MPH students Kristyne Mansilla ’22 and Avi Vaidya ’22 Discuss Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion after attending the Student Leadership Institute’s Annual Forum
by David Cohen
Vanderbilt Master of Public Health Students Kristyne Mansilla ’22 and Avi Vaidya ’22 recently reflected on their experience in the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Virtual Student Leadership Institute (SLI). The two students were nominated by the Program to join the two-day training session during National Public Health Week in April. They joined a National cohort of over 40 graduate students to engage in intensive workshops and discussions designed to build leadership skills. Sessions included information about identities, unconscious biases, privilege, and socioeconomic factors that impact the field of public health. The students expanded their learning through readings and academic resources, including award winning entrepreneur Jennifer Brown’s new book on workplace strategies, “How to be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive.” Students left with the tools to become leaders and a greater sense of self-awareness of their place in work environments.
“The event was really active. There were students from MPH programs across the country and faculty from different institutions that were part of SLI,” said Mansilla. “I’m a physician from Guatemala, so learning about intersectionality and inclusiveness from different perspectives was really interesting to me. We had lectures about diversity and filled out a demographic survey to see how diverse our group was. We learned about how to engage ourselves in a leadership role in academia, research, or medicine while being an underrepresented minority, and during our breakout discussions, everyone was sharing their opinions about the topics presented in lectures,” said Mansilla.
Vaidya also valued the experience. “I don’t want to speak on behalf of all minority students, but I think we know what it feels like to be included and be discriminated against. Especially in the wake of the pandemic and with the killing of George Floyd, there’s a lot left to learn about inclusivity and self-development, which motivated my interest in joining the SLI cohort. We learned how to be more proactive about recognizing biases and had some writing prompts to express our views. For example, gender identity was a big topic, and we discussed the importance of recognizing pronouns. The SLI provided an in-depth experience to process these issues in a more meaningful way,” said Vaidya.
Aside from gaining knowledge about the impact of sociological factors on well-being, both Mansilla and Vaidya reflected on how the information presented could help them grow as leaders in their future public health careers.
“After talking to some other students, I gained a lot of empathy. Everybody has their own struggles, and I learned the importance of being mindful about them before jumping to conclusions,” said Vaidya. According to Mansilla, “coming from a different background, sometimes I feel like an imposter. But being in that group made me feel like everyone is different in their own ways, and that everyone has the same chance to become a leader. It definitely made me feel more comfortable as a student and affirmed a lot of ideas I had about myself.”
While the SLI provided both students with a valuable experience to understand mechanisms of diversity and inclusion, both gained deeper appreciation for the resources available at Vanderbilt.
“The MPH faculty members are very approachable and understand my needs, so I definitely feel supported. I was really drawn to Global Health and like being able to explore courses in different areas. The Vanderbilt MPH experience is very holistic, and I love how you can share your experiences with other students,” said Mansilla.
“Navigating the job market in public health takes guidance, and with the Vanderbilt MPH Program and Medical Center at large having experts in so many fields, I feel like Vanderbilt’s resources are unparalleled,” said Vaidya.
Mansilla and Vaidya feel that Vanderbilt has succeeded in providing them with a place to flourish and feel confident as future public health leaders.
Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.