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Speaker discusses community trauma at Elizabeth Lockwood Wheeler lecture event


The College of Medicine and Eta Sigma Gamma, a professional honorary society focused on health education, hosted Ruben Cantu for the 27th Annual Elizabeth Lockwood Wheeler Lecture Monday evening.

Cantu, a Texas native, works as a program manager for the safety and well-being team at the California Prevention Institute. He has worked at nonprofits for over 20 years and has worked at the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) as associate director and wrote California’s plan for reducing the state’s disparity in mental health care.

At the Prevention Institute, Cantu works at the local level to address mental health, violence prevention, community trauma and general well-being.

“All of these things that happen in our community leave a lot of folks to think that their neighborhood is killing them," Cantu said. “These things affect us emotionally in a lot of ways, some of the affect us physically, but those two things are intertwined.”

Much of Cantu’s lecture centered around one main theme: Disease and injury prevention takes place in the community, not in a doctor’s office. 

Cantu said the goal of the Prevention Institute is working with communities to figure out ways to prevent illness and injury before they happen.

Throughout the talk, Cantu asked questions of the audience. He asked how many attendees commute more than one hour a day.

“It wears on you emotionally, but there’re also physical effects," he said. “It all becomes connected. You’re all one body. We can think about safe drinking water, we can think about chemicals in the ground, dirty air we might be breathing. But the environment in flux around us also impacts our behavior.” 

Cantu also discussed the dire consequences of community trauma.

“That’s a form of structural violence," he said. "It’s a kind of violence that comes from the way policies, practices, from these systems like the housing market, like immigration, like the justice system, like the education system. All of those systems that are put in place to actually help people sometimes end up harming them. That’s the kind of harm, that’s the kind of structural violence that ends up harming not just individuals, but whole communities.”

Trinidad graduate student Janae Alexander, who studies public health, attended the event to hear Cantu speak because the topic of his talk intersected with her studies.

“I’m more in the field of diabetes, but I wanted to know from the perspective of prevention and trauma what are pragmatic solutions they have been doing that work,” Alexander said. “I want to know about things that work so I can go into the community, be it Mount Pleasant or somewhere else, and do things that work.”