Society and Health students make a difference
MARCH 30, 2022 BY STAFF REPORT
In response to the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on older people and residents of long-term care facilities, Sarah Moses, associate professor of religion and director of the Society and Health minor, created a special topics course—COVID-19 and the Crisis of Elder Care—for the University of Mississippi Society and Health minor last spring.
Within weeks after the semester ended and with the support of Tuohy Community Service Internship Scholarships, two students from Moses’s class, Ella Lawson and Edith-Marie Green, were actively engaged in summer learning about needed reforms within the United States elder care system.
Lawson, an international studies and Arabic major from Dearborn, Michigan, lived in the Washington, D.C. area and worked in the national office of the Green House Project, a revolutionary new model for nursing home care whose first homes in the United States were built by Methodist Senior Services in Tupelo, Mississippi.
“In 2017, I learned about a group of professors, students, and community members who visited a nursing home on Sundays through the Community of Sant’Egidio,” Lawson said. “At that time, my grandmother was at a nursing home in Illinois and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see her very often, but I hoped by visiting elders at the local nursing home, someone might be visiting her. Over the next four years, I developed profound friendships with some residents there and I began critically thinking about the way that American society treats its elders.
“When Dr. Moses offered the course on the COVID-19 pandemic and aging, I wanted to learn more about ageism and elderhood from an academic perspective and the class increased my interest in addressing the needs of elders through policy change both at the national and local levels.
“The class was fantastic, Dr. Moses included a wide variety of sources and incredible speakers. It was a most engaging class and I enjoyed the discussions. It was powerful for me to follow-up the class with an internship with the Green House Project. There I got to apply what I’d learned in class and see what it’s like for an organization that is genuinely trying to innovate in the field of elder care. I learned a lot from my coworkers, participated in a variety of projects, and even visited my first Green House Home.”
During her internship in Washington, Lawson assisted with community outreach initiatives and policy advocacy—creating education booklets on topics such as coaching and dementia; assisting with survey creation and contact management; writing one-pagers on Certificates of Need, the PACE program, and other topics; updating sponsorship prospectuses and initiating social media campaigns highlighting the experiences of elders and staff.
She is following that experience with a volunteer year for an elder care organization in Chicago. “I’m currently in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and placed at Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly Chicago Chapter,” Lawson said. “There, I get to accompany lonely and isolated elders in friendship through social visits and outings, grocery deliveries, and holiday celebrations. In the future, I would like to continue working in eldercare.”
Green, an international studies major with a concentration in global health and minors in German and Society and Health from Oxford, interned with the Elder Law Project of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, offering legal services to seniors and their families. She coordinated the virtual Elder Law Conference held last August for more than 200 participants from law and social work together with speakers from across the country.
“Both the eldercare course and my internship with North Mississippi Rural Legal Services’ Elder Law Project forced me to think outside of the box and more critically about these issues,” Green said.
“I think many of us can agree that good healthcare is important, that abuse of elders is wrong, that all people deserve rights, but actually looking at specific cases and issues in Dr. Moses’ class and then having hands-on experience in my internship—witnessing wills, drafting advanced healthcare directives, visiting court with clients, planning the annual Elder Law Conference—crystallized these issues. The crisis of eldercare is not just a concept, it is something happening to real people in real time, and it affects not only individuals but also families.”
Following graduation, Green plans to pursue a master’s in public health and a doctorate in epidemiology with her research focus on end-of-life healthcare issues.
“In that vein I am writing my honors thesis on euthanasia, with a specific focus on the German medical context both historically and in the present-day,” she said. “I hope to use my degrees in the future to teach about these issues and also lead research of my own.”
“I think that another reason the field of eldercare and healthcare in general is so important is that the past two years of the pandemic have revealed enormous cracks in the system. We are at a point as a society where the detrimental effects are too large to ignore, and with a rapidly aging population, the situation will only get worse without action.”
The goal of Moses’s special topics course on COVID-19 and elder care was to get students engaged with the critical ethical, cultural, and policy challenges which the pandemic exposed. “The demographics of aging and the acute shortage of caregivers confront every family, and these are issues undergraduates will encounter both in their personal and professional lives,” Moses said. “In the course students were introduced to literature from the humanities, social sciences, and public policy and interacted with nationally recognized experts in order to help them think critically and creatively about how our society can truly respect the rights and dignity of elders.
“Through their internships, Ella and Edith-Marie were able to take the knowledge gained in the class and use it for the benefit of the wider community through these two wonderful community-based organizations. It’s through these kinds of experiences connecting the classroom to the real world that students are able to both apply their knowledge and have their knowledge deepened through hands-on experience. These internships also help students clarify their vocational goals and gain important job skills and a professional network.”
As Community Service Interns, Green and Lawson took what they had learned about COVID-19 and the Crisis of Elder Care in Moses’ classroom to improve society. “I’m grateful to Dr. Moses for all that she’s done—if it wasn’t for her I would have never heard of the Green House Project or Jesuit Volunteer Corps,” Lawson said. “It’s incredibly important for the University of Mississippi to provide professors with the ability to offer classes on contemporary issues and to do so with a multidisciplinary lens.”
Established in 2017, the Tuohy Community Service Internship Scholarship provides a course-tuition scholarship for the REL 380 Community-Based Internship and compensation for internship expenses incurred while serving a community organization. “Scholarships transform students’ lives, elevate whole families, and enrich communities. We are happy to facilitate these students making a difference any way that we can,” said Leigh Anne Tuohy.
“As a professor, it is an honor to work with students like Ella and Edith-Marie who want to make a positive impact on the wider community, and I’m delighted we can offer internships like these which give students a concrete way to contribute to the world,” Moses said. “Our university is fortunate to have community partners like the Green House Project and North Mississippi Rural Legal Services who help us shape future leaders. I am grateful for the generous support of the Tuohy family whose gift enables students to do good in the world.”
The College of Liberal Arts offers students further opportunity to examine this critical field for our society through other electives within the Society and Health program such as Biomedical Ethics, Religious Perspectives on Aging and Death, and Sociology of the Family.
“Through Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy’s generous gift to the Department of Philosophy and Religion, we are able to award community service internship scholarships,” said Steven Skultety, department chair. “Such outreach to the community is part of the university’s mission, and it’s exciting for our department to be actively engaged.”