Student Engagement and the SDGs

Across IUPUI students engage with the SDGs in a myriad of ways: their classrooms, volunteering, in student organizations, internships, and beyond. This section aims to highlight just a few examples of the ways in which students have engaged in critical analysis and solution building around the SDGs.

IUPUI Honors-University of Rwanda Virtual Exchange

In Fall 2020, Prof. Ian McIntosh from the IUPUI Honors College co-taught a virtual exchange class with his colleague from the University of Rwanda, Michel Ndahimana. Twenty-three IUPUI Honors students from multiple disciplines, and twenty marketing students from the University of Rwanda, were brought together, virtually, to learn about each other, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs). The platform for this connection was a novel new technology called CN or Course Networking (, a learning management system (LMS) developed at the IUPUI Cyberlab.

There were two major dimensions to the class. The first involved the students getting to know one other, with a strong emphasis on culture, identity, and current affairs. The students were paired with one or two others but they also connected with other class members through Course Networking. The goal was to make the students feel like they were actually visiting Rwanda or the USA. During the ‘get to know you’ phase of the class, the students shared amazing things about where they live and what makes their home so special or unique. For Rwandan students, it was the modern day miracle of Rwanda post-genocide. Kigali is now the safest and cleanest capital city on the African continent. Then there were posts on famous tourist attractions like the Gorillas in Volcano National Park, or even how Rwanda is using walking, talking robots to monitor COVID patients in the larger cities. Indiana students, by contrast, shared stories about their favorite holidays, like Halloween and Christmas, popular restaurants, and things that they would do together when their partner came for a real visit, like visiting the world famous Indianapolis Children’s Museum or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

While this cultural learning was happening, the students were also becoming familiar with the UN’s 2030 agenda for global transformation encapsulated in the ‘5 Ps’ People, Planet, Peace, Prosperity and Partnership. Adopted by all UN member states in 2015, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and associated targets are a call to action for all—rich and poor—to promote prosperity while protecting the needs of future generations. They replaced the earlier MDGs—the millennium development goals—which were focused on lifting developing countries out of poverty. The SDGs also focus on transforming the unsustainable lifestyles of industrialized countries.

Universities play a critical role in meeting the SDGs through teaching, interdisciplinary research, the creation of evidence-based knowledge, measuring and evaluation, and advocacy. We need to inculcate this idea of working together to meet the challenge, and so, working in cross-country teams, the students were asked how the US and Rwanda were responding to this global call to action. How can the specific disciplines of the students, whether it is business or marketing, or the arts and sciences, be engaged in this struggle? The major assignment for the virtual exchange class was to create a poster where the students summarized their findings to these questions. Some examples of these posters are below, along with a commentary by the students. 

IU McKinney School of Law: Health and Human Rights Clinic and Seminar

Engages in SDGs 3, 16, & 17

Fran Quigley  If We Can Win Here by Fran Quigley  Prescription for the People by Fran Quigley  How Human Rights can Build Haiti by Fran Quigley

Fran Quigley is a clinical professor of law at the IU McKinney School of Law. He is the author of five books and many articles on social justice and human rights themes, including most recently How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: The Lawyers, the Activists, and the Grassroots Movement (2014), If We Can Win Here: The New Front Lines of the Labor Movement (2015), Prescription for the People: An Activist's Guide to Making Medicine Affordable for All (2017) and the forthcoming Religious Socialism: Faith in Action for a Better World (Fall, 2021). He also contributes to the publications of the Religious Socialism working group of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Prof. Quigley is the director of the IU McKinney Health and Human Rights Clinic, where students partner with Indiana Legal Services to advocate for the rights of the poor, with a special focus on individual and systemic barriers to accessing healthcare and the social determinants of health. He also teaches a classroom seminar focused on Health and Human Rights. As articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, health is a fundamental human right and a necessary foundation for the exercise of almost every other human right. Yet enforcing that right is an elusive goal for billions of people across the globe, including many people in our own local community here in Indiana. This course aims to understand the evolving nature of a right to health, and the many challenges posed by efforts to make that right a practical reality. Students review the unequal distribution of goods and assets—in particular healthcare—globally and in our own community, and the social determinants of health.

The most recent cohort of students reflected on the class itself, and on their course projects in the light of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as follows:

  • Samantha Mitchell

    "Centering a course around the topic of health and human rights allowed me the space to delve deep into a topic that intrigued me. The class fostered a passion that I hope will one day lead me to a seat on Indiana's Maternal Mortality Review Committee."

    The impetus behind my paper on maternal mortality was the death of Dr. Chaniece Wallace, a Black resident physician at Riley Children's Health Hospital who died from postpartum complications two days after giving birth to her daughter. Additionally, as of 2019, Indiana ranks third in the nation for the highest rate of maternal mortality. I began my paper by examining existing Indiana legislation regarding maternal mortality, and then outlined the main contributors to maternal death. Then I looked at the challenges faced by pregnant women in maternity care ‘deserts’ in Indiana and what measures other states have taken to lower their maternal mortality rates. Finally, I discussed how, using other states as a model, Indiana can lower its maternal mortality rate.

    My policy proposals to lower the maternal mortality rate in Indiana include:

    1. A comprehensive federal database utilized by every state to record, analyze, and compare maternal deaths
    2. Closing the three-year reporting gap that the Indiana Maternal Mortality Committee is currently operating under by allocating a full-time maternal mortality division within the Indiana State Department of Health, and
    3. 3. Addressing the state's maternal care ‘deserts’ through the promotion of tele-health programs to encourage mothers to attend perinatal care visits.
    4. 4. Follow the success of other states when modeling our maternal mortality response, in particular the public-private partnerships fostered by California and the Massachusetts.
  • Taylor Webster

    “Professor Quigley's Health and Human Rights course really opened my eyes to the direct impact I could have on the legal community. I am privileged to be in law school and it is important that we leverage our education and take classes like this to learn how to positively impact our communities. If we do not know about issues, we cannot contribute to the solutions. This class opened my eyes to a plethora of social issues, most of which could be directly impacted through the intervention of a lawyer who integrates themselves in the community and uses the privilege of a legal education to make a difference.”

    My course topic was segregation in Indianapolis. Black Indianapolis residents have contributed to the vibrancy and deep history of Indianapolis; their contributions, however, have not always been met with appreciation. Historically, and even today, segregation has run rampant through Indianapolis. Segregation is ever-present in housing and schools. Redlining and other mechanisms have rendered the city and its schools even more divided today than in the past. The implementation of I-65 and I-70, which tore through vibrant communities like Ransom Place, helped contribute to the segregation we see today. The highways made ‘white flight’ to suburban areas and counties more accessible. Those privileged and wealthy enough to move to the suburbs were still provided with easy access to their downtown Indianapolis jobs at the expense of marginalized communities and the homes and neighborhoods they cherished. The effects of segregation can be seen widely throughout Indianapolis. Highways and redlining have decimated neighborhoods and lower life expectancy is seen in the areas affected by these policies. Meanwhile, the life expectancy and health of those who live in Hamilton County and surrounding areas not directly impacted by segregationist policies is much better. Without action to address segregation, its root causes, and the implications it has had on the lives of communities of color, but especially Black communities in Indianapolis, its effects will persist and continue to negatively affect the lives and health of Indianapolis residents.

  • Matthew Serf

    “Being in Professor Quigley’s Health and Human Rights course allowed me to bring light to a topic that I am very passionate about. It also made me cognizant of the potential for change that I hold as a future legal professional. Offering a course such as this in law school provides an opportunity to educate and to be educated on issues that are not as commonly discussed as others but are equally as important.”

    My class project was on Black mental health. Conversations surrounding the importance of mental health have grown over the past two decades. As this discussion grows, more research regarding the significance of mental health and positive coping mechanisms have emerged. More people are seeking proper treatment, health insurance companies are covering mental health treatment, and society has begun to destigmatize mental health. However, access to these resources and insurance coverages are disproportionately enjoyed by the majority, leaving those who would benefit greatly from it to suffer.

    While there is not one community that suffers from poor mental health, the centuries of inhumane treatment of Black Americans have impacted the mental health of generations. There is a plethora of reasons that can be attributed to the state of Black mental health, but a large portion are rooted in racism, socio-economic status, and the pressure to persevere. Events such as the Tuskegee Experiments and the mortality rate of Black mothers while giving birth have created distrust in the healthcare system. In the event that a Black person would like to seek to improve their mental health, obstacles in health insurance such as high deductible costs and requirements for coverage stand in the way. This can result in the continued degradation of an individual’s mental health due to financial stress. Additionally, individuals are more likely to seek proper care if the healthcare professional looks like them. However, African Americans make up 5% of psychiatrists and psychologists.

    Examining the mental health disparages of African Americans gives a different perspective on the larger issue of inequalities in healthcare we face. Although well-known celebrities and societal figures have used their platforms to bring notoriety to Black mental health, the larger issue of healthcare inequality persists.

  • Mollie Golden

    “In the fall of 2020, I participated in Professor Fran Quigley's innovative Health and Human Rights Seminar. During this course, I was encouraged to write on a topic that was important to me for my final that touched on health and human rights. I am bilingual in English and Spanish, and have spent the past 9 years assisting individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) navigate the Indianapolis area in various advocacy roles. I have witnessed the extreme barriers that LEP individuals must overcome to access basic services; so I wrote my paper highlighting the difficulties that LEP individuals face in our current healthcare system, and the importance of language access services.”

    Over 61.6 million individuals in the United States speak a language other than English at home and this number is only going to continue to grow. The U.S. Census has predicted that by 2030, the U.S.'s primary method of population growth will be from international migration. Therefore, this is the smallest the language access issue will ever be, and it is not a small issue now.

    The current reality is that many LEP patients become branded as "poor historians" due to a culture in which LEP patients are not communicated with because calling for an interpreter is perceived as a hassle. Unfortunately, family members, even young children, are often asked to interpret for their family member on the spot. Interpreting is a difficult skill, and the use of unqualified and subjective interpreters leads to more miscommunications. Without effective communication, a patient’s health and wellbeing is at risk every time they step into a doctor’s office. When a patient cannot effectively communicate, they cannot share important information with their physician, or make informed decisions about their health, and as a result grave errors occur. It is possible to prevent these grave errors through the use of competent interpreter services. There needs to be a focus on language access services in the U.S. to ensure that the nation can keep up with the changing demographics. Indiana has an opportunity to lead the nation and should jump at the chance to rebrand ourselves from the Crossroads of America to the Language Hub of America. A place where languages are celebrated and providing access isn't seen as a hassle, but simply just part of communication.

    One thing Indiana can do is set a standard for health interpreters so that personnel can confidently and competently share information with LEP individuals throughout the state. Institutions like IUPUI should look to build interpreter certification programs that are accessible to a wide range of participants, specifically immigrant participants. By building interpreter certification programs within Indiana, we would help to ensure that all Hoosiers have access to qualified interpreters as well as others throughout the nation.

  • Courtney Oliver

    “The Nordic countries have been at the forefront of social change in adopting policies to provide for the needs of parents, especially working parents. For Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, the chief means of reconciling work and family life, promoting equality, and ending poverty lie in the institutional support created by legislative action. Hopefully the Scandinavians can show Americans that a welfare system for all citizens is not something that should be feared, safety nets do not mean you don’t work hard, and socialism is not a bad word.”

    My Health and Human Rights Seminar paper was entitled “Parenthood in The Nordic Countries: How Welfare States Help Parents in Producing the Happiest People in the World and What the U.S. Can Learn from Them”. The Scandinavian, “democratic socialist” countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark consistently rank at the top of the list of best countries to live. They are also known as the happiest countries in the world. This is especially true for women and mothers. Raising a family can be difficult and stressful, but the Nordic countries have alleviated most of the financial strains associated with parenting and the cultural stigmas associated with being a working mother.

    In my paper I discussed the Nordic welfare system, how social support and services like work flexibility, family benefits, childcare provision and other socialist ideals have worked together to mitigate the psychological and financial stresses associated with parenthood. I then compared those countries with the United States and explained how and why we rank so low in both the World Happiness Report and Save the Children Mother’s Index. The U.S. ranks much lower for many reasons including poverty, lack of family benefits, lack of trust in institutions, divorce, and perpetual gender, socioeconomic, and racial inequality. The World Happiness Report and other studies suggest that the secret to Nordic happiness and parenting is the institutional framework of the Nordic welfare state. People tend to be happier in countries where there is easy access to relatively generous welfare benefits, and where the labor market is regulated to avoid employee exploitation.

    While Scandinavians don’t consider their countries to be democratic socialist in the precise sense of the term, the experience of these nations can serve as an example to other countries (like the U.S.) that want to keep a market system while improving the lives of their populations. While it might not be possible to completely copy the Nordic welfare state systems and implement them here in the United States, their example of how to balance capitalism with social reforms will continue to inspire people all over the world.

The Path to Honoring the Human Right to Housing - Making the World a Better Place with the SDGs

Fran Quigley presented his work in a 5-minute video as a part of the 2022 IUPUI International Festival - IUPUI SDG Day.