Rice University

Rice University Center for Civic Leadership

2020 ASB Trip Descriptions

Trip A: (Not Everyone is) Going Green: A Community-Based Approach to Examining the Relationship between Environment and Rural Public Health

Conor Rork & Kamil Cook 

Destination: Somerset, Kentucky

Rollbacks to environmental regulations and restrictions conducted by the current administration could cause up to 25,000 premature deaths by the year 2030, per a recent NYU study. 

These deaths are likely to disproportionately affect residents in our country’s rural communities, which despite accounting for 19.3% of the population, account for more than 60% of healthcare shortages. Since the founding of the modern environmental justice movement in the 1960s, research has made it clear that low socioeconomic and minority communities suffer from increased health risks due to contamination of the air, water, and soil of surrounding areas by hazardous industrial byproducts. Even within this framework of environmental justice, however, rural communities are often overlooked and face unique challenges posed by data inadequacies, disenfranchisement, and desire for economic development. On our ASB, you will travel from one of our country’s largest urban centers to an affected rural community to see firsthand how both residents and their environment are affected by the extractive industries surrounding them. By meeting with local and state politicians and industry representatives, visiting clinics and hospitals, and working alongside rural communities and grassroots organizations in their fight to improve their quality of life, our trip seeks to better understand the complex ties between community health and the environment.

Ultimately, we will take the lessons we learn on this trip back home to Houston and apply them in advocating to better our own communities—because everyone deserves access to clean air and clean water.

Trip B: HealthiHER: Focusing on Diverse Motherhood Experiences to Better Understand Maternal Mortality and Health Outcomes

Sahana Prabhu & Zubaidat Agboola

Destination: Austin, Texas

In the United States, the number of women dying during pregnancy, labor, and post-delivery is on the rise. The nation’s maternal mortality ratio has increased by 21% over the past thirty years, a growing rate that not only reflects the quality of maternal and women’s health care but also detrimentally affects families, communities, and society. Although the causes and consequences of maternal mortality are diverse, developing a greater awareness of the issue, thinking critically about our healthcare system, and investing in the stories of those affected can provide more insight into the rising numbers – and even into why, out of all the developed nations, the United States’ maternal mortality figures are among the worst. 

To begin untangling the complexities of pregnancy-related complications and the maternal health issue overall, it is essential to comprehend that the aforementioned figure is more than just a statistic; it combines individual stories of mothers, experiences influenced by biases, history, injustice, and other barriers. Developing an understanding of these obstacles and identities in relation to motherhood can help us better understand the disparities in maternal mortality, morbidity, and health outcomes within and outside of the United States. Each mother’s experience is idiosyncratic, varying with life experiences, cultural values, and identities. Moreover, the increasing diversity of the United States supports motherhood experiences that are anything but uniform. Therefore, there is value to each mother’s distinct journey and power in her individual narratives. Through our ASB, we hope to invest in individual stories of motherhood and explore how different experiences and identities result in different maternal health and mortality outcomes. We hope to grow our empathy and understanding towards the diversity of motherhood – a journey influenced by policies, values, and unique experiences.

Trip C: Painful Prescriptions: Analyzing the Social Determinants and Implications of the Opioid Crisis

Nitin Srinivasan & Preetham Bachina

Destination: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

By some estimates, the mortality rate due to opioid overdose has increased by 6 times since 1999. Colloquially dubbed the “opioid crisis”, this surge in opioid usage and overdose has cost our nation more than $1 trillion since 2001, and is expected to cost $500 million in the next 3 years. The deleterious effects of the crisis have been nationally recognized, most formally by President Trump’s declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency in 2017. Although publicly considered to be a medical crisis initiated by the large pharmaceutical industries, the effects of the opioid epidemic vary in terms of socioeconomic status, race, residence, and infrastructure. The opioid crisis especially departs from previous drug epidemics in its magnitude and socioeconomic implications. 

Our trip will be examining the risk factors contributing to drug addiction in the US as well as the consequences that follow. By working with local community partners, we will explore in greater depth, the role of the criminal justice system, governmental health agencies, first responders, social workers and various drug addiction clinics in combating this pervasive issue. By engaging with relevant members of the community, we hope to develop our understanding of this multifaceted issue and develop our roles as allies to advocate for productive programs and reforms that address this issue.

Trip D: Beyond the Border: Immigrant Communities Overcoming Daily Criminalization

Nery Perez & Avery Bullock

Destination: Rio Grande Valley, Texas

There are many different ways that the immigrant community has been targeted: through vicious and devastating physical attacks, political rhetoric, and policy. These types of injustices serve to further criminalize immigrant communities, and the consequences can affect many aspects of their daily lives.

Our ASB is focusing on the physical and mental effects the criminalization of undocumented immigrants has on undocumented immigrants themselves, their families, and on society in general. We are defining criminalization as all parts of immigration law that labels undocumented immigrants as criminals, including the existence of ICE, the cooperation of local police enforcement with ICE, the conditions of detention centers, and incorrect rhetoric concerning undocumented immigration. In our research, we found that current federal and state policies negatively impact all parts of the immigration process. One example of this is that children of undocumented parents are more likely to be depressed and to experience high anxiety levels, which significantly affects learning and focusing abilities.

On our trip, we will be engaging with a community near the Mexico-US border to see how criminalization has impacted them and how the community is responding to increasing criminalization. We will partner with local grassroots organizations that advocate for immigrant rights, legal service providers, humanitarian efforts, and more to gain a multi-faceted look at the issue.

Trip E: Supporting Survivors: Community Responses to Intimate Partner Violence

Mason Reece & Emily Duffus

Destination: Nashville, TN

According to the CDC 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). Even though IPV has been a national health issue for decades, it has only recently come under pinpoint focus with national cultural movements such as #MeToo. Traditionally termed as domestic violence, IPV refers to any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship, including but not limited to acts of physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse, economic abuse or controlling behaviors. This issue permeates all walks of life, irrespective of race, class, sexuality, or gender. Accordingly, we are asking the question: considering the prevalence of IPV, do response systems appropriately address this issue, supporting survivors and providing them with the necessary resources? On our trip, we will examine the role of first responders and educational institutions as well as the policies and systems surrounding them in supporting survivors of IPV. This trip will adopt a comparative approach with Rice institutions and similar educational and first responder institutions in America. Finally, what role do those response systems have in affecting community values around IPV? 

This ASB will explore IPV through community engagement with partners such as women’s shelters, first responders, educational institutions and more. We hope our participants understand more about the nuances of IPV and are able to become advocates for this issue in the Rice community and beyond.

Trip F: Say Yes to Access: Understanding Reproductive Justice through a Human Rights Framework

Saniya Gayake & Amanda Yang

Destination: Washington, D.C.

In reproductive justice, choice is not enough; access is key. The mainstream focus on “choice” does not claim the rights and resources that people need in order to maintain control over their bodies and their lives. This makes reproductive justice critical. Reproductive justice emerged to underscore the intersection between the historical, social, and economic factors that intersect with reproductive rights. The framework emphasizes the importance of social justice organizing in order to gain access, power, resources, and structural change needed for addressing the well-being of all people. Core components of reproductive justice include equal access to family planning services, safe abortion, affordable contraceptives and comprehensive sex education, as well as freedom from sexual violence and more

While reproductive justice affects everyone, marginalized groups face disproportionate barriers when accessing reproductive healthcare. Using a human rights framework, we will be examining these barriers, as well as exploring policies and programs that aim to improve access. We will engage with advocacy organizations and policy-makers to gain a better understanding of how the intersection of multiple oppressions affects access to reproductive healthcare and perpetuates social inequality. Through our ASB, we hope to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to advocate for reproductive justice and access for all.

Trip G: Make the Grade: Investigating the effects of socioeconomic status on equitable K-12 education outcomes

Christine Wang & Chinthana Thangavel

Destination: Houston, Texas

Historically, education has been viewed as one way to set all members of a society on equal footing— or as the “greatest equalizer of the conditions of men”. But that has never been the case, as education inequity in the United States has always disproportionately disadvantaged students of low socioeconomic status (SES). In fact, children from low SES families enter high school with average literacy skills five years behind their mid to high SES peers. Issues such as summer learning loss, food insecurity, mental health, and the school-to-prison pipeline are all exacerbated for students who are of low SES. Simply put, it is difficult for students to focus on learning when they experience childhood adversity that can accompany a low socioeconomic status.

Our trip aims to work closely with the stakeholders involved to learn more about the state of public education in the United States. We will meet policymakers to learn about current education bills and how college students can become active advocates for education. We will also engage critically with teachers and students to learn about their experiences adjusting to a system that only works for those who can afford it. By the end of the experience, we hope to encourage participants to become lifelong advocates for an equitable education system and better understand how and why the public school experience varies so greatly in the United States.

Trip H: Beyond the Birds and the Bees: How Sex Education Policy Impacts Social Justice Reform

Kaitlan Easley & Camila Arana

Destination: Washington, D.C.

Often forming a battleground for differing socio-cultural, political, economic, and religious ideals, sex education policy has increasingly become a hot topic on the political stage. Despite being a highly contested and politicized issue that is often dismissed as a “private matter,” at its core, sex education is inextricably linked with public health policy, educational equity, human rights, and access to healthcare. Comprehensive sex education is rooted in a human rights based approach and centers around a multitude of subjects pertaining to human sexuality. Consequently, it is a powerful vehicle for addressing the stigmatization that perpetuates many sexual and reproductive health issues today such as: reproductive justice, sexual violence prevention, LGBTQ+ equality, and gender equality.


Through our ASB, we will delve into the discourse surrounding the key debates concerning the creation and implementation of sex education policy. By interacting with a variety of advocacy organizations, clinics, and political representatives, we will explore the intersections of the larger socio-political forces within the issue of sex education. Sex education policy has never been just about sex; it is about reducing an information deficit that has historically disempowered youth.

Trip I: Mind the Gap: Investigating the Role of Social Background and Mental Health Literacy in Determining Access to Adolescent Mental Healthcare

Madison Miller & Sanjanaa Shanmugam

Destination: Houston, Texas

1 in 5 adolescents living in the U.S shows signs or symptoms of mental health disorders including mood, anxiety, attention, and behavioral disorders, and in the “mental health epidemic,” these numbers are only growing. Yet, a disproportionate 80% of these adolescents do not receive mental health services. This “gap” stems from a variety of factors, including disparities in mental health awareness, cultural variances in mental health perception, systemic racism, differences in socioeconomic status, and disproportionate resources within schools. Despite evidence that early intervention strategies significantly reduce the immediate and long-term interference of mental health issues in daily functioning, individuals often do not receive the care they need. Therefore, we seek to analyze how adolescents’ social backgrounds and mental health literacy impact their access to mental health care. 

Specifically, social background includes the major social factors that impact children, including the culture in which they grew up, their familial relationships, their educational environment, and their socioeconomic status. “Mental health literacy” refers to how aware a person is of their own mental health, the mental health of others, and the pivotal role that stigma can play both in determining access to care as well as in its interactions with mental health issues. 

Through our trip’s engagement with educators, advocacy and outreach programs, policy-makers, and health professionals, we hope to challenge you (and ourselves!) to examine connections, delve into the social issue, gain knowledge to bring back to our communities, and ultimately learn more about yourself, your peers, and the world in the process.

Trip J: DisLabeled: Exploring How the Stigma Surrounding Disability Affects Achievement

Christine Wang & Rachel Lamb

Destination: Houston & Austin, Texas

Almost 50% of all adults who experience income poverty for at least a year have one or more disabilities. The unemployment rate for individuals with a disability is twice as high as for people who are not disabled. The implications for creating a truly inclusive environment are great:  a 1% increase of people with disabilities employed in the US labor force would boost the GDP up to $25 billion USD.

The barriers facing the disabled community are an immediate and pervasive issue. Our trip will explore the stigma surrounding disability and its effects on employment and poverty rates. We will explore how current disability policies affect modern-day perceptions of disability. On our trip, we will visit grassroots organizations such as group-homes, vocational programs, and art centers.  We will look at how these community partners help individuals with different abilities transition from special education programs to the workplace and life as young adults. We will visit partners that research disability policy and advocate for disability rights. We want to look at how partners address different facets of this topic and confront challenges faced by the disabled community.

Even though policies like the Americans with Disabilities Act have been established for almost thirty years and were intended to create equal opportunities for people with disabilities, the current status quo demonstrates that disability and unemployment are still very much interconnected. We want to challenge our participants to break their unconscious biases surrounding disability and share the knowledge they learn on our trip to become avid advocates for disability rights at Rice.

Trip K: The Truth of our Youth: Exploring the Social Determinants of Children's Health

Rithika Proddutoor & Roma Nayyar

Destination: Houston, Texas

To quote the World Health Organization: "The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age." When these conditions intersect, they compound, leading to health inequities that are more pervasive in the USA than in other developed countries. Though experts debate exact values, one estimate is that 80% of an individual’s health outcome is determined by Social Determinants of Health (SDoH). To put this into perspective, the majority of a patient's outcome is predicted by their living conditions, long before they enter a doctor's office. 

 The gap in health outcomes is exacerbated among our youth, as children have less control over the conditions that define their health than adults. Autonomy and accessibility are also more difficult for children, as they are often not able to advocate for themselves.

 This trips aims to gain insight into the complex web of SDoH that shape a child's life and health. We will examine health inequities through the lenses of socioeconomic status, education, and community, while questioning the frameworks in our society that create these inequities. We hope to engage with community partners and advocacy experts to approach this issue from multiple perspectives and observe how social conditions intersect.

Trip L: Calling the Shots: Breaking Down the Barriers to Vaccination Access for Immigrants

Aylia Rizvi & Amna Ali

Destination: Houston & Austin, Texas

There has been a rise in the anti-vaccination movement, a group that blames vaccinations for a wide range of health issues such as autism, and a decrease in vaccination rates. Due to misinformation about vaccinations, parents are increasingly opting out of vaccinations for their children. The frequency of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks is the highest in decades and several state governments have continued to make it easier to opt out of vaccinations.

Aside from those who are medically unable to receive vaccinations, vulnerable populations also include many individuals in immigrant communities who are often times more influenced by the anti-vaccination movement due to their lack of knowledge about the importance of vaccinations. Additionally, there are a multitude of sociopolitical and economic factors that further contribute to low vaccination rates among immigrant communities. Access to preventive healthcare services and health education in the United States is largely dependent on an immigrant’s citizenship status, leading to disparities in vaccination rates. Through this ASB, participants will have the opportunity to meet with community partners to interact with this issue and learn how they can engage in their communities to help combat these disparities. More specifically, participants will be challenged to examine current trends in vaccination from unique angles and gain a further understanding of socioeconomic, cultural and societal factors that shape these trends. Additionally, participants will learn how to advocate for health legislation and policies and understand how those in positions of power can impact public health.

Trip M: From the Ground Up: How Current Environmental Policies and Industrial Regulations are Impacting Low Income, Communities of Color

Vatsala Mundra & Carmen Prado

Destination: Sacramento, California

The 20th century saw a boom of industry. While the growth in industries is meant to expand the economy and improve development, it is also contributing to socio-environmental degradation for local communities. The issue of pollution and exploitation of resources is problematic itself and the environmental risks as a result of industry practices disproportionately impact a specific group of people: lower-income people of color. The framework of environmental justice intertwines human rights advocacy and the right to a safe environment, consequently reframing it as a social justice matter.

 Our ASB will aim to explore the various components of environmental justice by meeting with various stakeholders: communities affected, government, and industry. Our pre-trip will include meeting with Houston organizations to begin exploring the contrast between Houston and our final location. During the trip, we aim to understand not only the causes of the injustice faced by the communities, but also what actions are currently being taken to help mitigate the direct effects of environmental injustice, both from activist and advocacy organizations and the community itself. By learning what actions have been taken and what has been effective for various communities, we will be able to learn how the intersection of various types of engagement results in different outcomes. We also hope to see what, if any, actions are being taken by local, state, and federal government and corporations to moderate the impact.