Population Health

June 14, 2022

Jody Early advances health equity through community-based research and teaching

Image of Jody EarlyDr. Jody Early’s teaching, service and research endeavors are centered on the intersections between education, health and human rights. She strives to help students think critically about the way systems of oppression impact in their own lives and population health challenges, carrying this framework into her many research endeavors and professional pursuits.

“If we are truly striving for health equity, we have to tackle the forces that perpetuate oppression and exclusion,” said Early.

Early is a professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, where she leads the Health Education and Promotion minor and teaches multiple undergraduate classes, in addition to advising graduate students on research surrounding topics of gender-based violence, mental health, community-engaged intervention planning and evaluation and digital equity.

“My research, teaching and service are tightly interwoven. I think staying involved in public health practice is vital to my scholarship and to my teaching,” expressed Early. “I gravitate most to applied research because I believe it is important to ensure that communities in focus are setting priorities, part of the planning and are receiving the benefits of the research they participate in and co-lead. In other words, Nothing about us, without us.”

In 2017, Early co-founded the Transnational Education and Community Health Collaboratory (TEaCH CoLab) with Dr. Niamh Murphy and faculty from Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and the Institute of Technology Carlow. Their goal is to support global learning and scholarship by helping students develop self-awareness of their intersectional identities, histories and beliefs and the ways these connect with the world.

“Our collaborative connects students and faculty across continents to work together to tackle population health issues through community-engaged projects, collaborative online international learning experiences and through faculty and student exchanges,” explained Early. “I am continually striving to leverage technology to connect the classroom with communities or organizations, locally or globally, in order to create authentic learning experiences that allow students to translate what they are learning directly into practice.”

Early has received national and UW recognition for her teaching and mentorship. She is a 2017 recipient of UW’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Innovation with Technology and was awarded the Karen Denard Goldman Health Education Mentor Award from the Society for Public Health Education in 2019.

One of Early’s main research projects currently is ¡Basta! Preventing Sexual Harassment in Agriculture, which addresses sexual violence in agriculture through a bilingual workplace training and toolkit. Sexual harassment is pervasive within agriculture and unrecognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a workplace hazard. Additionally, research shows that individuals who experience a form of sexual violence are likely to experience negative health effects including depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and thoughts of suicide.

The impetus for the Basta! program came directly from Latina farmworkers in Eastern Washington who helped to drive and co-lead the development of the toolkit and video. The stories they shared created scenarios for the training and resources, including a comic book. Some of the women appear in the video they helped to script. Early’s team, included UW MPH student, Dennise Drury, Dr. Victoria Breckwich Vasquez from the School of Nursing and Health Studies, and Elizabeth Torres from Proyecto Bienestar/Radio KDNA. They partnered with the Pacific Northwest Agriculture Safety and Health (PNASH) Center and the Washington Grower’s League to disseminate training and materials across Washington and Oregon to farmworkers and a network of agricultural partners. The training, video, and toolkit address this issue through a socio-ecological framework.

“My team and I received additional grant funding in 2021 which has allowed us to co-develop a tailored instrument in Spanish that measures farmworkers’ perceptions of workplace climate as well as knowledge, attitudes, and experiences relating to sexual harassment,” Early said. “We are in the process of conducting a pilot test of the instrument and a multi-site evaluation of the training. We hope to expand this work in the coming years with national and international partners and to continue to engage and mentor undergraduate and graduate students interested in community-based participatory research and violence prevention.”

Early is also co-leading Mental Health Matters of Washington (La Salud Mental Importa), a community-based program funded by the University of Washington Bothell and Verdant Health that trains peer mental health navigators to connect people to mental health resources and decrease the stigma around mental health through free, hybrid training sessions.

“Given the shortage of mental healthcare providers world-wide, evidence shows us that this is a promising strategy,” says Early.

The program also works with partners like the National Alliance for Mental Illness, North Sound Accountable Communities of Health, and Movimiento AfroLatino Seattle to offer virtual round tables and arts-based community events that shine a light on mental health.

Training and events are offered in English and Spanish and are designed to prioritize communities of color, LGBTQ+ and marginalized groups. Early and her team plan to expand their efforts to include more languages and cohorts in the future. Long term, the team hopes this program will increase early intervention for those experiencing symptoms of mental illness and reduce suicide rates in Snohomish, Skagit, Island and Whatcom counties.

“It was through my experiences as a parent and caregiver as well as my work with youth and young adults that led me to co-develop Mental Health Matters of Washington,” said Early. “When my daughter was diagnosed with an acute mental health condition, navigating through the labyrinth of behavioral healthcare was difficult, and I’m someone who has been working in public health and healthcare for over twenty years. I can only imagine what it feels like for people who are less familiar with the system, don’t have anyone advocating for them, and face barriers relating to language and economics. My experience propelled me to do something that would help improve people’s social support, resources, and care.”

Moving forward, Early plans to continue expanding the work of Basta! And Mental Health Matters Washington in addition to serving on a UW Population Health team exploring community-driven approaches to measuring and strengthening social connection. She is also finishing a co-edited text titled Be the Change: Putting Health Advocacy, Policy, and Community Organization into Practice in Public Health Education with Oxford University Press that will be available in October 2022. Overall, Early’s work reflects the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and social justice frameworks in pedagogy and research to tackle the many nuanced challenges to population health the world faces.