UT tackles adversity within the community by launching Bridging Barriers program

Bonny Chu

The Bridging Barriers program, a UT initiative tackling different fundamental problems facing humanity, such as environmental degradation, seeks to solve another problem: community adversity.        

In order to address this issue, the University will embark on a second Bridging Barriers initiative, “Whole Communities — Whole Health,” this fall. Faculty members and experts across the campus will collaborate to improve community outcomes and foster healthy development among children and families.

“One of the reasons ‘Whole Communities — Whole Health’ is the next to launch is it is addressing a really challenging question … with the hopes of making a real world impact,” UT psychology professor Frances Champagne said. “One approach to fostering better health outcomes is not just to reduce those adverse life experiences but also to foster those factors that help people do well.”

For the last eight months, researchers from departments such as psychology and public health have been in the early stages of setting up a multi-year collaboration with the community. This includes speaking to educators, residents and organizations who can provide insight about the context in which families living in communities face adversity. By accomplishing this, the researchers said they hope to identify community stakeholders and characterize strategies for intervention. 

However, for the next few years, they’re planning ways to compile their research in which the public can access it.

“We’re also developing a way of sharing the data we collect, so it’s not just a matter of taking data from people … but actually making that data available,” said Lourdes Rodriguez, associate professor of population health. “So if people wanted to know more about their own health or about their family’s health or about their community’s health, they’ll be able to access that information.” 

These efforts come on top of the first Bridging Barriers initiative, “Planet Texas 2050,” a project that will address the environmental crises Texas will face for generations to come. President Gregory Fenves introduced the initiative at his State of the University Address Sept. 13 and said in order to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing society, UT students and professors must work together.

“A great university must recognize our interconnections and use them to collaborate,” Fenves said during his speech. “The world is increasingly multidisciplinary. UT must be too.”