My research lies at the intersection of the sociologies of health and health disparities, race and ethnicity, and political sociology. Theoretically, I argue the social determinants of health have largely overlooked the impact of politics and policy in health outcomes and that political epidemiology should be prioritized in the study of health. My overarching goals are to investigate the mechanisms and implications of inequality and stratification and how marginalized communities cope with this inequality and attempt to make change. I place special emphasis on physical and mental health disparities and political epidemiology.
In my dissertation research, I evaluate the political and policy determinants of HIV/AIDS mortality, morbidity, and incidence. In this research, I analyze 1) the connection between state- and society-centered perspectives and HIV/AIDS-related outcomes, 2) the connection between LGBT-protective policies and HIV/AIDS-related outcomes, and 3) the utility of state- and society-centered perspectives in influencing LGBT-protective policy’s effects on HIV/AIDS mortality, morbidity, and incidence. I conduct a retrospective, longitudinal study of the 50 U.S. states using data from 1987 through 2015 (N=1,450 state-year observations), exploring the connection between HIV/AIDS-related outcomes and policy and political measures. Drawing data from different sources, I have developed a panel dataset with information on HIV/AIDS case rates and deaths per 100,000 people, LGBT policy protections, spending on social services and state health services, and state- and society-centered political measures.
After I complete my dissertation, I will expand this line of research to explore the impact of LGBT-protective policy on additional health outcomes. I have developed a novel longitudinal state-level measure of LGBT-protective policy including policy protections in the workplace, HIV and healthcare, parenting, public accommodation, relationships, and schools. I will test the impact of LGBT-protective policy on health risks LGBT populations face, including psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, suicide, experiences of violence, cancers, HIV and STIs, obesity, and self-rated health. I currently have manuscripts in progress examining the relationship between LGBT-protective policy and LGBT-targeted hate crime.
Similarly, I will continue work on political epidemiology, exploring the political and policy determinants of health disparities. I currently have manuscripts in progress examining the relationship between the party affiliation of the President and HIV/AIDS-outcomes, and am interested in using nationally representative data to explore similar questions.
Community and Wellbeing
I currently have two co-authored manuscripts under review concerned with community and mechanisms for coping with inequality. In the first piece, we explore the impact of neighborhood cohesion on psychological distress along racial/ethnic-sexual orientation lines. Using data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), results show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals are more likely to experience psychological distress and report lower levels of neighborhood cohesion compared to their non-LGB counterparts. Neighborhood cohesion has varying impacts on psychological distress by racial/ethnic-sexual orientation groups, but in general provides greater protection against psychological distress for non-LGB groups. In the second piece, we utilize data from the Texas Diversity Survey to assess how social media, and more specifically online communities such as Black Twitter, promote overall well-being among African Americans by fostering a sense of support. Results suggest that social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook serve as sites of expression for people of color to air their grievances, find community, and cope with offline forms of racism and discrimination.
I am also interested in larger community impacts on mental wellbeing. I am currently finalizing a co-authored paper that tests the role racial context of country of origin plays in health outcomes for Black immigrants. Research suggests that foreign-born Blacks from countries dominated by people of color tend to be healthier than foreign-born Blacks from white-dominant countries. Using NHIS data, we explore this, and find strong support for the racial context hypothesis. Black immigrants from minority White and racially mixed contexts have better mental health outcomes after controlling for all covariates.
Since 2013, I have also been research staff on a NSF-funded multi-campus interdisciplinary team evaluating how under-represented minority STEM graduate students experience their campus climates. We examine feelings of inclusion and isolation for underrepresented groups and their majority status colleagues, as well as how this impacts commitment, persistence, and success along the path to the professoriate. We have identified key aspects of the mentor-mentee relationship, informal community, and networking as drivers creating isolation and diminishing commitment, persistence, and success for underrepresented minority students. We have presented this work to other large university system schools holding Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) grants as well as made policy recommendations to the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies at Texas A&M University.
Participatory Action Research
Similar to my involvement in the AGEP Program, I am passionate about participatory action research. I have worked with community members and incarcerated youth and their families on exposing and remedying inequities children of color face. Our research finds that children are criminalized, that multiple institutions and agencies involved create a cycle of chasing the “correct” institution or person to resolve problems, and an institutional culture of indifference creates a relaxed attitude and lack of urgency to address mistakes in juvenile justice. We have presented these results to local community groups and justice officials.
This work has also found that breaking of written policy, individual discretion on policy, and at times a lack of formal policy results in a much higher rate of juvenile referrals and detentions in Brazos County, Texas (37 referrals per 1,000 juveniles), compared to the state of Texas at large (19 per 1,000). I am interested in continuing this line of participatory action research to address disparities and needs in the community and utilizing public sociology to make change.