Neighborhood Planning Units, Courtney Anderson, health disparities, hands-on learning

Hands-On Course Tackles Health Disparities in Local Neighborhoods

Working as community partners, Georgia State University College of Law students and the Neighborhood Planning Units worked to assess the impact of the mitigation of health disparities in underserved communities in the Atlanta area and provide recommendations this spring’s innovative Law and Health Equity Course.

Courtney Anderson, assistant professor of law, applied her background in community law and her Second Century Initiative interdisciplinary research position to introduce students to socioeconomic causes of chronic and mental health illnesses in low-income and minority communities, emphasizing the need for legal solutions to help address such diseases. Adjunct professor Madison Burnett (J.D. ’09) assisted.

Hands-On Learning

Courtney Anderson, Neighborhood Planning Unit, health desparities

Professor Courtney Anderson meetings with members of a Neighborhood Planning Unit after her students presented to it.

Students worked with the Atlanta NPUs, which are citizen advisory councils that make zoning, land use and other planning recommendations to the mayor and city council. Through the NPU partnership, students learned about the intersection between transactional law, advocacy and community organization.

“I am becoming more familiar with the challenges and opportunities presented by the socioeconomic and racial diversity in Atlanta and felt there was a need that can be filled by law students,” Anderson says.

One of the reasons Amber Bennett (J.D. ’14) enrolled in the course was the hands-on learning opportunity. “Often in seminar classes we discuss issues and inequities within the law, but rarely do we go out and do something about it. Law and Health Equity, we do more than discuss health equity issues in the community. We also work hands-on with the community to create realistic ways to help fix those problems,” she says.

Bennett and Leslie Salley (J.D. ‘14) held workshops for NPUs on benefits agreements and health impact assessments. Attendees could use the information to teach community members about their rights in city’s development processes. Targeted neighborhoods include those surrounding Turner Field and the Georgia Dome as they transition to accommodate plans for the Atlanta Falcons and Braves to move into new stadiums.

Challenges Accessing Legal Services

The course brought attention to the challenges people have accessing legal services because of a general lack of knowledge about the process, says Russell McCord (J.D. ’14), who completed Anderson’s Law and Social Welfare and Law and Health Equity classes.

“I enrolled in the class to gain experience working with Atlanta community members,” says Nirvi Shah (J.D. ’15) “Our work to help neighborhoods receive important resources that they do not have is very gratifying.”

McCord, Shah and Karissa Orris (J.D. ’14) developed a Re-Entry Housing Project with the West Atlanta Land Trust in NPU L to provide previous offenders the opportunity for employment to rehabilitate the area’s many vacant homes. This work structure will ensure homes are included in a land trust and kept affordable for the residents in the area.

According to Anderson, the partnership is going well. “The students are engaged because they are in the community and seeing immediately how the classroom readings and discussion translate into lawyering skills,” Anderson says.

Community Shaping Academic Project

Westside Atlanta Land Trust (WALT) advisory board member Pamela Flores, views the collaboration as an example of community impacting the integrity of an academic project. Flores is CEO of HELP Organization Inc., a nonprofit, community-based organization committed to promoting systems that improve the social, economic, educational and spiritual conditions of local and global communities. HELP has established long-term relationships with residents and the students who worked with on the re-entry housing project.

“The students and professors have been our partners in establishing a framework for advocacy with the Westside Atlanta communities. The data and analysis from the student-led presentation on prisoner population re-entry strategies allowed the WALT Policy Action Committee to be more effective and relevant in the statewide forum on advocacy and policy initiatives for abandoned and vacant property on Aug. 2,” Flores says. “Additionally, the research ensured that the Community Land Trust model is a reliable strategy for affordable housing in urban, suburban and rural America.”

Anderson’s Research

The students’ projects are in line with Anderson’s research on the interrelated effects of housing, education, and health and highlighted the importance of understanding how one of these assets is affected by a lack of opportunities and assets in other areas in underserved neighborhoods.

Law and Health Equity will be offered again in spring 2015, and the likelihood of new community partners is promising. The community response to the course has created a buzz among other social service organizations in Georgia.

“Many organizations have expressed an interest in getting involved with the class and discussing how health equity can be incorporated into their policies and mission,” Anderson says.