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Kean University

Kean Graduate Finds Her Calling in Public Health Advocacy for Marginalized Communities

Head and shoulders photo of Janiah Fladger

Janiah Fladger ’24 always envisioned having a career in health care when she was growing up, but it wasn’t until she arrived at Kean University that she found her true calling in public health and reproductive justice.

“Everyone has a right to have healthy reproductive health, and a right to their own body,” Fladger said. “I just realized the impact I could have on marginalized individuals.” 

Fladger, of Franklin Township, graduated summa cum laude in January and will take part in Undergraduate Commencement on May 16. This summer she will enter graduate school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, after also being accepted at Columbia University, Boston University and three other schools. 

Her goal is to become a public health advocate focusing on marginalized communities and communities of color, including reproductive justice. At the University of North Carolina, she will enter the master of public health program with a concentration in maternal, infant and family health.

“My overarching goal is to develop community-centered programs that enhance health outcomes and promote equity in reproductive and sexual healthcare services,” said Fladger, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in public health with a minor in women’s and gender studies. “I am passionate about expanding research in this field.”

Fladger said she decided to attend Kean on Accepted Student Day when, as a prospective student, she met Professor Consuelo Bonillas, Ph.D., of the Department of Health and Human Performance at Kean. Bonillas is also coordinator of the women’s and gender studies program.

“She was talking about the program, and I thought, ‘I want her as my professor,’” Fladger recalled. Bonillas became her faculty advisor.

Fladger also held several internships. First, at the Center for Health Policy Development at Kean’s John S. Watson Institute, she did research focused on Black maternal health and infant mortality, gathering community input and identifying action areas in Trenton.

Then, with New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy’s Nurture New Jersey program, she helped plan and run “Family Festivals,” held to connect urban families with healthcare resources and support. 

Both internships supported planning for the state’s new Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Authority, which targets health care for women in marginalized communities.

Kean Senior Vice President for Transformational Learning and External Affairs Joseph Youngblood, Ph.D., lauded Fladger’s commitment and “extraordinary” contributions at the Watson Institute.

"The future of public health and health care in marginalized communities is bright thanks to the dedication of inspiring young scholars like Janiah," he said. "We are extremely proud of Janiah for her well-deserved acceptances to six phenomenal graduate programs and celebrate her as she moves on from Kean to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill." 

Bonillas said Fladger came to Kean with “hope, ambition and a true desire to learn and make a difference.”

“Since the first time I met Janiah, before she started at Kean, she was full of energy and a passion for learning and discovery. That spark only grew as I worked with her at Kean,” Bonillas said. “I am proud to be called one of her mentors and feel privileged if I helped strengthen her resolve to continue her academic and career path in public health.” 

Fladger, also a McNair Scholar and a member of the President’s Advisory Council at Kean, was also involved in campus projects such as an event raising awareness of the need for access to menstrual products for all women.

Her goal is to support and improve community health, particularly in minority communities.

 “I aim to spearhead research projects and community service initiatives aimed at addressing health disparities, particularly within communities of color,” she said. 

“I plan to travel the country and gain global experiences to help expand my understanding of reproductive rights and health equity from different perspectives,” Fladger said. “However, I love New Jersey, and it is my home. I see myself giving back to the communities that have shaped who I am.”