The Roy Wilkins and Earnest A. Smith Institute
for Health Equity and Social Justice (WSIHESJ)

About Us
Specific Activities
Research & Applied Activities
Sample Services
Social Justice and Health Equity Framework


About Us

The Roy Wilkins and Earnest A. Smith Institute for Health Equity & Social Justice (WSIHESJ) at Rust College is a health research center focused on eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities and achieving health equity through community-engaged scholarship, program development and evaluation, and community mobilization in North Mississippi and the Mid-South.

Named in honor of two historic figures, one in civil rights and the other in theology and higher education, WSIHESJ embodies the ideal of achieving social justice through health equity research, policy and practice, practical theology, and higher education.

Roy Wilkins was an ardent champion for social justice and a prominent civil rights activist from the 1930s to the 1970s who served as executive secretary (1955-1964) for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) before becoming its executive director in 1964. Prior to serving as NAACP's executive director, Wilkins served as editor of The Crisis beginning in 1934. As executive director, Wilkins led NAACP's support of African American voting rights efforts and desegregation in Mississippi.

Reverend Dr. Earnest A. Smith was a renowned orator, educator, leader, evangelist, and supporter of his alma mater, Rust College, where he served as its ninth president from 1957-1967. Following his presidency at Rust College, Dr. Smith served on the Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. as its director of Human Relations for 13 years. To encourage future generations of student leaders at Rust College, Dr. Smith and his wife, Milverta G. Smith, founded the Earnest A. and Milverta G. Smith Endowed Lecture Series in 1997 and the Earnest A. and Milverta G. Smith Honors Program in 2009.

WSIHESJ is an outgrowth of two successful research centers first established at the University of Memphis, the Center for Community Action Research Center (CCAR) and the Alcohol and Drug Prevention Research Center (ADPRC). Building on these, Rust College has taken up the mantle of addressing health disparities and achieving health equity by replicating these as a single, interdisciplinary research center.

WSIHESJ partners with regional academic institutions, public health agencies and communities affected by health disparities throughout Mississippi and beyond. As a social justice leader, WSIHESJ works to achieve health equity through community mobilization, community-based participatory research, socially-relevant program development, training and program evaluation.

Specific Activities:

Coordination of a Health Equity Training Center that provides education, training, and technical assistance to health professionals and communities affected by health disparities;

Development of tailored health equity and social justice curricula and materials for community health workers, health care providers, and public health professionals about the social determinants of health and racial and ethnic disparities;

Provision of capacity building services to community organizations and agencies engaged in health equity and social justice work;

Translation of scientific findings and data for community mobilization, health policy development and program design;

Development and implementation of blueprints for health equity action and community coalition building;

Facilitation of regional and national activities to support a broad-based health equity movement; and

Advocacy to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities through data collection, policy, and strategic planning at the local, state, and national levels.

WSIHESJ is comprised of a multi-disciplinary team of social and behavioral scientists and affiliated research associates from partner institutions. WSIHESJ's scholars conduct empirical research and implement applied efforts on emerging health equity, social justice and public policy issues.

Research & Applied Activities:

Alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) program development and evaluation;

Community-engaged HIV/AIDS needs assessments;

Community-based participatory research focused on cancer health disparities, infant mortality, and chronic disease prevention and control;

Cultural competence training for health professionals & public health practitioners; and

Health equity conference planning and hosting.

WSIHESJ's scientists have the know-how to conduct timely and socially relevant health equity research and related activities. Combined with the instructional and institutional capabilities of Rust College, a champion in educating leaders for 146 years, WSIHESJ makes health and social justice a reality for the citizens of North Mississippi and the Mid-South through research, training, and technical assistance.

WSIHESJ, as part of Rust College, is committed to expanding the institution's research capacity in conducting health equity and social justice research. WSIHESJ therefore supports faculty and students across the Rust College campus interested in health equity research and generating new approaches to achieve health equity and social justice through health. As a resource to the Rust College community, WSIHESJ provides several services.

Sample Services:

Mentoring and resources to foster innovative health equity research by faculty and students.

Peer review and consultation to faculty preparing health equity research proposals and manuscripts.

Facilitating research affinity groups that support collaborative research among small groups of faculty from across the college.

Sponsoring writing retreats & seminars to support faculty in developing competitive health equity research proposals and manuscripts.

Teaching undergraduate level courses on health equity related topics.

Providing opportunities for students to work on health equity research and projects through paid internships & research assistantships.

Social Justice and Health Equity Framework

Health is a fundamental human right. Borrowing from the World Health Organization's definition, health is more than just the absence of physical injury and disease. Health is a state of total well-being, which includes physical, emotional, political, economic and social well-being achieved through access to resources, information, power and opportunity that promotes health and allow people to reach their fullest human potential. All people do not have equal access to health.

Marginalization based on race, class, gender, and other social classifications underlies the inequitable distribution of social, economic and political resources and opportunities.

This unfair distribution of resources and opportunities, also referred to as social determinants of health, limits access to goods and services that promote health, results in the availability of poorer quality goods and services, and produces unequal health outcomes that cluster among socially disenfranchised groups. These consequences are not accidental. They instead are the result of policies and practices that systematically give advantages to some groups, while limiting opportunities for other groups.

Achieving health equity is possible through social justice. As a social justice issue, health equity happens through intentional redistribution of resources in ways that optimize health advantages and lessen health risks. Information sharing, research, training, community-engagement and coalition building, equitable decision-making, and advocacy for informed social policies are how WSIHESJ achieves health equity.