Environmental & Community Health

Interview with Karen Hughes

Karen Hughes, PartySafe@Cal coordinator, says that if she could have one superpower, it would be the power of connection. “People are born to be connected, ideas about our own lives and the bigger picture need to be connected, and health promotion strategies are more successful when they are connected,” she said. Hughes uses her worldly insights and efforts to inspire the campus community at UC Berkeley to make good choices, create health-enabling environments, and never forget the “bigger picture.”

Karen earned her MPH in Community Health Education at UC Berkeley. After working in both non-profit and for-profit settings, she now works at the Tang Center to promote physical, social, and community health throughout the campus targeting over 37,000 students. She coordinates several campuswide programs, including PartySafe@Cal and the Health Worker Program. PartySafe@Cal is an alcohol problem prevention program that partners with campus and community members to shift the alcohol culture and reduce harm related drinking around campus. The Health Worker Program focus on helping healthy students to stay healthy, sick students to recover quickly, and all students to take more responsibility for their own health and well-being. Health workers provide a unique resource for students: they live in the residence halls, sororities, coops, and I-House. Both programs recruit students for positions in the Spring for the following academic year.

Hughes first got involved with this type of peer health education when she was an undergraduate in college. Educating her peers on key health issues “resonated with [her] core values and set of education and promotion skills.” Her personal core values include “justice and fairness for all” as well as “balance and moderation in everything”. However, Hughes acknowledges that these are not always easy to achieve within a college environment, and it requires a variety of strategies and advocates to sustain those values. This is why she is here to help.

Karen challenges students to not take for granted student and public health, even if it is often invisible to us. She admonishes that often times people are misled to think that health promotion is just about the brochures and campaigns. However, she clarifies that health promotion is so much more than that. Health promotion, to her, is about noticing and advocating for personal behaviors and community conditions that contribute to lives of high-level vitality and energy with relatively little pain and suffering. For students, connecting the dots between day-to-day choices about sleep, food, relationships, exercise, and drinking (and the influences of their environment on those choices) to the feeling of being at the top of one’s game, is critical to success and well-being. Maybe Hughes will dress up as Connection the superhero for the next Halloween to elevate her message. Students must work to make connections, support health promotion amongst each other, support health throughout the community, and always “be prepared to be a team player.”

Article by Zoey ZoBell

Feature Image Source: Texas A&M College of Education and Human Development