Syllabus Example - COMS 369 CEL

Course Information

Communication and Health Disparities
Pre-requisite: COMS 204 + (either COMS 253 or 254)
COMS 369: Time, Location
Professor: Evelyn Ho, Ph.D.
Office Hours: Kalmanovitz Hall (KA) 340(Times) and by appointment
Email is the preferred way to reach me
Office Phone: 415-422-6061
Website: on Canvas

Course Description:

We live in a world of widespread health inequality and inequality in access to care. This community-engaged learning (Service-Learning) course will examine health disparities (and inequalities) using a health communication perspective to observe and practice health communication in a community context. Health will be defined broadly to include not just physical health, but emotional health, psychological health, spiritual health, and overall wellness. In this class, we will study through engagement with community organizations about how communication plays a role in creating, maintaining, and reducing disparities in health. It is through this contextualized observation and practice that students develop skills to be health advocates and learn how to work collaboratively with peers and community members to facilitate small scale positive social change.

Course Learning Outcomes

  • Articulate the socio-cultural determinants of health and current research findings on the relationship of these determinants of health and health disparities. This will be accomplished through class discussions, reflections, reading questions, and exams. (COMS1) (CEL1)
  • Analyze health disparities from post-positivist, interpretive, and critical perspectives and be able to state the different approaches, goals, and methods in reading questions, reflections, and exams. (COMS5) (CEL2)
  • Synthesize research and the CEL-experience/knowledge in papers regarding using communication to improve a health disparity. As part of the project, students will submit three papers that build on one another. (COMS4, 5) (CEL2, 3)
    • First, you will summarize current research and synthesize multiple sources of information around a particular health disparity important to your CEL-site in the form of an annotated bibliography.
    • Second, you will propose a research study using the form of a ‘specific aims’ document for a grant to address what is unknown.
    • Third, you will use your reflections and previous papers to write a persuasive editorial articulating how communication in health contexts can work for social justice and change.
  • Conduct community-based participatory work that leads to the creation and assessment of a mini-public health campaign (or other project) that promotes health. You will have a range of choices of SF-based community partners to work with. You will work at the CEL-sites individually or in groups and will design a mini public health campaign or other health promotion project that includes data gathering/needs assessment, creation/implementation and evaluation. You will draw on what we learn in class, your own research, and your experience at the site. (COMS4) (CEL1, 2)

COMS major Learning Outcomes

  • COMS1: Students will articulate and define major theories and concepts used in the study of communication.
  • COMS2: Students will design a research project that engages scholarly literature to address significant and appropriate questions/issues.
  • COMS3: Students will demonstrate the ability to select and analyze text(s), collect and analyze data, and answer research questions and test hypotheses.
  • COMS4: Students will identify and assess the social context for their messages and craft effective messages for specific audiences.
  • COMS5: Students will be able to identify how communication produces, reinforces, and critiques social inequalities and power relations.

Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) Learning Outcomes

  • CEL1: Analyze the dynamics, strengths, and priorities of a group, community, or environment with which students engage.
  • CEL2: Examine an environmental or social justice issue, including its root causes, impacts, intersections with other issues, and possible solutions.
  • CEL3: Analyze one’s own and others’ beliefs, values, social identities and world views and their implications for how one defines and contributes to the common good.

Required Course Texts and Materials on Canvas

Download and mark up these articles BEFORE coming to class Always bring a print or e-copy of the readings to class.

Ndiaye, K., Krieger, J. L., Warren, J. R., & Hecht, M. L. (2011). Communication and health disparities. In T. L. Thompson, R. Parrott, & J. F. Nussbaum (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Health Communication (2nd ed., pp. 469-481). New York: Routledge.

Farmer, P. (2003). Rethinking health and human rights. pp. 213-246 in Pathologies of power. Berkeley, CA: California.

Cameron, K. A. (2013). Advancing equity in clinical preventive services: The role of health communication. Journal of Communication, 63(1), 31-50. doi:10.1111/jcom.12005

Ho, E. Y. (2015). Socio-cultural factors in Health Communication. In N. G. Harrington (Ed.), Health communication: Theory, method, and application (pp. 212-239). New York and London: Routledge.

Sharf, B. F., & Vanderford, M. L. (2003). Illness narratives and the social construction of health. In T. L. Thompson, A. M. Dorsey, K. Miller & R. Parrott (Eds.), Handbook of health communication (pp. 9-34). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Smith, S. L., Quandt, S. A., Arcury, T. A., Wetmore, L. K., Bell, R. A., & Vitolins, M. Z. (2006). Aging and eating in the rural, southern United States: Beliefs about salt and its effect on health. Social Science and Medicine, 62, 189-198.

Stevenson, E. G. J., Greene, L. E., Maes, K. C., Ambelu, A., Tesfaye, Y. A., Rheingans, R., & Hadley, C. (2012). Water insecurity in 3 dimensions: An anthropological perspective on water and women's psychosocial distress in Ethiopia. Social science & medicine (1982), 75(2), 392-400. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.03.022

DeSantis, A. (2002). Smoke screen: An ethnographic study of a cigar shop's collective rationalization. Health Communication, 14, 167-198.

Schulz, P. J., & Nakamoto, K. (2013). Health literacy and patient empowerment in health communication: The importance of separating conjoined twins. Patient Education and Counseling, 90(1), 4-11. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2012.09.006

Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care: A Blueprint for Advancing and Sustaining CLAS Policy and Practice.

Bylund, C. L., & Koenig, C. J. (2015). Approaches to studying provider-patient communication. In N. G. Harrington (Ed.), Health communication: an introduction to theory, method and application. New York and London: Routledge.

Street Jr, R. L., Makoul, G., Arora, N. K., & Epstein, R. M. (2009). How does communication heal? Pathways linking clinician-patient communication to health outcomes. Patient Education and Counseling, 74(3), 295-301.

Netherland, J., & Hansen, H. (2017). White opioids: Pharmaceutical race and the war on drugs that wasn’t. BioSocieties, 12(2), 217-238. doi:10.1057/biosoc.2015.46

Dutta, M., Kaur, S., & Comer, S. (2014). "Respect our rights" - Voices of foreign domestic workers negotiating structures. Retrieved from:

Nelson, E., Edmonds, A., Ballesteros, M., Encalada Soto, D., & Rodriguez, O. (2014). The unintended consequences of sex education: an ethnography of a development intervention in Latin America. Anthropology & Medicine, 21(2), 189-201. doi:10.1080/13648470.2014.918932

Vargas, R. (2016). How health navigators legitimize the Affordable Care Act to the uninsured poor. Social Science & Medicine, 165, 263-270. doi:

Girod, S., Fassiotto, M., Grewal, D., Ku, M. C., Sriram, N., Nosek, B. A., & Valantine, H. (2016). Reducing implicit gender leadership bias in academic medicine with an educational intervention. Acad Med, 91(8), 1143-1150. doi:10.1097/acm.0000000000001099

Whittle, H. J., Palar, K., Seligman, H. K., Napoles, T., Frongillo, E. A., & Weiser, S. D. (2016). How food insecurity contributes to poor HIV health outcomes: Qualitative evidence from the San Francisco Bay Area. Social Science & Medicine, 170, 228-236. doi:

Berezin, M., & Eads, A. (2016). Risk is for the rich? Childhood vaccination resistance and a Culture of Health. Social Science & Medicine, 165, 233-245. doi:

Keene, D. E., & Geronimus, A. T. (2011). "Weathering" HOPE VI: the importance of evaluating the population health impact of public housing demolition and displacement. J Urban Health, 88(3), 417-435. doi:10.1007/s11524-011-9582-5

Ackermann, N., Goodman, M. S., Gilbert, K., Arroyo-Johnson, C., & Pagano, M. (2015). Race, law, and health: Examination of ‘Stand Your Ground’ and defendant convictions in Florida. Social Science & Medicine, 142, 194-201. doi:

Madden, E. F. (2015). Cultural Health Capital on the margins: Cultural resources for navigating healthcare in communities with limited access. Social Science & Medicine, 133(0), 145-152. doi:

Ho, E. Y., Leung, G., Chao, M. T., Pritzker, S. E., Hsieh, E., Chi, H.-L., Chan, D., Huang, S., Ruan, Q., & Seligman, H. K. (under review). A pilot study of integrative nutritional counseling combining Chinese medicine and biomedicine for Chinese Americans with type 2 diabetes: A mixed-methods study.

Course Policies

Community-Engaged Learning and Our Community Partner Co-Educators

Because this classroom extends beyond the confines of USF, it is important to be clear about expectations and course policies regarding your work and time with community partners and USF Advocates for Community Engagement (ACE). Community partners and ACEs are co-educators in this class. You should view your work in the community as an extension of your work in this classroom and treat partners with the same level of professionalism and respect that you would give any other USF professor. You will work like an apprentice – someone who supports the essential work of the organization while engaging in hands on, supervised learning. Successful completion of your health communication project will require you to interact meaningfully with organization staff and clients and function as participant observers while on site.

To that end, I expect you to:

  • Build trusting relationships with your site supervisor, organization staff, and clients by demonstrating respect, curiosity, and humility.
  • Use professional communication in proactively working with community partners to set up visits to the organization, solicit feedback on project ideas, and convey emergency schedule changes.
  • Show up on time or early, dress in accordance with organization's policies, and be ready to be helpful (e.g. put your phone or other distractions away).
  • Communicate any issues with your community partner to me as soon as possible so we can trouble shoot them together.

Just as you can fail a class for not showing up or failing to turn in assignments, you can fail this class through not adequately completing your CEL learning requirements or acting unprofessionally. Your community partner supervisors will also provide feedback on your group project and participation grades.

Our community partners and days/times are:

** Fill in later with approved sites, times, on-site hours requirements (22-25 hours) and contact information **

Students with Disabilities

If you are a student with a disability or disabling condition, or if you think you may have a disability, please contact USF Student Disability Services (SDS) at (415) 422-2613 within the first week of class, or immediately upon onset of disability, to speak with a disability specialist. If you are determined eligible for reasonable accommodations, please meet with your disability specialist so they can arrange to have your accommodation letter sent to me, and we will discuss your needs for this course. For more information, visit the SDS website


Attendance is required at all classes. If you are contagiously ill, do not come to class. Except under extreme and excused circumstances, excessive absences (more than 2) will negatively and significantly affect your attendance/participation grade. As a college student you already know that your education is in your hands. Take responsibility for yourself and bring written documentation for any absences you may have. Just as you expect me to inform you of absences in advance, I expect you to let me know via email, phone, or in person when you anticipate missing class. In addition, when you return from an absence, it is your responsibility to find out from me what you missed. You may also want to contact a classmate if you miss class:

________________________ Name/Email ______________________ Name/Email

Late or Missing Work/Missing Tests

A general rule to follow is that late assignments and missed tests cannot be made up. All makeup tests due to excusable absences will be deducted 5%. All excused late papers will be deducted 10% per 24-hour period late starting at the due time/day. Any papers over 3 days late (including weekends) will not be accepted unless it is pre-arranged. If you know you will be absent, especially when something is due, you must speak to me or email me in advance to make arrangements. It is better to turn in a half completed assignment than come to class with nothing and hope for an extension. Additionally, ALWAYS provide written documentation for excused absences. We all have unforeseen circumstances in our lives so do not wait until the last minute to complete your assignments or study for tests! ALWAYS back up all your work. Computer problems are unacceptable excuses for turning in late work.

Grading/Outside of Class Work

Assignments were created with the expectation that students will engage in approximately 8 hours of out-of-class work per week.

All assignment grades will be posted to Canvas so you should be able keep track of your course grade at any time throughout the semester. Final grades will not be rounded.

% Points Grade
97-100% 485-500 A+
93-96.9% 465-484 A
90-92.9% 450-464 A-
87-89.9% 435-449 B+
83-86.9% 415-434 B
80-82.9% 400-414 B-
77-79.9% 385-399 C+
73-76.9% 365-384 C
70-72.9% 350-364 C-
67-69.9% 335-349 D+
63-66.9% 315-334 D
60-62.9% 300-314 D- Lowest Passing Grade for Core and University Credit
0-60% 0-299 F


Assignment Points %
Test 1: 75 points 15%
Test 2: 100 points 20%
Health Disparities Papers:
Annotated Bib
Final Editorial + Portfolio
125 points
25 points
50 points
50 points
Health Campaign/Intervention Group Project 100 points 20%
Reflections (5) 50 points 10%
Reading Questions/Flipboard/ Participation 50 points 10%
Total 500 Points 100%

Detailed assignment instructions will be posted to Canvas.

  • Your health disparities papers will examine a health disparity that your CEL-site is working to reduce. In that series of papers, you will explore what research has been done on this topic, propose additional research to address unknown issues, and finally write an editorial about one aspect for improving this health disparity. A combination of your work at the CEL-site + classroom learning + your own research will be used for these papers.
  • Group project will be completed with others in the class at the same site. Each site’s project may be different and should involve a) finding out the organization’s and community’s needs and desires. This portion will be done in collaboration with your CEL-site; b) some work product or process that meets those needs/desires; c) evaluation of its impact. A portion of your grade will be determined by your community partner supervisors.
  • Reflections will be done some in class and some as homework posted to Canvas.

Learning and Writing Center

The Learning and Writing Center provides assistance to all USF students in pursuit of academic success. Peer tutors provide regular review and practice of course materials in the subjects of Math, Science, Business, Economics, Nursing and Languages. Other content areas can be made available by student request. To schedule an appointment, log on to TutorTrac. Students may also take advantage of writing support provided by Rhetoric and Language Department instructors and academic study skills support provided by Learning Center professional staff. For more information about these services contact the Learning and Writing Center at (415) 422-6713, email: or stop by our office in Cowell 215. Information can also be found on the Learning and Writing Center website.

Academic Integrity

As a Jesuit institution committed to cura personalis -- the care and education of the whole person -- USF has an obligation to embody and foster the values of honesty and integrity. USF upholds the standards of honesty and integrity from all members of the academic community. All students are expected to know and adhere to the University's Honor Code. You can find the full text of the code online.

The policy covers:

  • Plagiarism — intentionally or unintentionally representing the words or ideas of another person as your own; failure to properly cite references; manufacturing references.
  • Working with another person when independent work is required.
  • Submission of the same paper in more than one course without the specific permission of each instructor.
  • Submitting a paper written by another person or obtained from the Internet.
  • The penalties for violation of the policy may include a failing grade on the assignment, a failing grade in the course, and/or a referral to the Academic Integrity Committee and a letter shared among the other Communication Studies faculty.

  • The penalties for violation of the policy may include a failing grade on the assignment, a failing grade in the course, and/or a referral to the Academic Integrity Committee and a letter shared among the other Communication Studies faculty.

To protect yourself against plagiarism, keep copies of all your rough drafts and photocopies of sources cited and backup to Google Docs. When it doubt, cite it and/or ask questions about how to correctly cite sources. No matter how bad the semester is going for you, do not resort to intentional plagiarism or turn in sloppy work with unintentionally plagiarized sections. If you cannot complete an assignment, it is much better for you to come and speak to me about it than to fabricate, copy, buy, or otherwise plagiarize a paper. When in doubt, (a classmate offers you help, you don’t know if you’ve quoted too much material, another professor is allowing you to use the same articles for another assignment) ASK first!

Behavioral Expectations

All students are expected to behave in accordance with the Student Conduct Code. Students whose behavior is disruptive or who fail to comply with the instructor may be dismissed from the class for the remainder of the class period and may need to meet with the instructor or Dean prior to returning to the next class period. If necessary, referrals may also be made to the Student Conduct process for violations of the Student Conduct Code.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

CAPS’ diverse staff offers brief individual, couple, and group counseling to student members of our community. CAPS services are confidential and free of charge. Call (415) 422-6352 for an initial consultation appointment. Telephone consultation through CAPS After Hours is available Monday - Friday from 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., 24 hours during weekends and holidays; call the above number and press 2. Further information can be found on the CAPS website

Confidentiality, Mandatory Reporting, and Sexual Assault

As instructors, one of our responsibilities is to help create a safe learning environment on our campus. We also have a mandatory reporting responsibility related to our role as faculty. We are required to share information regarding sexual misconduct or information about a crime that may have occurred on USF’s campus with the University. Here are some useful resources related to sexual misconduct:

  • To report any sexual misconduct, students may visit the Title IX coordinator (UC 5th floor) or find other options on the USF student life page.
  • Students may speak to someone confidentially or report a sexual assault confidentially by contacting Counseling and Psychological Services at (415) 422-6352.
  • For an off-campus resource, contact San Francisco Women Against Rape (SFWAR) (415) 647-7273.

Student Accounts - Last day to withdraw with tuition reversal

Students who wish to have the tuition charges reversed on their student account should withdraw from the course(s) by the end of the business day on the last day to withdraw with tuition credit (census date) for the applicable course(s) in which the student is enrolled. Please note that the last day to withdraw with tuition credit may vary by course. The last day to withdraw with tuition credit (census date) listed in the Academic Calendar is applicable only to courses which meet for the standard 15-week semester. To find what the last day to withdraw with tuition credit is for a specific course, please visit the Online Class Schedule.

Financial Aid - FAFSA priority filing deadline (undergraduates only)

March 2 - Priority filing deadline for FAFSA (The Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for continuing undergraduates.


Because this class is discussion oriented, each student’s active participation is essential to a productive in-class experience. This requires both pre-class preparation and in-class contribution (in class-wide discussions, small groups, workshops, or other in-class activities). However, at the other extreme, dominating class time and not allowing other students to contribute, as well as disruptive chatter, arriving late for class, and unwillingness to accomplish in-class workshops and activities will hurt your participation grade. Active participators are reflexive and respectful of the audience of class members. Active participators are also present and active throughout the semester, not just at the beginning or the end of the semester or when grades are distributed. Please feel free contact me throughout the semester if you would like to talk about your level and quality of class participation. Coming to office hours can count towards participation!

Note on participation: To foster an effective learning environment, we must all agree to listen, be respectful, and open to one another’s viewpoints. Hostile, demeaning, or harassing behavior will not be tolerated.

Students often ask, “How can I get an A in this class?”

You and I both have high standards for learning and achievement. In this class, A work is superior and clearly shows your concentrated effort, attention, and detail. A work is uniquely insightful and will obviously exceed all minimum criteria. Completing the assignment in an adequate manner earns you a C (or average) grade. If you would like to earn an A or a B in this course, be prepared to work hard from the beginning of the term all the way to the end, spend substantial time and energy on assignments outside of class, and positively contribute in class. Academic Concerns and Expectations As your professor, you can expect that I will always come to class prepared, assist you with learning, act professionally, and treat you fairly. If you feel that I have acted unprofessionally or otherwise failed to meet my responsibilities as an instructor, please bring the matter to my attention so that we can work together to resolve the problem. In addition, as a student, I also expect you to come to class prepared, turn off electronic distractions (email, Instagram, cell phone notifications, etc.), participate appropriately, and act professionally toward your fellow classmates and me.

Let the Learning Begin…

I am very glad you are a member of this class! If you have any questions or concerns or would just like to chat, my office is on the 3rd floor of Kalmanovitz Hall. I encourage all of you to stop by and see me throughout the semester. I truly hope we can learn from each other and grow through the experience in this course. Please let me know how I can be of assistance.  

9/9 9/11 9/13 CBPR/Health Campaigns/CCA Annotated Bibliography Due Social Construction of Health and Illness + Narrative Lay Perspectives and Health Dutta et al: Respect Our Rights Campaign Annotated Bibliography Due Sharf & Vanderford: Illness Narratives Smith et al: Aging and Eating in the Rural Southern US

Tentative Class Schedule (subject to change!)
Week Date Topic(s) Readings and Assignments Due
1 8/21 Intro to Course: Article Structure (Review). In Class Writing Download/Print Syllabus & Articles Remen (1996) In the Service of Life Ndiaye et al (2011) Comm and Health Disparities
8/23 Intro to Health Communication
Healthy People 2020/2030
Ndiaye et al (2011) Comm and Health Disparities
2 8/26 What is Community Engaged Learning? Eby (1998) Why Service-Learning is Bad McKnight (2017) ABCD The Essentials
8/28 Health: A universal human right? Assign Papers Assignment Farmer: Rethinking Health and Human Rights UN Declaration of Human Rights (Especially Article 25)
8/30 Library Review Reflection #1 Materials: TBA
3 9/2 Labor Day *Start CEL placements this week*
9/4 Health Equity Cameron: Advancing Equity in Clinical Preventive Services
9/6 Socio-Cultural Determinants of Health,Census Date: Last Day to Drop a Class with a Refund Ho: Socio-Cultural Factors in HC
4 9/9 CBPR/Health Campaigns/CCA
Annotated Bibliography Due
Dutta et al: Respect Our Rights Campaign
Annotated Bibliography Due
9/11 Social Construction of Health and Illness + Narrative Sharf & Vanderford: Illness Narratives
9/13 Lay Perspectives and Health Smith et al: Aging and Eating in the Rural Southern US
5 9/16 Youth Speaks: The Bigger Picture
Reflection #2

Introduce Group Project
Choose two videos from:
Tervalon & Murray-Garcia (1998) Cultural Humility
Read Group Assignment Sheet
9/18 Case Study: Smoking and Health Literacy
Return Annotated Bibs
DeSantis: Smoke Screen
Bring an article about anti-smoking – know its main findings
9/20 Water Insecurity Stevenson et al: Water insecurity…
6 9/23 Health Literacy and Cultural Competency, CLAS standards, LEP Schulz & Nakamoto: Health Literacy and Patient Empowerment
[Optional: CLAS Standards]
9/25 Proposal Workshop
Reflection #3
Bring worksheet for paper proposal
Hickmon (2015) Double Consciousness
9/27 Provider-Pt Comm Bylund & Koenig: Approaches to Provider-Patient Comm
[Optional: Street et al.]
7 9/30 Opioid addiction/medical marijuana
Test Review Posted
Netherland & Hansen: White opioids
10/2 Needs Assessment Reading TBA
10/4 Proposal Due Proposal Due
8 10/7 Test Review Must have 3/4 of the Study Guide done for Q&A!
10/9 Test 1 Part 1 Test 1 Part 1
10/11 Test 1 Part 2 Test 1 Part 2
9 10/14 Fall Break No classes!
10/16 Access & Resources: Cultural Health Capital Madden: Cultural Health Capital
10/18 Educational Interventions Girod et al: Reducing Implicit Gender Bias
10 10/21 Food Insecurity Whittle et al: Food Insecurity and HIV Disparity
10/23 Sexual Health Education Nelson et al: The Unintended Consequences
10/25 Topic TBA Public Health Intervention Example
11 10/28 Health Insurance and Guest Speaker Kamal Harb
Editorial and Portfolio Due
Vargas: How Health Navigators Legitimize the ACA Editorial and Portfolio Due
10/30 Reflection #4. Led by Star Moore, Director of CEL, McCarthy Center Materials TBA
11/1 Race and Health: Weathering
Last Day to Drop Class
Keene & Geronimus: Weathering
12 11/4 Group Project Work Day Materials TBA
11/6 Public Policy and Health
Case Study: Stand Your Ground
Ackermann et al.: Race, Law, and Health
11/8 Editorials Workshop Bring Full Draft of Editorial
13 11/11 Integrative Health Care Ho et al: Pilot INC for Type 2 Diabetes
11/13 Reflection #5
Paper and Portfolios Due
Paper and Portfolios Due to Canvas and to Community Partners
11/15 Topic TBA
Have you invited your Community Partners to Final Presentations yet?
Topic TBA
Have you invited your Community Partners to Final Presentations yet?
14 11/18 Test Review Must have 1/2 of the Study Guide done for Q&A!
11/20 Test 2 Part 1 Test 2 Part 1
11/22 Test 2 Part 2 Test 2 Part 2
15 11/25 Group Workshopping Materials TBA
11/27 Group Workshopping Materials TBA
11/29 Thanksgiving No class
16 12/2 Class Wrap-up  
11/27 Group Projects and Presentations Group Projects and Presentations
Final Exam Time Group Projects and Presentations Group Projects and Presentations