Crucial grant supports health research on Central Texas

Carlos Diaz

The National Endowment for the Humanities, NEH, will fund the early stages of an ambitious project documenting the health struggles of Central Texans.

UT’s Humanities Institute, which is dedicated to building community, will lead a team of faculty members on a mission to record how people respond to issues in the health care system. The work, entitled “Communities of Care: Documenting Voices of Healing and Endurance,” will be a multimedia project accessible online. The initiative will show how inhabitants cope with illness and also look at the region’s level of access to health care.

“The mission of this project is to give voice to a wide variety of people and a place to tell their story,” said institute director Pauline Strong.

Program coordinator Clare Callahan, one of the project’s leaders, commented on why Central Texas was chosen as the focus of the project.

“We chose to focus on narratives of human health in underserved Central Texas communities because, as reflected in regional statistics, many of these communities lack access to adequate health care,” Callahan said. “With this project, we want to advocate for more inclusive and comprehensive health care, identify existing barriers to creating a more caring society and learn how vulnerable communities are already advocating for themselves and rethinking health care.”

Funding for projects such as Communities of Care was in doubt after President Donald Trump proposed cuts to humanities programs last year. However, NEH survived Trump’s proposal to eliminate the agency.

The project is still in its early stages as planning is under way. The NEH grant will support researchers throughout the groundwork phase. For the rest of 2018, the program members will interact with health organizations and decide on the research frameworks and methodology they will be using.

Founded in 2001, the Humanities Institute enables communication between scholars, social organizations and citizens. The theme behind this initiative is “Health, Well-being and Healing.” The project will be an interdisciplinary effort and will use various mediums such as video and film to accomplish its goal.

The institute also attempts to educate students on the relationship between medicine and the humanities. Directors of the institute teach courses on how to influence health through humanistic arts.

“This sharing of ideas ultimately breeds empathy and understanding, which is something that I think we need more of in this world today,” said Alissa Williams, a Plan II and business sophomore and student associate at the institute.