What stage are you in your career and what is your current affiliation?
I am an Assistant Research Professor at the Center for Alcohol & Substance Use Studies and Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University.
How would you describe your research interests?
I am interested in promoting health equity and working to address health disparities caused by systemic racism, especially for Black and African American communities. This includes psychosocial, cultural, and environmental influences on health behaviors, plus ways to increase access to services. Beyond that, I also hope to improve mental health service delivery, ensuring that all people have access to mental health care that respects and values their cultural identities and experiences.
How did you become interested in researching racial equity in the research and treatment of addictive behaviors?
I came to this area by way of trauma research—there is a strong link between trauma and substance use, but there have been drastically different responses, driven by systemic racism, for Black people when they experienced substance use challenges. I’ve also observed the pervasiveness of trauma for Black people, both in my work and in my personal experiences as a multiracial Black woman. Given the sociopolitical issues that we are still grappling with, I think it’s more important than ever to build on the strengths and existing resources in Black communities for prevention and treatment of trauma, substance use, and related mental health concerns, while also working to dismantle systems of white supremacy that perpetuate harm.
Congrats on your recent work published in Psychiatric Services, “Conceptualizing the COVID-19, opioid use, and racism syndemic and its associations with traumatic stress.” What do you view as the key takeaways from this work that are important for Division 50 members to know? What are the implications of this work?
One of the things that we wanted to highlight in this piece was the links between systemic racism and substance use (particularly opioids) in the context of what we saw with Covid-19. We hope that the proposed “COR Syndemic” framework inspires researchers, practitioners, and others engaged in this work to consider the impact of social determinants, moving beyond race-based comparisons and adopting an anti-racism approach to treatment among mental health care systems.
How do you see your research interests evolving in the future?
I hope to build on my previous work by co-producing programs that help young Black adults to build their knowledge and beliefs related to prevention, management, and treatment of traumatic stress and substance use. Early adulthood is an important time to gain skills to manage mental health across the lifespan, particularly for young Black adults with less-established support and resource networks. Most importantly, I want to move beyond documenting the problems, and move toward finding sustainable, community-led solutions.
What would you like to share with someone in the field of addictive behaviors who is interested in examining racial equity in their own work?
Community-based work can be slower-paced and more difficult than other approaches, but it’s so worthwhile—and needed—when we look at how our own systems have reinforced stigma, oppression, and mistrust.
What do you think other researchers in the field of addictive behaviors should consider when conducting research with populations who may experience racial discrimination?
This is a big question! You could start by considering the why and how of your research: why is this work important to you, and does this match with the community’s priorities? How might your research be reinforcing white supremacy and systemic racism, and what steps can you take to avoid doing so? Consultation with racial equity researchers may help. I also strongly believe that the best way to meaningfully promote mental health and wellness is to partner with members of these communities and the people/groups already doing this work to help understand their actual needs and find sustainable solutions.
Resources are available for those struggling with addiction and numerous effective treatments exist. Whether you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one, we encourage you to seek out help.