That is one in a series of profiles showcasing a few of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
In February 2020, Brett Dennis-Duke, A.L.M. ’21, was working in a Seattle medical respite middle for unhoused people with acute well being wants. She was ending up coursework for a grasp of liberal arts within the discipline of archaeology and anthropology at Harvard Extension Faculty (HES). And he or she was finalizing her thesis proposal targeted on neighborhood well being employees and illness prevention in weak populations in the US.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck Seattle, one of many first American cities to really feel the lethal influence of the virus, the medical middle, already devoted to people vulnerable to communicable illness, felt like floor zero. Dennis-Duke was devastated.
“Over half of our ground obtained contaminated inside only a few days,” Dennis-Duke recalled. “It made and nonetheless makes me so indignant. It’s the identical sample time and again.”
Only a few months later, whereas nonetheless coping with the influence of the pandemic, Seattle — and Dennis-Duke — discovered themselves on the middle of anti-racism protests over the homicide of George Floyd. After working lengthy hours on the respite middle, Dennis-Duke volunteered on the medical tents set as much as help the protests in her neighborhood.
These two frontline experiences gave Dennis-Duke’s ongoing thesis work each urgency and perspective. She had lengthy believed that entry to healthcare and social justice have been intently related, however the crises of 2020 introduced new ardour to that perception.
“I used to be studying about neighborhood well being whereas seeing precise struggling and listening to about individuals’s lives. I spotted that it’s not about information. It’s about individuals. For me, all the things I used to be doing was completely wrapped up collectively,” Dennis-Duke mentioned.
These experiences empowered her as properly. Engaged on her thesis, titled “Meet Them The place They Are: Reaching Well being Fairness for Folks Experiencing Homelessness with Group Well being Employees,” gave her the boldness to develop her advocacy position at work.
“I discovered part of myself that I knew was there, however I didn’t know find out how to entry it. I realized that I can entry my voice via advocating. That’s the place I actually really feel in my component. It was a coming-of-age discovery, in a approach.”
Dennis-Duke’s curiosity within the connection between international well being and social justice started with a aim of changing into a medical supplier. In pursuit of that, she accomplished the premedical program at HES in 2015. When she completed, she realized that she wished extra theoretical grounding in social justice earlier than changing into a practitioner.
The archaeology and anthropology graduate program supplied the social justice idea and demanding pondering she wished. It additionally supplied the flexibleness to design a course of examine she calls “medical anthropology.” Programs akin to “Case Research in International Well being” and “International Well being Challenges” helped Dennis-Duke piece collectively the philosophical and theoretical connections between social justice and well being care, in addition to hone her thesis matter. One among her most enjoyable alternatives at HES was working along with her thesis director, Joia Mukherjee, chief medical officer of Companions In Well being (PIH), a Harvard affiliate.
“It was extremely significant to me that Dr. Mukherjee took me on as a pupil. It meant that somebody I drastically revered noticed the identical connections that I did. And it enabled me to speak my ardour for individuals experiencing homelessness to a like-minded group and probably champion this trigger. It made me really feel heard and seen, and hopeful that change is likely to be attainable,” she mentioned.
Along with her thesis completed and commencement simply across the nook, Dennis-Duke has begun the emotional work of processing and unpacking the traumatic occasions of the previous yr. She admits that her vacation spot continues to be unclear — counseling, advocacy, or returning to highschool for a Ph.D. or a nursing diploma are all potential choices.
However her experiences have bolstered her perception that she is shifting in the suitable route.
“I’m now — greater than ever — dedicated and pushed and obsessed with people dwelling homeless. That is the neighborhood I beat my drum for.”