‘Full Circle from Receiving Services to Being Part of the System’
Chrystel Murrieta President of Students of Color for Public Health; Activist Lab Student Engagement Intern
Breakfast: Green tea mochi ice cream (“I normally don’t eat breakfast, but I got up early today to go to Whole Foods and ask for donation. I felt like I had to purchase something if I was asking for a favor. They have those little self-serve mochi freezers, so, ice cream for breakfast!”)
Hometown: La Habra, California
Extracurriculars: “I do a lot of reading on the T. I wouldn’t say that that’s my favorite place to read, but that’s where it gets done. If I could pick, I would be sitting window-side at the Boston Public Library, with some sun hitting me—which means it wouldn’t be winter.”
You wrapped presents for the Barkley Holiday Party on December 13. What is the Barkley Holiday Party?
The Barkley Holiday Party is put on for kids in the Ruth Lillian Barkley Apartments, in collaboration with Students of Color for Public Health and the Activist Lab. This was our fourth annual holiday celebration.
We ask for donations of toys for kids up to 10. For the 11- to 14-year-olds we fundraise for gift cards, as well as for food, decorations, games, and different activities. This year, we received an incredibly generous donation of pizza from Webb Lancaster, a former BU employee who now owns a local Domino’s. We’re coming together to create a safe space for the kids to be able to celebrate the holidays, and if, for whatever reason, some families don’t have the resources to buy gifts themselves, we make sure that every child within Barkley housing has a present.
Why do you think it’s important for the SPH community to do this?
Barkley is about 10 or 15 minutes’ walking distance from here, and this is a way to connect with the communities that are surrounding us.
I attended the party last year and thought it was awesome. I still have an origami fish that one of the kids gifted me. He had shared that his big brother—from Big Brothers Big Sisters—showed him how to make it, and he was super proud. It was also great to connect with Spanish-speaking Latinx kids. In sharing my family holiday traditions with them of playing games like lotería and dominoes, they were excited to share things in common: “You play dominoes? I do. Are you Dominican?” (I’m not, which they were a little disappointed to find out!) It was refreshing to get to interact with kids, and to be a kid for a little bit with them.
What led you to public health?
I’m from La Habra, which is a medically underserved area. I wasn’t aware of this growing up. I received most of my shots from a mobile health unit, and I thought that was normal. It was parked at my church, or at my local market. I still remember my dad holding my hand so that I wouldn’t cry, and, very visually, my yellow vaccination card getting stamped—I actually still have it. I was part of Healthy Families, which is California’s CHIP. I would be seen at the local elementary school in a mobile classroom unit to have my dental, and vision, and pretty much everything else screened.
I didn’t realize that all the ways I was accessing health were a result of public health efforts. When I was in undergrad I took a public health introductory course, and I was amazed. It was mindblowing. For me, it’s really rewarding to come full circle, from being a recipient of the services, to now being a part of the system that is able to provide it to others.
When I came to SPH, and we did the Diversity & Inclusion Oath during orientation, standing up reading it, I almost got teary-eyed, because I felt, “This was meant to be. This is where I belong.” I was excited, because SPH is attempting to touch on a lot of social justice issues, and I didn’t see that happening elsewhere.
What public health areas are you focusing on?
I’m in the certificates for Health Policy and Law and Maternal and Child Health. I’m interested in policy advocacy in general. In particular, the groups I want to be doing work with are the immigrant population and the incarcerated population—so looking at immigrants in detainee situations is especially of interest, because it touches on both. Their health and the lack of healthcare access while they’re detained is something that I want to look into.
As I’ve selected topics for research in my classes, I’ve also been thinking of my family, and what was closest to home for me. For example, when my parents first immigrated, my dad picked apples and my mom packed tomatoes, and this influenced one of my projects looking at occupational health hazards for farm workers. I’m interested in things that are particular to not just my community, but communities of color, and how they’re disproportionately affected.
What led you to Students of Color for Public Health, and becoming the group’s president?
I’m a chronic over-committer!
I went to a screening last year, for 13th, and I really enjoyed the space that they facilitated, and how people came together. I loved how people weren’t afraid to push each other and challenge each other’s ways of thinking. Last year’s president and leadership board came up to me and a few of my classmates—who are now on the e-board with me, which I’m grateful for and really excited about—and they told us, “We hope that you’ll consider leading our group in the future.” I didn’t see myself being the president, I just thought, Oh, that’d be cool. I can see somebody else doing that. But I started shadowing Jess Christian, the president at the time, looking over her shoulder and learning how the group runs. As president, I was really happy when the other ladies came on the leadership board. There are five of us, and they’re my friends as well as my partners in leadership.
I’m excited and hopeful for our group. We’ve been able to talk to a lot of the deans, including Dean Galea, Dean Cozier, Dean Elmore on the Charles River Campus, and the Faculty Senate representatives, letting them know what our vision is. Having them support us has meant a lot. We’re looking forward to continuing that, leaving that behind for the next group of students, and hopefully creating a space for students of color to feel a little bit more at home here at SPH.
The Barkley Holiday Party is on Wednesday, December 13. Donate or volunteer here.