Faces of Rhodes
Name: Kendra G. Hotz
Hometown: Evansville, IN
Extracurricular activities: My spouse and I are avid hikers. We love the rocky shores of the California central coast and the high desert of northern New Mexico. We’ve also hiked some of the national parks in southern Utah and recently discovered the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. We’re also dog lovers. We have two dogs right now: an old Springer Spaniel named Basil (named for a 4th-century monk) and a new rescue puppy named Argos (named for Odysseus’s dog). Finally, I love to eat. It’s a good thing my spouse is such an accomplished and adventurous cook, because I’m completely useless in the kitchen!
Academic interests/passions: I’m a practical theologian, which means that I’m interested in how religious meaning is embedded in every day practices. Right now I’m focused on health care practices. I’m especially driven by questions about how economic and racial differences result in different health outcomes. This is called a health disparity, and one of the things I want to know is how communities of faith can be mobilized to work for health equity. For me, the fact that infant mortality rates are three times higher for African-Americans than for Americans of European ancestry in Shelby County is an injustice that calls out for a response, and faith communities are perfectly positioned to become advocates for change.
Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.
I moved to Memphis in the summer of 2005 when my spouse took a position at Memphis Theological Seminary. It was such a great opportunity that we didn’t want to pass it up, but at that time there wasn’t an opening in Memphis that was a good fit for me. We knew we didn’t want to live apart, though, so I decided to take a leap of faith and move here without a job. What a delight it was to learn that Rhodes needed someone in my field to teach on a part-time basis. I fell in love with the college and its students right away and was tickled pink when my part-time work became full-time.
How have you changed since beginning your career at Rhodes College?
I’ve become much clearer about how deeply contextual good education is, about how much educational institutions need community partners. Rhodes is exceptionally good at tailoring its offerings to student needs and interests, and I’ve caught that bug. As a result I’m much more proactive about engaging students in conversation about their goals and hopes and then finding ways to connect them to opportunities to explore and develop those interests. In some cases that means developing new opportunities, which is exactly how the Urban and Community Health Concentration came about.
You have an internship in which students are exposed to issues of race, religion, and health care. How do you see this program affecting the city as a whole, as well as the individual student?
The internship program has been an incredibly powerful way of engaging students in questions about health disparities. It’s one thing to learn a theory about social determinants of health in the classroom; it’s another thing to see those at work in the community. The theories suddenly come alive when you see how the health of families and individuals is affected in concrete ways by things like access to clinics, availability of grocery stores and fresh produce, neighborhoods with good green spaces, and social expectations about race. Students often tell me that the experience of working with a community partner and learning about health disparities at the same time results in a powerful transformation of perspective for them.
The internship program is now a part of our new academic concentration in Urban and Community Health. As much as the internships change the students, I hope that the students in the program and in the new concentration can begin to transform the city. We have students on the ground working as advocates for the residents of long-term care facilities, developing programing for refugee children, helping clients of the Church Health Center get their medications, interviewing diabetes patients trying to manage their disease, and working with Health Shelby on their infant mortality initiative. Many of these students are choosing careers in public service, and my hope is that many of them will come back to Memphis after graduate school.
Does Rhodes have a role in the Memphis community? If so, what is this role?
Absolutely. Memphis offers amazing learning opportunities for our students. Our location in Memphis gives our students access to a community with a rich history, significant challenges, cultural resources for renewal, and an astounding network of community organizations committed to justice. The city of Memphis is one of our greatest educational assets – it’s an enormous classroom. Because the city offers us so much, because it plays such a crucial role in the education of our students, we have an obligation to be a positive force for change in the city. Our position of privilege and prestige creates an obligation for us to be invested in the good of this place. We do that through our efforts in the learning corridor, through the almost unbelievable numbers of our students who volunteer all over the city, and through faculty research projects that benefit our community partners. To give just one example of how investment in the city benefits our students, faculty, and community partners: The Church Health Center runs a “healthy living program” that is designed as a 15-month-long intensive intervention for diabetes patients. They offer participants clinical care, a free membership to the gym, nutrition education, a health coach, and diabetes management education. When they needed to assess the program and learn how to identify participants who were most likely to benefit, they turned to the college. Elizabeth Thomas and I designed an interview and trained our student interns to administer it. We analyze the data and provide a report to the Center and also publish our findings so that organizations in other cities can benefit. The Church Health Center gets high-quality analysis; our students gain a great opportunity to practice basic research skills; and Elizabeth and I get access to qualitative data closely connected to our own research agendas.
Compiled by Ellie Skochdopole
Editor’s note: On April 23rd, 2013, Dr. Hotz received the Outstanding Faculty Member award at the annual Campus Life Awards ceremony sponsored by the Rhodes Student Government.