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Falan Bennett: No Regrets on the Path to Black Health

November 10/2021

Before enrolling at DLSPH, Falan Bennett heard one piece of advice over and over from students and alumni: the time goes by in a flash. Make sure to grab the most important opportunities.

“I really took that seriously, and now I’m realizing just how fast it went and all the experiences I had and how everything happened simultaneously,” says Bennett, who is graduating this month with a Master’s in Social and Behavioural Health Sciences.

“I did everything that I wanted to do. This is your degree and you need to make sure that you are getting everything out of it that you think you will need in the future or that you enjoy.”

Now, she is set to make a difference in Black women’s health. The task at hand is enormous but she believes she has the will and resources to do so.

DLSPH’s Francoise Makanda recently spoke with Bennett about graduation and future plans.

How was your experience overall at DLSPH?

MPH Student Falan Bennett; photo by Danielle Otu

I’m proud of my journey through DLSPH. I definitely became the type of public health researcher and practitioner that I aspired to be when I first got into the program.

The connections I made with both faculty and peers were also phenomenal. Everyone was very supportive in that sense.

I think at this point I can say that I’ve figured out what I want to do in life, which I think is a very big accomplishment—probably my biggest accomplishment. I can say confidently where I want to go, what I want to do and how I want to do it.

My work will centre around Black people, Black Health, and health equity, particularly for Black women.

I want to make Black women’s health and overall experiences better than they currently are. I also think that I was very privileged in being able to work on many different research projects surrounding Black health and equity.

How did that “ah-ah” moment come to you within those two years?

It was a series of moments. It was, first of all, taking certain classes such as the Social Determinants of Health and Health Promotion II with Dr. Roberta Timothy and Dr. Arjumand Siddiqi and learning, reading and thinking through the literature with my peers in a scholarly environment.

Being around collectives like Black alumni, my other peers in the program and then connecting with other graduate students in other programs across Canada on these pieces set the foundation for me to begin thinking about my own dreams and aspirations and research goals and hopes.

I was awarded a Canada graduate scholarship and that allowed me to actually pursue research with Dr. Siddiqi and design a project. That was the most phenomenal experience that has led me to be sure of what I want to do now because that was the first time I was able to literally design a project from the beginning. I could see it and think through all the parts.

It was also my first step into quantitative research.

Black women have worse maternal health outcomes. What are some other issues?

Black women’s health in this country is really difficult to assess in the sense that we don’t collect a lot of data pertaining to most things concerning Black women.

There are some data but it is not easily or publicly accessible. Based on some work by Dr. Onye Nnorom and ongoing work from the Americas and the UK, we know that Black women have worse maternal health outcomes.

We know we can assume that they will have different maternal health outcomes than those of White women, and our assumption there is also based on the fact that we know that economically and socially Black women are suffering compared to White women and many other groups.

There’s also been some qualitative work that speaks to racism. Black women face racism in the healthcare environment, in employment, housing, trying to access income, whether it’s welfare or through a job.

In terms of reproductive outcomes, things like cervical cancer and breast cancer, different groups of Black women have different outcomes. Researchers have noticed that Caribbean women may have equal rates of getting cervical screenings compared to the general population as opposed to African-born women.

A lot of my work focuses on the structural determinants of health, so understanding health once again through that socio-political and economic basis of society.

Do you have anything else to add?

I would love to see more collaboration between Black and indigenous scholarship just because I think there’s still lots of room for health coalition building in terms of how we can better support each other. I think it would be an amazing opportunity just for everybody to learn and be embedded in the community.

Lastly, I think there’s this thought that Black studies or Black public health should be studied only by Black people or should be one specific course. It’s something that needs to be integrated into every aspect of public health work so that we don’t repeat what we’re seeing with COVID-19, the HIV crisis, the maternal health crisis and really, every other health disparity.

I think that for us to improve as a public health body and as researchers and practitioners it’s imperative that Black health is prioritized.