During her time at CMC, senior Erikan Obotetukudo has become concerned with the inadequacy of health care for men in different cultural contexts. Her research in this area has been in Brazil and South Africa, investigating available resources, and interviewing men to understand their health needs and the factors that limit their access to adequate health care. As a Napier Fellow this fall, she had hoped to win a scholarship to return to Brazil, to work in two neighborhoods in Salvador––in partnership with organizations she knows there. She had hoped to engage men and local health care providers in group workshops and community outreach that address masculinity, men’s health, self-care, and gender equality.
The weekend back from spring break, Obotetukudo (who didn’t win the Napier scholarship, but has very high hopes for continuing her research), fielded a few questions about her interests:
CMC: You mentioned that your research was inspired by college/CMC courses. Can you name any courses or professors in particular? Or give a specific example of something that really impacted you?
Obotetukudo: Various aspects of my four years have contributed to my interest in gender and specific focus on gender and health. During my sophomore and junior years I was the vice president of CMC’s Women's Forum, a student representative in the Women and Leadership Alliance, and a student representative in the Campus Climate Task Force (formerly the Diversity Committee). These opportunities conveyed the relevance of gender in academic, social, and professional settings at CMC and inspired me to engage members of the CMC community in thoughtful, and sometimes challenging, discussions about gender, race, class, privilege, and campus culture.
Classes like Spanish for Science (Scripps), Black and South Asian Diaspora in Great Britain (Pitzer), and Gender and African History (Pitzer) introduced me to various gender dynamics in other countries, and challenged me to recognize similarities and differences between my reality in the United States and others internationally. Meanwhile, research in and study of HIV/AIDS in the United States, South Africa, Brazil, and Mozambique has expanded my understanding of sex, sexuality, constructions of masculinity and femininity, social and gender expectations, culture, race, religion, and geography, etc, in various contexts and populations. These experiences have constantly challenged me to be self-aware, culturally competent, and accountable. I am have been inspired to think critically, ask uncomfortable yet important questions, and go against the grain in order to provide necessary solutions. I suppose I am fearless of exploration and “going for it” (as my Dad would say), and I think both attitudes will suite me well during my future in health and medicine.
CMC: What about specific professors?
Obotetukudo: Over the years I have done biochem and anthropological research on HIV/AIDS with Dr. Karl Haushalter at Harvey Mudd College and Dr. Deborah Mindry at UCLA, respectively. My passion for gendered health issues has grown tremendously as a result of my experiences and involvement at CMC, courses taken throughout the colleges, and HIV/AIDS related research. As a freshman I was tremendously interested in women’s reproductive health care and expanded my view of health and medicine to include men's health concerns and the relationships between the two.
CMC: How did the Napier Fellowship (associated with Pilgrim Place in Claremont) come about?
Obotetukudo: In the spring of 2012, I completed a 40-page research paper in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, about men’s health seeking behaviors and their perceptions of self-care. The following summer I did similar research in South Africa for my Uoroboros-funded internship. My interactions with men, their perceptions of health, and view of self-care and community health inspired my Napier project proposal. I proposed to go back to Brazil and implement men’s heatlh-care workshops that address masculinity and health. The goal was to mobilize men, show that men do in fact care about their health, and engage entire communities and health care providers in collaborative community outreach projects that challenge cultural gender stereotypes, promote gender equality, and advocate for proper health care for all people.
Although I did not receive the Napier award, my commitment to this project and its fundamental themes has not ceased. I am seeking other ways to make this project happen which include doing related work in the States, Caribbean, Nigeria, or India.
CMC: Just curious, also, what you thought of the recent news that a baby born with HIV has been apparently cured.
Obotetukudo: I am certainly no expert on HIV, but I do know that it is tremendously complicated and difficult to develop a cure. I think this news is exciting to hear, and I am glad it can inform existing or future research. However, it appears that the true cure is still ahead of us and I will continue to wait on the edge of my seat for that day, along with everyone else in the world.
CMC: Why was Brazil your selected destination to promote men’s health?
Obotetukudo: Men’s health issues affect women, children, families, and communities in every corner of the world. When I studied abroad in Brazil, I was able to explore the many curiosities I had about gender and health. My study abroad program allowed me to conduct research on a public health, race, and human rights issue; therefore, I chose to study men’s masculinities and perceptions of health. When it came time to choose a project idea and location, it seemed most logical to return to Brazil and continue my research.
CMC: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Obotetukudo: In five years, I see myself living in the United States, Caribbean, West or East Africa, or South Asia, with an MPH in hand. I hope to be collaborating with various people in order to develop creative and sustainable health solutions for marginalized and under-resourced communities. Most importantly, I hope to remain spontaneous, love life, and have an imagination that still runs wild!