Flash Seminar at OG asks ‘What is the responsibility of a university to its community?’

On Tuesday, April 24th, OpenGrounds served as the forum for a Flash Seminar called The Intersection of Water and Health. Students ranging from biochemistry-savvy to less scientifically – oriented (or maybe that was just me) – sat down with medical school Professor Rebecca Dillingham and visiting faculty from the University of Venda. The topic of discussion was UVA’s collaboration with the University of Venda to establish sustainable sources of clean water in South Africa.

Undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty from the UVA engineering school and the sciences have been working with the Limpopo community and peers from the University of Venda for the past four years to investigate solutions. Access to clean water is a pivotal public health issue, especially in communities impacted by HIV such as Limpopo, as immune systems compromised by HIV are more susceptible to water-borne pathogens.

Seminar participants chimed in potential solutions ranging from purifiers to ceramic filtration devices.  Dr. Dillingham noted that they eventually used ceramic filtration devices manufactured by local workers.  But the challenges extend beyond the science of water purification.  In South Africa, access to water is a constitutional right, but the government lacks the infrastructure to consistently provide it. The University of Venda has stepped up to provide support.

This raised the question, what is the responsibility of a university to its community? Challenges arose when the concerns of the community and the goals of the water filtration project did not align. To what extent should collaboration with the community drive the execution of the project at the expense of the universities’ perception of what is best for the public good? Project leaders from both University of Virginia and the University of Venda, along with seminar participants, wrestled with these topics for the afternoon. In true Open Grounds fashion, the perspectives of the seminar participants were diverse, but intersected in an interest to serve and collaborate with the global community.

Submitted by Catherine Dame, graduate student studying Marketing and Management at the McInitre School of Commerce.

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