable Black ladies who each sing and dance to the music and actually present what reclaiming energy and sexuality can appear like. It was a primarily lecture-based course with two dance workshops. After which, final spring when the pandemic hit, a buddy and I began internet hosting digital workshops targeted on dancehall and soca [short for “soul of Calypso”], one other style of Caribbean music. Along with dancing, we’d have teach-ins about matters such because the historical past of these genres as they relate to liberation and resistance, in addition to the exoticization of Black our bodies in dance. It actually took off and have become an area of pleasure and therapeutic for lots folks, in addition to a technique to convey the threads of my work on wellness and therapeutic collectively.
Final 12 months, I went to Carnival in Trinidad for the primary time. Considered one of my objectives for my twenties was that I’d go to a Carnival in a special place yearly, and that might be my area for pleasure. The pandemic clearly canceled the season this 12 months, so persons are making an attempt to embrace the pleasures of Carnival at house. Plenty of the brand new soca music is about how Carnival is inside us. For individuals who don’t know soca, I like to recommend beginning with “Love It” by Kes. By way of dancehall queens, I like to recommend Shenseea. All her music makes me really feel empowered.
I feel it’s necessary to deal with the fun, pleasures, and resiliency in Black and Brown communities, quite than solely specializing in the struggling and ache. My dissertation considers intersectional approaches for understanding the impacts of racism on psychological well being, together with migration historical past and speak to with the felony authorized system. One of many issues I attempt to spotlight is that Black of us aren’t homogeneous, and that our assorted identities and experiences can play a job in our psychological well being and well-being. Proper now, I’m additionally working with my buddy and colleague Sherine Andreine Highly effective, on organizing the Harvard Mahindra Humanities Middle’s annual interdisciplinary graduate scholar convention, which is able to deal with how Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are reimagining and reclaiming therapeutic, pleasure, and restoration, notably throughout occasions of disaster just like the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’ve a clearer sense of what I need to really feel and expertise within the life I’ll lead after I graduate quite than the kind of job I in the end need to have. Whether or not I wind up in trade or academia, I need to have a way of work-life steadiness. I need to be engaged and deeply concerned with my group. I do know that I need to have area to proceed dancing and doing the work that I’ve been doing—and in addition to have area for relaxation.
Images: Kent Dayton; Courtesy of Onisha Etkins