Gillings seminar on Advocacy for Public Health

By Arshya Gurbani, M.A. candidate 2018

On January 18th, I attended a timely panel on Advocacy for Public Health: Crafting Richer Message in a Turbulent Political Climate.  The event was hosted by the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.  With inauguration just two days away and the results of the November election still freshly divisive, the subject drew me in. I was impressed by how well the panel worked together to present a unified theme: that public health unites individuals from various fields—law, faith, policy, and moral philosophy—to frame messages and taken action around shared interests. Each speaker made a point that set up the following speaker, in a way that is sometimes absent from panel-style presentations.

The panel included:

-Scott Buris, JD, Beasley School of Law, Temple University

-Gene Matthews, JD, Network for Public Health, UNC Chapel Hill

-Sue Lynn Ledford, RN BSN MPA DrPH, Director Wake County Public Health Division

-Dr. Gary Gunderson, VP FaithHealth Wake Forest Baptist Health

They spoke about the need for collaboration of ideas even in a technical field like law–inspiration comes from all sorts, even though strategy may be left to lawyers. They spoke to the fact that the political issues that polarize us are a small fraction of the ones around which we can unite. They discussed the spectrum of moral values (based on Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory, which identifies and explains 6 moral foundations that guide human decisions) and how it relates to political liberals and conservatives values and perceptions.

I’ve included a link to the lecture below, so I won’t get into the nitty gritty here. The key takeaway was that a message must resonate within a “moral community in stress” while preserving its institutions and traditions. What struck me most was the animation with which the speakers presented their points. Peppering in personal anecdotes throughout the panel, and staying back after the lecture to speak one-on-one with any curious participants…it was clear how invested each speaker was.

At one point, the novel Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was brought up as an example of the power of subconscious representative models–having never read the book, it went over my head, but I saw folks in the audience nodding in agreement at this revelation! Whether or not you agree with the views presented, it was refreshing to see a passionate panel and engaged audience talk through a nuanced subject.

Link to webinar:






  • Gene Matthews

    Thank you Arshya for taking the time and effort for your thoughtful piece on this session. It is clear from the feedback that many in public health are seeing practical ways to engage our “communities in pain” at a deeper level than found in the current political dialogue. I greatly appreciate knowing anything you or your audience are doing on this topic. Gene Matthews