Environment, Public Health, Students

Communicating sense

October 17, 2011

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President, Chancellor and employees communicate

On University Day, Chancellor Holden Thorp and President Ross reflected on the University, its challenges, future and opportunities. They gave us reason to be proud and hopeful in spite of this economy. Jackie Overton represented the Employee Forum. She gave a rousing talk that reminded us of all the people we don’t always see or acknowledge, but who help to make us the place Charles Kuralt celebrated.

“What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. Or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming…No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the people.” — Charles Kuralt, Journalist, Host of “On the Road” and “Sunday Morning,” at the UNC Bicentennial in 1993

Attended meeting of cancer communication centers

I visited Washington University in St. Louis last Monday-Tuesday to attend a meeting of principal investigators and other key staff from the Centers of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research (CECCRs). It was great to see people I worked closely with in past but haven’t seen in a while. CECCRs are a National Cancer Institute program started while I was division director. I’m really proud of what the centers have accomplished and how they’re building the science of cancer communication. See an interesting collaborative paper about the role of narrative in cancer communication.

Talking about coal

Stewart Boss, a UNC undergrad, is co-chair for UNC Sierra Student Coalition, an environmental advocacy group on campus. Stewart wrote me about efforts of students and others to educate the University community about the negative effects of coal as a form of energy and their drive to get UNC-Chapel Hill to divest investments in coal. As a young child, I looked with wonder and curiosity at a small bag of coal my family received when we lived in Wilkes Barre, PA, a community where coal was mined nearby. I grew up with a sense of outrage about workers who seemed to have the deck stacked against them—including migrant workers who never could get ahead and workers in the coal industry who seemed never to be safe.

Boss’ group’s goals are “…continue our broader goal of moving beyond depending on dirty forms of energy that make people sick.”  Their sponsors include some well-respected organizations, including Sierra Club. Energy is a public health issue, especially when people are exposed to occupational hazards that make them sick; sometimes, energy users can be sickened through exposure.  And communities, especially low income ones, can be harmed socially and economically by damage to the environment. There’s good evidence that coal use causes some of these harms.

Divestiture is a complicated issue, and a University’s investments are critical to continued financial stability, especially in the current economic environment. But I want my University to be one that looks hard at what we own, with an eye to removing investments that threaten the public’s health. There may be perfectly good reasons to retain particular investments, but the process at examining our portfolio from time to time models ethical practice for our students and could well lead to decisions about what we should own and, conversely, not own.

Our School of Journalism and Mass Communications has been winning major awards for – “Coal: A Love Story”.  See interactive multimedia piece with video, graphics and still photo online at poweringanation.org.

Something to think about on Monday Morning. Have a good week. Barbara

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.