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People on campus: public health activist Roma Guy

April 27, 2005

Photo of Roma Guy"I'm not any kind of expert," said Roma Guy, lecturer in SFSU's Department of Health Education. "I'm an activist." But it is hard to imagine that her extensive work in women's issues and public health doesn't make her an authority, at least in San Francisco. In fact, it would be easier to make a list of important Bay Area community health and social projects that Guy has not participated in than to create one she has.

Currently serving her third appointment on the San Francisco City and County Health Commission, Guy has worked with public officials, residents and community organizations in San Francisco since 1974 when she joined SFSU. Her distinguished list of accomplishments also includes a stint as director of the Bay Area Homelessness Program, a consortium of 16 colleges and universities founded at SFSU to prevent and end homelessness. Prior to that, she founded the Women's Building, which houses several San Francisco community resources and programs, and served as executive director of The Women's Foundation. She is also a founder and an advisory board member of the Stay-in-School Family Resource Center at SFSU.

"I live comfortably at the nexus of theory and practice," said Guy, who develops courses that help students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to their communities. Since she arrived at SFSU in 1994, her courses have attracted students from a variety of career paths. This semester her pilot course, "Urban Curriculum II: Wealth, Poverty and Advocacy," includes many students who are struggling to rise above poverty through education. In addition to completing field work with Bay Area nonprofit organizations, the students are required to develop and sign a personal contract that includes graduation from college as their first step out of poverty.

"We wanted to provide students with the opportunity to learn how wealth and poverty impact who they are and how their own financial status can influence the educational and health choices they make," Guy said.

"We are so lucky to have Roma on our faculty," said Mary Beth Love, professor and chair of health education. "Roma has so much experience with so many aspects of public health and human services that she brings an entire network of public health officials to her work here ... providing our students with extraordinary opportunities."

Love considers Guy an activist's activist. "She's incredibly principled and those principles and her integrity are never compromised" in her negotiations with government and community entities, Love said. "Even among the people who oppose her ideas she is greatly respected."

Guy's activism began with the Peace Corp in 1964 when she volunteered for literacy and health education programs in countries along Africa's Ivory Coast. "I wanted to see what it was like to live outside of my culture," said Guy, a Maine native of French-Canadian lineage.

She received her undergraduate degree in history and sociology from University of Maine and her master of social work from Wayne State University. She and her partner, Diana Jones, live in San Francisco, which has been home now for 30 years. What little recreational time she has, she spends practicing yoga and reading. Although the most recent books she has read are novels -- "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and "The Kite Runner" -- nonfiction books about the brain and trauma are her latest obsession. "I work with families who have or are living through trauma," she said. "I want to know what needs to happen in the brain in order to recover."

The "activist's activist" is also concerned over the state budget cuts and their effect on equity in higher education. "Look at how much of a difference the G.I. Bill made in people's lives," she says. "We might not be able to replicate it exactly, but we need a modern version of this historic legislation. We need to find ways to inspire the taxpayer to be a stakeholder in both K-12 and higher education, affordable housing and universal health care."

-- Denize Springer

Note: This story also appears in the April 25 edition of CampusMemo.


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Last modified April 27, 2005 by University Communications