Student Spotlight Series: How the Did the UMN Incarceration & Health Class Enhance Rachael Mill’s MCH Experience?

The next five Student Spotlights will highlight course experience of five students in the Incarceration & Health Course taught by  Dr. Rebecca J. Shlafer. The following piece is a reflection written by Rachael Mills (MPH ’20) about her MCH experiences and what she learned in the course. 

I came to the field of public health through a background in biology and social justice at Hamline University. After completing my undergraduate career, I pursued my masters in Multicultural College Teaching and Learning (MCTL) in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) here at the University of Minnesota (UMN).

Through the MCTL program, I had the opportunity to co-facilitate an Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program course titled ‘The Power of Stories, Stories to Empower’ at the Shakopee Women’s Prison here in Minnesota. Each woman in our Inside-Out course wrote their own personal narratives that spoke to the many mental and physical health issues that incarcerated women face each day. From this experience, I then proceeded to compose my Masters thesis, Teaching Women Behind Bars: A Theory to Practice Reflection, on my experience at Shakopee Women’s Prison. I also had the chance to speak about the impact of incarceration on women in Minnesota through a documentary created by undergraduate students at UMN: Women in Prison Documentary.

My thesis compiled the themes and issues that women face before, during, and after incarceration. Through this process, I began to understand that the health issues of incarcerated women from a public health lens. The Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Program here at the UMN has been the perfect next step for me to continue to explore the complex issues that women who are incarcerated and their families face.

Dr. Rebecca Shlafer’s class on Mass Incarceration and Public Health is unique in a number of ways. First, it is a combined undergraduate honors course and independent graduate studies class. This means we have approximately 28 students, 21 who are pursuing a wide range of undergraduate degrees, and 7 graduate students in the School of Public Health. Part of our independent graduate studies course has been to co-facilitate a portion of the class. I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to create and implement a lesson plan on a topic I am passionate about for a diverse group of learners.

Secondly, a large portion of the class is centered on experiential learning. Dr. Shlafer invites professionals from various health fields within corrections to speak with our class. Additionally, we have done many different tours of facilities located here in Minnesota. The tours of prisons have been simultaneously extremely educational and emotional experiences. As an educator and public health student, I value the opportunity to get proximate with people who are directly impacted by incarceration.

Lastly, the graduate students in the course are creating a health literacy curriculum that we have implemented at the Shakopee Women’s Prison in the Spring 2019 semester. We have been collaborating with other professionals in the field of women’s health behind bars to create relevant, culturally sensitive, and inclusive content for the participants in our class.

Overall, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to participate in Dr. Shlafer’s Mass Incarceration and Public Health course through the MCH Program. I have learned so much both inside the classroom and out. I am excited to continue working with my fellow graduate students and Dr. Shlafer to finalize our health literacy curriculum and once again work with women who are incarcerated at Shakopee.

Rachael completed her undergraduate degrees at Hamline University in Biology and Social Justice. Prior to starting the MPH program, Rachael also received her Master of Arts in Multicultural College Teaching and Learning here at the U of M. Rachael chose the Maternal and Child Health program in SPH because of the intentional focus on intersectionality and social determinants of health. In addition to her graduate work, Rachael is also serving as a Residence Director on campus and loves to work with undergraduate students in their development and growth around topics of identity, leadership, and social justice.

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