Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Racism & Health Inequities (RacismLab)

The toxicity of racism has long been understood by communities of color - and with the growth of camera phones and social media, there has been a rapid growth in the public documentation and discussion of racism in the US. Within the Academy, there is a growing interest and scientific literature in multiple disciplines systematically documenting the linkages between racism and social, economic, political, and health-related resources and constraints. Nevertheless, there continues to be a lack of clarity about the ways in which racism affects the lives - and particularly the health - of people of color, making response and intervention challenging. This lack of clarity stems from little integration of scientific knowledge and collaboration across disciplines to foster deep theory development and hypothesis testing. Therefore, we are developing a transdisciplinary working group to bring together student and faculty scholars to develop innovative theoretical frameworks and empirical approaches to better understand the impact of racism on health.


Upcoming Events


Working group objectives
  1. To support high-quality transdisciplinary research on racism
    1. Meet during the first week of each month to discuss and work on collaborative projects. These projects may include manuscripts and grants, but the discussions may also include methods to integrate multiple disciplines into research on racism.
    2. Submit at least one manuscript from the group per academic year on racism and health. Faculty members of the group will provide at least one opportunity for collaborative empirical research on racism appropriate for publication.
    3. Develop a colloquium speaker series for 2016-2017 to bring leading scholars in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and public health to discuss racism to the larger UM community.
  2. To support graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in their progress through their career trajectories
    1. Meet during the second and fourth week of each month for four-hour writing retreats where group members gather for dedicated, uninterrupted writing time.
    2. Meet during the third week of each month for student presentations on current research so that students not only receive feedback on their projects from multiple perspectives, but also so that students gain experience discussing their work in public.
    3. Provide opportunities, particularly to graduate students, for collaboration on grants and manuscripts. Publications are strongly encouraged in most social science and health disciplines, but students often report that there are few structured opportunities available.

Graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and junior faculty from any scientific discipline who are interested in research on racism and committed to participating in all meetings are welcome to join our core working group membership.

Research Themes



Racism, Stress, & Health

Resilience in Aging

Social Networks & Health

Disability Dynamics

Gene-Environment Interaction


Margaret Hicken, Faculty sponsor, Research Assistant Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

I am currently a Research Assistant Professor at the Survey Research Center of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, with an additional appointment in the Division of Nephrology in the Department of Internal Medicine. Both my pre- and post-doctoral training has emphasized interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to the study of health inequities, first at the Population Studies Center and then as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, both at the University of Michigan.

Broadly speaking, I examine the ways in which social forces link racial group membership to the risk of poor health, particularly those conditions related to cardiovascular and renal diseases. In the US, despite tremendous resources devoted to the elimination of health inequalities, evidence suggests that they are growing. I would argue that our inability to eliminate (or even reduce) these inequalities is due to a lack of truly interdisciplinary approaches. Throughout my research program, I ground my approach to the study of race in the social sciences while integrating the biological sciences to ensure that the mechanisms I examine are both socially- and biologically-plausible.

Email: mhicken (at) umich (dot) edu

Full Profile

Courtney McCluney, PhD Candidate, Psychology Department, Personality and Social Contexts, University of Michigan

My research interests broadly focus on identity and intersectionality in the workplace to support the full representation of underrepresented persons in organizations. I study the phenomenological experiences of underrepresented groups at work, including their perceptions of racism and sexism when it is masked as rudeness or incivility. The proliferation of subtle workplace mistreatment effectively decreases women, ethnic minorities, and women of color’s organizational commitment and psychological well-being. To counter this effect, my work also studies processes that facilitate positive identity construction among individuals with marginalized workplace identities. My dissertation focuses on Black women clergy’s narratives as a mechanism to construct a positive leader identity, despite contextual and societal barriers that discourage their pursuit of formal leadership roles. I also study how intersectionality affects organizational policies and women of color leaders. Intersectionality – as a theoretical and analytic tool – can enable companies to identify workplace practices that reinforce power hierarchies, such as how we conceptualize a prototypical leader. Centering my research on the leadership experiences of women of color can identify other behaviors and beliefs that result in successful outcomes, which disrupts the patriarchal, androcentric ideology of leaders. This research effectually supports the advancement of employees from marginalized workgroups, including women of color.

Email: mccluney (at) umich (dot) edu


Linnea Evans, PhD Candidate, Health Behavior and Health Education Department, Population Studies Center Trainee, University of Michigan

Broadly, my research interests are centered on social-structural determinants of health inequities, especially at the intersection of race and gender across the life-course. My dissertation research considers differences in daily experiences in adolescence and young adulthood through the examination of time-use. In addition to being a direct indicator of demands on the individual, socially patterned differences in time-use may reflect structured opportunities, demands and constraints in households and larger environments by race and gender. Through my research, I aim to document the social patterning of time-use and consider how these differences may contribute toward differential trajectories into stress-related health conditions. This line of research seeks to identify pathways that may contribute to well-documented health disparities, such as early-onset hypertension among Blacks in the U.S, and in particular Black women. Prior to engaging in my doctoral research, I worked in public health for over 10 years, both domestically and globally. Drawing upon these prior experiences and my current research bolsters my interest in connecting the U.S. perspective on racism and health with models employed in other global contexts to address issues of equity in health.

Email: laevans (at) umich (dot) edu

Myles I. Durkee, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Psychology Department, Personality and Social Contexts, University of Michigan

Myles Durkee's research examines how racial/ethnic minority students negotiate racial dynamics within predominantly White school contexts. Specifically he examines the transition from high school to college to develop an understanding of how students acclimate to new school contexts and develop strategies to navigate racial dynamics pertaining to school racial climate, microaggressions, discrimination, and racial/ethnic identity development. Additionally, Myles evaluates how individuals internalize racial messages and insults that occur from members outside of their racial group as well as from members within their racial group.

Email: mdurkee (at) umich (dot) edu


Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, MPH, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan

My research focuses on residential stratification and the ways in which inequalities in exposure to neighborhood resources, hazards, and opportunity structures affect disparities in health and illness over the life course and across generations. My dissertation utilized the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to investigate how variations in the duration and timing of exposure to neighborhood disadvantage throughout childhood and adolescence affected black/white patterns of self-rated health, obesity incidence, and smoking uptake in early adulthood. Findings documented that African American respondents were not only more likely than whites to ever reside in neighborhoods characterized by high levels of structural disadvantage and disinvestment, but were also more likely to be born into and remain in similar types of environments for repeated or prolonged periods of time. Longer-term exposure to such adverse neighborhood conditions throughout the child and adolescent life course, and from ages 10 to 17 in particular, was associated, in turn, with worse health outcomes later in life. Currently, I am conducting research with colleagues at the University of Washington examining the long-term consequences of neighborhood air pollution on mortality, functional limitations, and chronic disease diagnoses, as well as the extent to which individual-, household-, and neighborhood-level stressors heighten vulnerability to the deleterious impacts of such exposures. I am also collaborating on a project exploring how the neighborhood environment moderates race and gender disparities in substance use, other mental health-related outcomes, and mortality among former prisoners released on parole in Michigan.

Email: nicolekw [at] umich [dot] edu

Nicole Novak, PhD Candidate, Department of Epidemiology, Doctoral Trainee, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan

Nicole Novak's work focuses broadly on race/ethnicity, racialization, chronic stress and chronic disease risk. Her dissertation examines links between histories of migration and biological markers of stress among Latinos in the US. She is part of a multi-site mixed-methods evaluation of community ID cards as a potential mitigator of racialized stressors for immigrants of color. She is also interested in the history of race and racism in public health and works on a historical project examining ethnic bias in eugenic sterilizations in state hospitals in California.

Email: novakn (at) umich (dot) edu

Kristen M. Brown, PhD Candidate, Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan

My research interests focus on understanding gene x (social) environment interactions and how these relationships contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in health. The contribution of social determinants (e.g. socioeconomic status, psychosocial stress, neighborhood environment, socially constructed racial categories) to health has been well established. However, the mechanisms through which social exposures “get under the skin” to affect biological functioning have yet to be elucidated. Given the advancements demonstrating that gene expression can be modified by the physical environment, researchers have recently proposed that gene expression may be an important biological mechanism that mediates associations between the social environment and health.

Using the large, ethnically diverse Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, the goal of my dissertation project is to assess the associations between a number of social and psychosocial exposures with expression of genes that have been deemed "socially sensitive" in the literature. Further, I am investigating whether social and psychosocial factors mediate the relationship between race/ethnicity and gene expression.

Email: brownkri (at) umich (dot) edu

So'Phelia Marrow, Dual Master's Student, School of Public Health & School of Social Work, University of Michigan

I am a dual master's student with the School of Public Health and the School of Social Work. My interests in public health lie in health disparities and my interest in social work lies in social policy and evaluation/community and social systems. I am particularly interested in racial residential segregation and how that has affected wealth distribution in the African American community.

Email: sopmarie (at) umich (dot) edu


Nia Heard-Garris, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Clinical Scholars®; Clinical Lecturer, University of Michigan

As an academic pediatrician, Dr. Heard-Garris cares about child health broadly. She aims to address undesirable events that may occur in childhood and impact health along the life course. Among these events, one major area of focus is vicarious racism. Dr. Heard-Garris' work examines the relationship between vicarious racism (racism experienced indirectly) and child health. She is especially interested in media-based exposure to vicarious racism. Dr. Heard-Garris also is exploring the impact of vicarious racism on racial socialization practices of caregivers and parents. Ultimately, eliminating these exposures for kids is what drives her work.

Email: agiset (at) umich (dot) edu

Amanda Richardson Onwuka, PhD Candidate, Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan

Amanda Richardson Onwuka is a fifth year doctoral candidate in Epidemiology at the University of Michigan under the mentorship of Drs. Carlos Mendes de Leon and Ana Diez Roux. She studies psychosocial determinants of cardiovascular disease, with particular attention to social and geographic predictors of heterogeneity in CVD in African Americans. Prior to joining Michigan, she was a Public Health Prevention Service Fellow at the CDC working predominately on policy development and evaluation in chronic diseases. She holds a Bachelors degree in English and Community Health and a Masters of Health Policy and Management both from Tufts University.

Email: richaj (at) umich (dot) edu

Amel Omari, PhD Candidate, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan

Email: oamel (at) umich (dot) edu

Kate Duchowny, PhD Candidate, Department of Epidemiology, University of Michiga

Kate Duchowny is a PhD candidate in the Department of Epidemiology at the Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health. Her current research focuses on the study of muscle weakness among subgroups of older adults. Using nationally representative data from the Health and Retirement Study, she is interested in exploring how best to measure muscle weakness at the population level, the relationship between muscle weakness and disability and how early and mid-life social and environmental factors drive differential vulnerability to muscle weakness across the life course. She is a T32 Public Health & Aging predoctoral trainee and works with Dr. Philippa Clarke.

Email: duchowny (at) umich (dot) edu

Aresha Martinez-Cardoso, PhD Candidate, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan

Aresha Martinez-Cardoso is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan and a predoctoral trainee at the Population Studies Center at UM. She is interested in studying the structural and social determinants of racial/ethnic health inequities with a particular focus on Latino communities. Aresha’s current research projects explore the role of immigration raids and anti-immigration policies on Latino health. She is also collaborating with researchers at UM on a study of the biomarkers of stress and aging. For her dissertation research, Aresha hope to explore how structural disadvantage shapes cardiovascular disease risk among Latino immigrants and US born Latino youth. Prior to her doctoral trainee, Aresha received an MSPH from the UCLA School of Public health where she studied healthcare access and utilization barriers among Latinos.

Email: aresham (at) umich (dot) edu

Amy Ko (Westmoreland), PhD Candidate, Psychology Department, Personality and Social Contexts, University of Michigan

Amy Ko (Westmoreland)'s research interests broadly examine the impact of the model minority myth and internalized oppression on well-being outcomes for Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIAs). Currently, her specific projects examine (1) the role of the model minority myth in explaining why APIAs are not perceived as effective leaders in the workplace, (2) the role of internalized oppression for within-group othering/cultural policing and how APIAs judge the cultural authenticity of other APIAs, and (3) the impact of internalized model minority myth and family pressures for weight loss on APIA women's body satisfaction.

Email: amyko (at) umich (dot) edu

Kennedy Turner, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology and Public Policy, University of Michigan

Kennedy Turner received a BA in Political Science from Howard University in May 2011. She held a research internship at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and she has participated in the Ronald E. McNair and Public Policy Intentional Affairs Programs. Her research interests include race and class, culture, and social mobility.

Email: turkenne (at) umich (dot) edu

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