| in Community

by Kelly Broder (COM’27) 

Boston has experienced more hot days and nights in the last ten years than ever before. And Boston University students are looking for solutions. 

In fall 2023, students in CAS SO490: “Politics of Global Health,” a MetroBridge course, investigated methods to mitigate climate issues like extreme heat, storm water, and coastal flooding in cities in the US and around the world in order to address the problem in Greater Boston. 

Joseph Harris

“We set out to learn what other cities and municipalities were doing on this issue and the challenges they were facing. By examining different approaches being taken globally, we aimed to provide a strong evidence base that informs the city’s response,” said Joseph Harris, associate professor of sociology. “I hope students come away from this with some kind of greater cognizance of the role that politics and power play in producing healthcare and climate inequalities.” 

The MetroBridge experiential learning program, run through the Initiative on Cities, gives BU students the opportunity to work hands-on with local governmental organizations to find solutions to problems facing our communities. In CAS SO490, the students partnered with Climate Ready Boston, a subcommittee in Boston’s Office of Environment, Energy, and Open Space that is working with the community, public agencies, and private landowners to implement resilience projects to address rising temperatures in the city. 

As part of the course, students read works discussing health crises in places ranging from Vietnam to Malawi, and explored efforts to reduce the heat crisis around the world. The MetroBridge students also looked at how the heat crisis is affecting different populations in disparate ways and utilized sociological tools, concepts, and knowledge to make sense of the conflict in contemporary global health debates. 

In Boston, lower income communities are hotter in all heat metrics, according to Boston’s 2022 Heat Plan. “That inequality is not a natural thing. The core of that has to do with politics, money and power,” Harris said. “The lens that sociology offers in understanding problems of inequality power is particularly useful in understanding global health.”

Student presenters Ramona Leung (CAS’25), John Marshall (QST’24), and Alex Melly (CAS’23) deliver their findings on methods to reduce the severity of the global heat crisis.

The course’s final capstone project encouraged students to investigate different regions of the world and their methods for reducing heat-crisis-related issues. The goal of this project was to find solutions globally to solve the heat problem locally. 

Ramona Leung (CAS’25) and Jodie Chen (CAS’25) looked at the implementation of resilience hubs, community spaces that provide water, air conditioning and assistance with installing at-home cooling. Resilience hubs are often located at libraries, private businesses, barbershops, and other preexisting spaces in the community, and offer access to social services, and promote other community health resources, the students said. 

Chen, who is pursuing a major in sociology and a minor in business at Questrom, said this course made her consider working toward a master’s degree in public health. “There are elements of business and sociology,” Chen said. “It’s kind of putting it all together.” 

In December, the class produced a policy memo and report, and presented their results to a team from one of Boston’s Climate Resilience project project managers, Zoe Davis. 

Davis said she was interested in students’ findings on other cities’ action plans, how different cities define heat resilience, and the nature of public and private partnerships in running these resilience programs. 

“Students come in with a brightness. They’re like ‘we can take on this challenge,’” Davis said. “This mindset is really critical to have because it can be heavy work, it can be complex work.”