If any of my friends ask me about public health classes that are a must-take, I immediately jump to Ana
Navas-Acien and Environmental Health Justice. I took this course my freshman fall at Columbia and
cannot overstress the impact that this class had on me. It marked the first time I was inspired in a
college setting and genuinely did not mind waking up before 9:30 for a class. I strongly believe that the
course should extend beyond the Public Health canon as environmental justice is an essential topic,
especially considering the pressing questions of our era: population health, growing economy, and
climate change.
I will never forget the first and only field trip I have had at Columbia. It was later on in the semester and
my Environmental Health Justice class had the opportunity to travel to the South Bronx to visit “Asthma
Alley”, an area of the Bronx disproportionally burdened with factory emissions that severely impact its
residents, a crisis of both environmental racism and justice. Stepping off the subway and immediately
having some difficulty breathing, followed by meeting with the activist group South Bronx Unite to
discuss the health disparities suffered by Mott Haven was eye-opening. This chance to step outside the
bubble of academia was instrumental to setting me on a path for rest of my college career and likely for
my life.
The scope of the class tackles history, contemporary struggles, law, scientific research and a broad-
scope view of urban and rural environments in relation to environmental justice and abuses of power. It
expands past the typical parameters of public health and can reshape any student’s worldview for the
better, especially if they are planning on pursuing a career in urban studies, sustainability, public policy
and of course, public health.