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Week 1: Equity-Minded Advising for Pre-Health Advisors

Dr. Melissa Yeung presents a model for equity-minded advising that can be applied to an advisor’s toolkit. This explores topics from an academic perspective to help provide a framework to understand how students of color navigate their education experiences and allows advisors to improve professional practice to provide a more positive experience for students.

When we center student voices and take their stories seriously, we empower ourselves to examine how our own practices may have contributed those experiences.  When we recognize that racism and racial microaggression is a norm for many students, it provides context for which students interact with campus resources such as advisors. We also begin to recognize that not all student experiences are equal, and that race and ethnicity have an influence over how students experience campus life.

As advisors to pre-health students, we often think about advising our students as one where we cultivate a relationship with them, guiding and mentoring them through their journey to the health professions.

We are often the front lines of students deciding their next steps after graduating with their undergraduate degree, and adverse experiences with advisors might actually drive students away from their intended profession, or lead them to seek help on their own, which places an additional burden on them as they navigate college life. This is especially the case for first-generation college students, and those who are historically unrepresented in the health professions.

Equity-minded advising requires us to be race-conscious – understanding how students of color, particularly those on predominantly White campuses, experience racial microaggressions and exclusion that has an impact on their academic success.

Equity minded advising is essentially informed by Critical Race Theory that suggests racism and racial microaggression as norms of society, and an inherent power imbalance exists between White and non-White students.

It is a framework that critiques the American legal system as inherently racially discriminatory and legitimizes structural discrimination. It assumes that the legal processes and legislative policies were created to benefit the political interests of the elite, rather than truly serve the interests of communities of color.

Equity-minded advising allows us to think of our students not as a homogenous group, but that their backgrounds and life experiences have an influence over how they interact with us, and how they access resources at the institutional level.

There are two reasons why equity-minded advising is especially important in pre-health advising. First, there is a much smaller number of Black, Indigenous, students of color enrolled in health professions programs compared to White students in general. This has real-world implications.

Research shows that students of color are more likely to practice in historically underserved and marginalized communities. Patients are also more likely to trust healthcare providers who share the same ethnic and cultural backgrounds, resulting in better health outcomes.

Second (and perhaps the more important one for an advisor), research shows that students of color, especially those enrolled in Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), tend to experience racial microaggression on campus from faculty, peers, and when accessing institutional services such as advising.

When faced with such microaggression, students would tend to avoid accessing resources that could have been readily available to them. As an advisor, this means that the student in the example we described could’ve experienced some microaggression that has led to them feeling unsafe and leading to them being unwilling to open up to you so you can better help them.

Equity-minded advising is different from current practice because it centers a race conscious advising relationship between you and the student. It allows you, the advisor, to develop an understanding on how a racialized student experience has had an influence on how students navigate campus resources. More importantly, it allows you to create practices that take this into consideration and be better able to mentor and guide students through their pre-health journey. 

Dr. Melissa Yeung

About the author: Dr. Melissa Yeung, is currently the Clinical Education and Admissions Coordinator in the School of Physical Therapy at Bowling Green State University. Previously, she served as Pre-Health advisor at the University of Houston and Student Services Coordinator for the Department of Physical Therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Yeung’s research centers on racial equity within the graduate and professional school admissions process. Her work focuses on the experiences of students of color as they aspire to graduate study, and how they navigate the graduate and professional school application process. Additionally, she explores how academic resources provided to students at the undergraduate level has an impact on their success in the graduate and professional school admissions process. Building on existing framework for equity-minded institutions, Dr. Yeung is also committed to the provision of a specific framework to help undergraduate advisors develop into equity-minded advising professionals. Dr. Yeung has professional experiences working with graduate students from STEM and health professions backgrounds, international students and student athletes. As Student Services Coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Yeung was also heavily involved in various pipeline programs that encourage early interest in the field of physical therapy.

Inside Health Education

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