Why America Needs More African American Teachers – and How to Recruit and Retain Them

Calls to increase the number of teachers of color, specifically African American teachers, have intensified over the past decade. Educators and their organizations, school administrators, and policymakers increasingly agree that a lack of diversity among teachers hurts U.S. students. But this is not the first time this problem has been highlighted, so we must learn from past mistakes to do a better job of recruiting teachers of color in the future.

America’s Lack of Diverse Educators

Serious appeals to increase the number of African American teachers were first issued back in the 1980s. The shortfall was, ironically, spurred decades earlier by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, Brown vs Board Education that declared the racial segregation of U.S. public schools unconstitutional. After this decision, many all-black schools were closed in southern states (and in border states such as Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia). Because newly desegregated districts did not need as many teachers, they laid off teachers and principals in large numbers. By the late 1960s, when courts and policy makers finally noticed, upwards of 35,000 African American teachers had lost their jobs.

In northern cities where de facto segregation prevailed, the number of African American teachers was always considerably smaller. As the number of black teachers in southern and border states dwindled, courts demanded that northern school districts hire greater numbers of African American teachers. For example, in Boston (where I taught before court-ordered desegregation in 1974) the public school system scrambled to hire African Americans. During this period, however, teacher testing and certification took root – and African American teachers passed the certification tests at lower rates than their white counterparts.

By the 1990s across the United States, the typical teacher candidate was a white, middle class suburban or rural woman, a trend that continues today. Yet in the same era, the public-school population was becoming more diverse. To address the mismatch between teachers and their students, schools and colleges of education modified their curricula – in most cases to address teachers’ beliefs and behavior on matters of diversity. Efforts to recruit, train, and retain teachers of color were, ironically, sidelined. By now, schools and programs that create and train America’s teachers stress “educating” prospective teachers mainly on providing new teachers with information to counter stereotypical thinking, racial and cultural biases, and a sense of white racial privilege. These efforts do not actually diversify educational workforces.

Even more troubling – when small numbers of teachers of color are hired, they are often assigned to the most challenging schools that have the fewest resources and the highest rates of poverty. They are expected to be disciplinarians charged with handling the most intractable students. Stress and burnout lead many to quit teaching.

Why It Matters

Research has shown for some time that African American pupils benefit in a variety of ways when they have African American teachers. Black students with such teachers are less likely to be expelled or suspended, are more likely to graduate, and are more likely to be recommended for participation in “gifted and talented” programs. Black students with black teachers are also less likely to be mistakenly referred to special education programs for those with “behavioral disorders.”

African American students are not the only ones who benefit when classrooms have more black teachers. Students of every background benefit from encountering and interacting with African Americans in the educational system and among authority figures. Unfortunately, many Americans do not fully understand the benefits that accrue to students of all backgrounds when they are taught by a diverse group of educators.

What Can be Done to Create a More Diverse Teaching Force

If policymakers, principals, teacher educators, and state legislators are serious about increasing the number of African American teachers, they need to consider the following steps:

  • Hiring more African American educators for faculty positions at universities – especially in colleges of education.
  • Creating pathways for African Americans to enter teaching – by developing programs with community colleges to recruit and prepare underrepresented teachers, establishing programs that encourage teacher aides to pursue the education required to become certified teachers, and identifying excellent public schools that could serve professional development sites for underrepresented teachers.
  • Modifying the curriculum and teaching tactics. Coursework should build on student and community strengths. Teacher candidates should receive training on how to draw on the resources actually available to specific sets of students’ and their local communities – a tactic that has been shown to create positive learning outcomes students.
  • Developing and funding programs that provide forgivable loans to teachers who work for a specified period in minority or high-poverty schools.
  • Ending the practices that isolate African American teachers and treat them as tokens of diversity. Teachers from underrepresented backgrounds should be encouraged with good assignments and extra resources, not given the most difficult teaching assignments, assigned the least prestigious courses, and sent to the least-resourced classrooms and schools.

Current research offers ample evidence that African American teachers are one critical component of improving the learning outcomes for all of America’s students, including students of color. Given all that scholars and practitioners have learned, we know that the value of recruiting and retaining African American teachers goes beyond the simple idea that such teachers are good role models. Their greater presence offers many advantages to students, schools, and communities. They are vital contributors to effective and democratic schools.

Why Growing Urban Inequality is as Much About White Affluence as Minority Poverty

American cities have long been unequal places – with big class and racial gaps that often overlap. Residents of particular neighborhoods often experience many severe deprivations all at once. Scholars try to understand these overlapping urban inequalities by mapping concentrations of racial and ethnic groups along with those areas that experience concentrated poverty, using U.S. Census data to identify areas that are both majority non-white and where more than 40% of residents are poor.

But the other side of the urban inequality story receives less attention. Although concentrated poverty in America’s urban centers has garnered much interest from researchers and policymakers, much less attention is paid to areas of concentrated white affluence. A failure to look at both sides of growing urban inequality is problematic because the growing advantages enjoyed by affluent white urbanites often come at the expense of imposing ever greater disruptions and disadvantages on poor, minority residents.

The Growth of Racially Concentrated Urban Poverty

According to Joseph Cortright and Dillon Mahmoudi, economists and regional development experts at City Observatory, the number of high-poverty neighborhoods across the United States has tripled since 1970. “This growing concentration of poverty,” they conclude, “is the biggest problem confronting American cities.” Furthermore, as my own research in Lexington, Kentucky has shown, racially concentrated areas of poverty are not only at an all-time high, they have also been underestimated for a long time.

Racially concentrated poverty is especially worrisome because it clusters the most disadvantaged people together and multiplies their troubles. Residents of such areas must deal with more health problems and crime, educational deprivation, and lower life expectancies. To address these problems, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has tried to disperse poor people to less disadvantaged areas. In partnership with cities across the country, the Department has undertaken projects like the demolition and redevelopment of public housing. This approach has the effect, however, of placing extra burdens on the most vulnerable, poor, and marginalized urban residents.

What is more, my research in Lexington demonstrates that areas of racially concentrated poverty have expanded, not shrunk, as the city has implemented this kind of plan to disperse poverty. My findings suggest the unworkability of policies that attempt to alleviate concentrated poverty simply by dispersing poor people. For example, HOPE VI is a program that was developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1990s. In Lexington and other areas, this plan aimed to revitalize the public housing projects in U.S. cities by converting them into mixed-income developments – housing that serves not only low-income but also moderate- and high-income residents as well. But so far, this approach has not worked.

In Lexington, HOPE VI projects were built on the former sites of the Bluegrass-Aspendale and Charlotte Court public housing projects. These efforts demolished more than 1000 public housing units and opened the areas to new, mixed-income housing. But this redevelopment failed to reduce concentrated poverty. The problem, of course, is that moving the poor around in space does not make them any less poor. In Lexington, areas of racially concentrated poverty have actually grown over time, as poor residents simply clustered in other parts of the city after being displaced. In turn, the “redeveloped” neighborhoods they left behind have begun to gentrify with an influx of young, predominantly white urbanites. The failure of this approach in Lexington and elsewhere flows from the obvious fact that displacing poor people is a misconceived spatial solution to problems that are fundamentally social.

The Flipside of Concentrated White Affluence

As concentrated urban poverty continues to grow, especially for racial minorities, it represents only one side of the story of rising U.S. urban inequality. It is equally important to consider the flipside of racially concentrated affluence. Alongside growing urban poverty, cities have also experienced the growth of disproportionately white neighborhoods with median household incomes more than twice those of the citywide median. Indeed, in Lexington, racially concentrated affluence is not only far more prevalent than racially concentrated poverty, it has been this way for a long time.

Affluent areas rarely, if ever, receive the same amount of critical scrutiny as neighborhoods populated by poor people of color. It might seem obvious that policymakers see little to worry about for affluent areas. Yet these wealthier and whiter neighborhoods are implicated in the spread of urban poverty. For one thing, as my research shows, over 40% of all residential properties in Lexington’s poorest areas are owned by people outside of those neighborhoods. The already limited financial resources or poor renters flow out to the bank accounts of richer owners living in other areas around the city, or even beyond the city’s borders. Outward flows of money not only reproduce poverty in poor neighborhoods, they can also subsidize wealthy white enclaves at the city’s fringes. Consequently, even though racially concentrated poverty and affluence seem very different, analysts need to keep in mind that the social and economic forces creating both are in many ways intertwined. Understanding the basic and dynamic connections between places and sets of social conditions allows analysts to avoid the misleading either/or dichotomies that too often mark discussions of the causes of urban inequalities.

Rather than seeing concentrated poverty as the opposite of gentrification or other manifestations of urban inequality, these processes should be understood as part of the same system – where poor, non-white residents and neighborhoods are repeatedly put at a disadvantage and drained of resources, while at the same time affluent, mostly white people and their neighborhoods gain more advantages and extra resources. Extreme urban poverty and affluence may seem worlds apart, even in the same city, but they are actually intertwined by complex economic and social linkages that researchers must investigate so policymakers can take them into proper account.

Police Training Needs Urgent Reforms, New Report from American University Reveals

The instructional models that are used to train police officers across the U.S. at the academy, in-service, mid-rank, and leadership levels are in many cases antiquated, inadequate, and in critical need of immediate transformation, according to a new report released by American University’s School of Public Affairs (SPA). Entitled “Re-Envisioning Police Training in the U.S.: Rejecting the Status Quo, Speeding the Pace of Progress Toward a True 21st Century Model”the report is being released on the website of both SPA and the International Association of the Chiefs of Police.

“Today, policing in America is at a transformative juncture when all aspects of policy, practice, and mission are being examined by the very communities they serve,” said Vicky Wilkins, Dean of the School of Public Affairs. “How police officers are trained is the most important factor that dictates how successfully the sworn officers across the U.S. serve their communities.”

Working closely with police, members of non-government organizations and community leaders, and academic experts, the authors of the report identified significant gaps in training that require immediate attention. They urge a major overhaul in training course content at all levels to ensure that officers are better prepared to face complex, life- threatening situations.

The authors of the report emphasize the importance of the training of mid-rank officers and the training of agency leaders to ensure that they are prepared to boldly address constantly emerging issues, for example IACP’s First Line Leadership or Leadership in Police Organizations. Speaking about mid-rank training for police officers, John Firman, professor of practice and co-author of the report, said: “Thousands of newly-minted supervisors receive little or no training in the complexity of their new roles. It is of paramount importance that they receive in-depth training as they go through the difficult transition to supervising former peers and as they learn conflict-resolution skills to address community, organizational, and officer concerns.”

The authors of the report met and held discussions with career police officers, scholars of criminal justice, and community leaders from across the country during a symposium convened by AU SPA’s Department of Justice, Law and Criminology and the Key Leadership Institute.

“This report is an important work that offers a multi-disciplinary approach to a national issue,” said Falls Church Virginia Police Chief Mary Gavin, a member of AU’s Police Training Advisory Committee. “Creating strong bonds among police, community leaders, and experts in the academia is essential to develop evidence-based solutions for training police officers.”

How Inequality and Politics Influence Government Responses to Natural Disasters

By Fernando Tormos, Gustavo García-López, and Mary Angelica Painter

After a hurricane strikes, governments and electric utility companies go to work restoring a sense of normalcy to their communities. Typical disaster recovery efforts include providing food and shelter to the displaced and medical services to the injured, and turning the power back on. While governments and electric utility companies claim that they do not give preferential treatment to specific groups while performing these services, people on the ground have questioned whether such a claim is true in practice. Who is right? When disasters occur, do governments and utility companies place a priority on helping some while neglecting others?

The 2017 hurricane season provides ample evidence of the inequalities that mark disaster recoveries. Within one month, hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria devastated communities in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, making that season one of the costliest to date and one of the deadliest in U.S. history. Hurricane Maria caused a complete power outage in Puerto Rico, the largest blackout that America has ever incurred. This outage is a tragic natural experiment that provides a unique opportunity to understand prioritization during disaster recovery processes. Although a variety of factors determine the groups to which governments and utility companies are most responsive, our research shows that social vulnerability and support for the ruling party are key predictors.

Some Communities are More Vulnerable to Disasters

Everyone is vulnerable to disasters, but some are more vulnerable than others. Vulnerability refers to a community’s exposure to risk, loss, and harm; in particular, social vulnerability describes how resilient a community is, and how the attributes of a particular population will shape not just the impact of a disaster, but also dictate that population’s ability to recover from it. Socioeconomically marginalized groups exhibit marked social vulnerability: they tend to be less prepared for disasters, experience greater impact from those disasters, and—tellingly—also elicit less government responsiveness during disaster recoveries.

Our research shows that, in practice, socioeconomic conditions and partisan politics influence responses to disasters—even though governments and utility companies claim to prioritize the needs of critical infrastructure like hospitals and emergency operation centers. We employed statistical models to explain the distribution of power restoration crews after hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017, and showed that communities with greater numbers of socially vulnerable people waited longer for crews to begin working in their neighborhoods. Our research also found that power restoration crews took fewer days to reach communities that supported the ruling party than those that did not.

How Can Governments and Utility Companies Improve Disaster Recoveries?

To create a more level playing field, governments and utility companies can take steps to achieve equity in disaster response, and save lives in doing so.

  • Prioritize vulnerable communities: Current disaster resource distribution practices tend to leave those in the greatest need behind. Governments and electric utility companies can reduce loss of life and suffering by officially prioritizing vulnerable communities, as they do with critical infrastructure.
  • Invest in disaster preparedness in vulnerable communities: Inequality during disasters is often a reflection of existing inequalities. Governments and utilities can enhance disaster preparedness through greater investment in vulnerable communities on flood prevention, modernizing electric grids, and transitioning away from a heavy dependence on fossil fuel for energy generation.
  • Monitor political disparities: Utility companies and governments tend to coordinate disaster recoveries without much oversight from the communities they are serving (since those communities without power and have a reduced capacity to communicate.) Increased monitoring of how disaster resources are distributed can bring public scrutiny to bear on disaster response, and reduce the tendency to give preferential treatment to communities that are politically supportive of the ruling party.

Preparing for and Recovering from More Frequent Extreme Weather

Climate change is expected to make extreme weather more frequent and damaging. When hurricanes strike, outages will ensue. These outages are more than just inconveniences; they tend to result in loss of life, increased hospitalizations, medical supply shortages, and disruptions of healthcare systems. Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, and especially those people within them who rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment and procedures like ventilators and dialysis, are exposed to greater risks and tend to wait longer for restoration. Prioritizing vulnerable communities during disaster preparedness and recovery holds the potential to reduce loss of life and alleviate their burden of powerlessness.

How Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Schools Prepares Young People to Thrive in a Multiracial Society

Debates about the value and meaning of public education are not just about report cards and standardized test scores. The hope is that public education will equip youth with what they need to reach their full potential and flourish as the next generation of citizens. To achieve this goal, most people realize that public schools need to teach students to navigate their social environments, contribute positively to their communities, and live and work cooperatively with others in the increasingly complex and diverse society.

But there is growing evidence that the United States is falling far short of this goal. Segregation and racial isolation mark most U.S. public schools. Nationally, most White students attend schools that are more than 70 percent White; and in some regions, nearly half of Black and Latino students attend schools that are more than 90 percent minority and overwhelmingly poor.

The promise of diverse, integrated schools was asserted in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Since then the social science supporting school integration has only become stronger, revealing the many ways in which contact between young people from different racial and ethnic groups can transform attitudes and prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society.

Building Relationships Across Groups Promotes Inclusion & Social Cohesion

Researchers have found many ways to foster inclusive schools:

  • Cross-race friendships are especially powerful because emotional bonds form that transform people’s understandings of social relations and make them more motivated to treat members of their friends’ groups as they would treat people in their own group.
  • Cooperative learning strategies promote both academic success and positive intergroup attitudes. These involve having youth from different groups work together and learn from each other, with support from teachers and school staff.
  • Norms provide youth with important values about cross-group relations. Students often become more willing to engage in contact with other racial groups when they observe others doing so in their classrooms, schools, and communities, as well as in the media.

Why Contact With Other Racial & Ethnic Groups is Important for Youth

Children’s early life experiences can have long-term consequences. Once formed, attitudes and beliefs about other groups may become harder to change as youth grow older.

Of course, youth must have opportunities to get to know and interact with members of other racial groups for such meaningful cross-race bonds to develop – and diverse schools offer more of these opportunities. Studies of youth in integrated school environments show that those who learn in such schools report greater interest in living and working in racially and ethnically diverse environments when they become adults, and are more likely actually to do so as adults. By contrast, racially isolated schools may limit opportunities for youth to challenge skewed perceptions and assumptions about people from other racial groups.

Connecting Intergroup Relations to Education Policy

Providing opportunities for interracial contact in integrated schools and classrooms is critical for youth development and efforts to foster a just and vibrant nation. With insights from social science, racially integrated schools and classrooms have important roles to play, if the following principles are followed:

  • Ensure that practices make integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact easier to achieve. Many structures reinforce segregation between communities, schools, and classrooms, limiting both the frequency and quality of intergroup contact students can experience. At the federal, state and district levels, these structures can include school zone and district boundaries, narrow definitions of school quality, and limited interventions to support racial integration. Inside schools, practices like tracking that separate students into different classes based on test performance can lead to racial isolation. Viewing education policies and practices through the lens of maximizing intergroup contact may lead to reforms in how school enrollments and class assignments are designed.
  • Prioritize racially integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact. Clearly, dismantling the effects of segregation cannot be solely the purview of schools. Yet by recognizing the value of racially integrated classrooms as part of the learning environment, schools can support cross-racial contact and engage families and communities as active partners in building inclusive educational environments. Educators, communities, and students can work together to develop a shared vision of racially integrated schools and advocate for the resources and school conditions needed to support that vision.

As the nation faces rapidly shifting demographics amid rising social tensions, public schools remain one of the few social institutions that have the potential to bring young people together across racial and ethnic lines. Guided by scientific research and civic imperatives, policymakers and other civic leaders can make use the public education system to build bridges and knock down barriers that divide youth from diverse backgrounds in classrooms and schools across the country. By helping children and youth from diverse backgrounds build positive ties with one another, diverse schools can lead the way toward a more successful national future.

The Process of Seeking a Judicial Bypass for Abortion May Harm Adolescents

By Kate Coleman-Minahan & Amanda Stevenson

Seventeen-year-old Jane played soccer and dreamed of going to Texas A&M. When she saw the positive pregnancy test, she started to cry. “I want to give my kid everything, the best, better than I have. And I knew I couldn’t do that.” Jane had always been “against abortion.” But, she said, “it was my turn to make the decision and I realized that it was the best decision for me.” She also knew obtaining consent for an abortion from her parents was not a possibility. Her father had told her in the past, “I’ll disown you. You don’t exist to me if you ever [get pregnant].”

Jane lives in Texas, where adolescents under 18 years old are forced by law to obtain parental consent for abortion care. While most pregnant adolescents involve a parent in their abortion decision, some do not live with a parent or fear that disclosing the pregnancy and desire for abortion will endanger them. Some young people, like Jane, have very reasonable fears of being kicked out or emotionally or physically abused. Adolescents living in Texas who cannot, do not want to, or are afraid to involve a parent in their decision must use the courts to ask a judge for a bypass of parental consent. Little is known about adolescents’ experiences with the judicial bypass process. In order to investigate, we interviewed 20 adolescents who sought judicial bypass in Texas in 2015 or 2016. The research team included co-investigators from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, an attorney, and a case manager at Jane’s Due Process, a non-profit organization in Texas providing legal representation for pregnant adolescents.

Burdensome, Unpredictable, and Traumatic

Our research participants described a highly burdensome, frightening, and humiliating process. Adolescents seeking bypass must go to the courthouse, interview with a court-appointed guardian-ad-litem (GAL), and stand before a randomly assigned judge to prove that they are either mature and well-informed or that parental consent is not in their best interest. Even though the legal standards that judges are required to follow are clear, the process as revealed in our interviews was largely unpredictable. Adolescents had to find transportation and take time away from home and school, risking discovery by their parents – the very reason they sought bypass in the first place. Some participants had their bypass granted just a few days after contacting Jane’s Due Process for resources; others, like Jane, experienced delays of over a month, only to be denied. They experienced “fight or flight” responses such as nausea and shaking and feared that saying the wrong thing could mean being forced to carry the pregnancy to term. Some GALs – often those affiliated with a local church – “preached at them” or told them, as Jane experienced, that “it’s never the right option to have an abortion.” Another participant was humiliated by her GAL who “laughed in the courtroom… making fun of me.” Some judges humiliated the adolescents by asking extremely private and sensitive questions about their sexual histories.

Even before our participants started the bypass process, they anticipated and experienced abortion stigma from others, including friends and teachers – a major reason many chose to keep their decision private. Although the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine find that abortion is safe and not associated with psychological consequences, many participants feared physical or emotional harm from the abortion, often because they felt they should be punished for doing something that they were told by others – including GALs and even judges – was morally wrong. That authority figures could convince these young women that they alone deserved punishment for making sexual health choices is ironic, given that Texas rarely provides comprehensive sex education in public schools and denies access to contraception without parental consent.

Furthermore, the humiliation and shame caused by the judicial bypass process may cause lasting trauma. Other research has shown that adverse childhood experiences, stigma, and trauma are all associated with long-term consequences, including depression, anxiety, isolation, and hesitancy to seek health care. Although proponents of the judicial bypass process claim it protects adolescents from harm, it instead appears to cause harm. Our findings lead us to ask: Are parental involvement laws protecting adolescent health and well-being, or are they a tool for adults who oppose abortion rights to restrict access to abortion care and shame adolescents, particularly young women, for their sexuality?

Putting Adolescents’ Health and Well-Being First

Allowing adolescents to make their own decisions about their bodies and futures and to choose who they want to involve in sexual health decisions protects their health and well-being. Our and others’ research suggests that forcing young people to involve adults who may harm them, exposing them to humiliation and trauma through a judicial bypass, and potentially forcing them to carry a pregnancy to term is counterproductive and is not in the best interest of young women. Instead, we should:

  • Respect adolescent autonomy. When adolescents express fear of emotional or physical abuse, they should be trusted and allowed to decide who to involve in their pregnancy decisions.
  • Ensure consistent application of bypass laws. States that continue to force parental involvement must mandate that the process be free from GALs and judges’ interjection of their personal opinions on abortion and provide a timely and effective remedy when they do.
  • Provide free and confidential access to the full range of contraceptive options to adolescents so they may better control if and when they want to parent.
  • Give non-judgmental, confidential, accurate sexual health information. Those who work with young people should follow the recommendations of organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Right before Jane’s judge denied her bypass, Jane declared, “You guys keep telling me I’m not mature enough to make this decision and I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, yet if I’m not mature enough to make a decision like this how am I mature enough to even have a baby and to go through the emotional and physical changes of having a kid?” Jane saw the illogic of the bypass system even as court officials refused to do so. If states like Texas truly want to protect young people from physical and emotional harm, accurate and stigma-free health education and a judicial system that truly respects the autonomy of adolescents must be ensured.

Older African Americans More Physically Active in ‘Green’ Neighborhoods

Adults 50 and older are significantly less active than those younger than 50. Many fall short of the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. However, they still can benefit from some physical activity. Even 15 minutes of daily, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity has shown reductions in all causes of mortality in adults 60 and older.

Growing evidence suggests that living in walkable neighborhoods with greenspaces such as parks and greenery is associated with physical activity. Yet, evidence of this association in older adults remains limited. In addition, few studies have been nationally representative, have focused on neighborhood walking (versus total walking regardless of location), or examined the differences in association depending on the greenspace type (e.g. open space and forest).

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science are the first to explore whether greater amounts of neighborhood open space and forest are associated with neighborhood-based walking in older adults in the United States. Moreover, this is the first known nationally representative study to suggest that physical activity levels among older African Americans may benefit from greater amounts of neighborhood open space, including parks.

The study is based on a quantification of minutes of neighborhood walking from travel diaries from a sample of 73,523 adults ages 65 and older from 52,408 households. Researchers investigated whether these associations vary depending on income, race/ethnicity, sex, or neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage.

Results of the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicineshowed that open spaces, including parks, were associated with 5.4 more minutes of neighborhood walking per day in older African Americans. By contrast, forests were positively associated with more neighborhood walking among whites, where daily neighborhood walking increased by an additional three minutes.

“Although it may seem like an extra three to five minutes of walking per day may not be a clinically significant change in physical activity, it needs to be considered within the context of an additional 35 minutes of physical activity a week,” said Lilah M. Besser, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., first author and an assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, FAU Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and a member of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute and the FAU Institute for Human Health and Disease Intervention (I-HEALTH). “Importantly, our findings are significant in the context of the established health disparities between African Americans and whites, including greater cardiovascular risk factors/disease among African Americans, and the ever-pressing necessity for health equity.”

Similar associations were not observed for other racial/ethnic groups. However, greater neighborhood forests may be borderline associated with less neighborhood walking in Hispanics. When race and Hispanic ethnicity were entered as separate variables in the adjusted models, greater neighborhood forest was associated with less neighborhood walking in Hispanics.

“In addition to physical health benefits, spending time outside provides opportunities for social interactions with neighbors that can reduce social isolation, depression, and anxiety, which can be common in older adults,” said Diana Mitsova, Ph.D., co-author, professor, John DeGrove Eminent Scholar Chair in Growth Management and Development, and director, Visual Planning Technology Lab, FAU Department of Urban and Regional Planning. “In addition, greenspace exposure helps to restore attention and reduce mental fatigue, which may contribute to a better quality of life and successful aging in place.”

Besser and Mitsova suggest the possibility that a greater amount of neighborhood open space may promote physical activity among African Americans because of the geographic and financial accessibility of neighborhood open spaces/parks for physical activity compared with that of gyms and recreational facilities.

“Plans, policies and interventions that promote increased time spent in greenspaces and provision of more greenspaces tailored to the underlying neighborhood populations may provide population-level benefits to multiple aspects of health in older adults and may help to reduce health disparities and achieve health equity,” said Besser.

Among Physicians, Men Make More Than Women: How Do We Change That?

It’s striking and familiar. A new report finds women physicians across all races and ethnicities earn less than their male counterparts. In fact, women physicians earn between 67 cents and 77 cents on the dollar compared to white men physicians.

This new data, which comes from the Association of American Medical Colleges, reinforces that academic medicine must find a better approach to how they pay physicians, write Amy S. Gottlieb, M.D., and Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., in a New England Journal of Medicine perspective that lays out potential strategies to close the gender pay gap in academic medicine.

“The way we pay physicians in this country is a process in desperate need of improvement. Within our traditional way of compensating physicians, the structure is really a crucible in which all the forces that diminish women’s professional value within our institutions converge,” said Gottlieb, chief faculty development officer at Baystate Health and associate dean for faculty affairs at UMass Chan Medical School-Baystate.

It’s a novel approach to considering the problem: understand the drivers beneath the standards for determining a physician’s pay and how they contribute to this persistent salary inequity, then create a new paradigm that’s aligned with institutional values and contributions from both genders.

“We need to reframe the conversation,” said Jagsi, director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan.

“When you consider the primary factors that influence a physician’s salary, women are disadvantaged on every front. This model expects women to have privileges they often lack but that their male colleagues typically take for granted – access to support staff and clinical space, adequate sponsorship and opportunities to take on leadership positions. At the same time, the traditional approach to pay undervalues the types of service disproportionately expected from women,” she added.

The authors recommend institutions begin by conducting salary audits, looking in particular at hiring and promotions. Salary recommendations above or below a standard amount could be brought to a compensation board for approval, a process that would ensure no one is overpaid or underpaid.

In addition, realigning productivity-based metrics to include quality of care or institutional service would recognize important contributions where women often succeed. The authors also recommend unconscious-bias training for anyone involved in recruitment, hiring, evaluation, promotion and salary setting.

“Institutions have to start somewhere and do something. Getting the data, tracking the data, reflecting on what is in their compensation methodology that could be leading to these inequities would be a great first step,” Gottlieb said.

Why Independent Redistricting Commissions Should Draw Electoral District Maps

The drawing and redrawing of electoral districts – which happens every ten years after the Census – is a hotly contested ritual in American politics. At the center of these disputes is partisan gerrymandering, a process in which elected officials draw electoral districts to increase the likelihood their own party will win more seats in the legislature. The redistricting cycle following the 2010 Census has cast a bright light on such practices. After most states drew districts to one party’s advantage, some 240 legal challenges have been filed against the resulting district maps. Critics of partisan gerrymandering are pushing for more neutral ways to draw electoral districts, while defenders of the current system argue that redistricting is always an inherently political exercise.

Are there ways to ensure that districts fairly represent communities and avoid extreme political contentiousness about the drawing and redrawing electoral districts? My research shows that independent commissions present one viable option for eliminating extreme partisanship and serving the public interest in drawing neutral maps.

Renewed Interest in Districting by the Courts

On one hand, the courts have been willing to step in and strike down maps that dilute the ability of a minority group to elect a representative, or when a map violates the standard of equal population. On the other hand, the courts have been reluctant to overturn maps on partisan grounds. While judges have expressed unease about district maps drawn to favor one party over another, they have been unable to articulate an objective standard for evaluating when these maps create unfair advantages for one party over another.

Recent legal challenges, though, may present the courts with sufficient evidence to evaluate the partisan skew in a given district plan. The Supreme Court recently heard a case from Wisconsin where the legislative map was challenged, in part, because social scientists have developed a new set of indicators that suggested the map unfairly advantaged the Republican party. One such indicator, called “the efficiency gap,” is the ratio of a party’s “wasted votes” to the total number of votes cast – where a “wasted vote” is a ballot cast for a candidate who lost or a surplus ballot cast for a candidate who was already going to win. When the efficiency gap is very large, it indicates that one party wasted a large portion of its votes, often because the districts were unfairly drawn. Evidence of a large efficiency gap was persuasive enough that a lower court declared the Wisconsin map unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also heard a challenge to one congressional district in Maryland on the grounds that Republican voters were deprived of First Amendment rights to free association by a district plan that advantaged the Democratic Party.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently threw out the congressional map there and drew a new map for the 2018 midterm elections. In a novel development in redistricting litigation, the map was rejected solely on the basis that it violated sections of the state constitution, with no reference to the U.S. Constitution. This decision could usher in a new era of state-level judicial review of district plans, realizing Justice Felix Frankfurter’s famous concern about the courts entering the “political thicket” of adjudicating district plans. Perhaps the most tangible risk is that the state courts could be inundated with partisan challenges to redistricting plans.

Why Independent Commissions Make Sense

Rather than depend on the courts, history teaches that independent commissions can help avoid partisan conflicts or favoritism in district plans. Examples abound. Concerns that elected officials might manipulate monetary policy led to the creation of the independent Federal Reserve, and the Interstate Commerce Commission was set up to parry interferences by partisan and railroad interests. Congress handed reapportionment authority to the Census Bureau after politicians failed to reapportion the House after the 1920 Census.

The power to draw districts after each Census could be delegated to an independent redistricting commission. As they exist in Arizona and California, such commissions are completely divorced from the state legislature and therefore able to produce maps without the pressure to further or hinder the electoral fortunes of particular representatives or parties. Such concerns are always front and center when legislatures draw district plans. In contrast, social science research shows that commission-drawn plans set the stage for fairer and more competitive elections, and tend to avoid legal challenges.

How can the states institute independent redistricting commissions? Citizens in Arizona and California created their independent commissions directly, through ballot initiatives passed between 2000 and 2010. Most commissions in the West were created through ballot initiatives. Efforts to reform the redistricting process are currently underway in 18 states, and the possibility of creating independent redistricting commissions should be part of these discussions.

But many states cannot proceed by ballot initiatives or referenda. Creating an independent commission in Pennsylvania, for example, would require two consecutive legislatures to pass an identical bill which would then be submitted to the voters for their approval. Beyond a purely state-by-state approach, Congress could amend the Uniform Congressional District Act of 1967 and mandate that all U.S. House districts be drawn by an independent commission with rules and procedures to safeguard the public interest – such as having unelected civil servants select commission members and stipulating that districts must respect the integrity of cities and counties. New federal legislation could take lessons from pioneering states. The Arizona and California commissions demonstrate the value of independence, but the Arizona commission in particular focuses too much attention on a single nonpartisan commission chair. The California commission, by contrast, has four members of the commission that are neither Democrats nor Republicans and the position of the chair rotates among all members.

The Abortion Barriers and Needs of Black Women

By Daniela Mansbach & Alisa Von Hagel

Anti-abortion organizations aim to make abortion illegal for all women – or, barring that, to make abortion as difficult as possible to access. The war on abortion access has many fronts, including mandated delays, special counseling rules, and rules limiting the reasons a woman can offer for wanting to end her pregnancy. At the end of 2017, for example, Ohio passed a law that bans abortion for women whose fetuses have been diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. Ten states bar women from ending pregnancies based on the sex of their fetus, and some state legislatures are currently considering similar bans for abortions based on race. Regardless of the intention of these laws, they create barriers to reproductive care and can also ignore the typical reasons women seek abortions – because the pregnancy was unintended and unwanted and they do not believe they can financially provide for a new child. Many barriers to abortion disproportionately affect Black women.

How the Anti-Abortion Movement Makes Racial Arguments

As part of their broader strategy to restrict access to abortion, many pro-life organizations claim that higher rates of abortion for Black women are evidence of racism on the part of abortion providers and advocates. Of the 160 pro-life websites we surveyed in the course of our research, almost 20% make this claim explicitly, arguing that abortion clinics and doctors target minority women in a systematic and purposeful way. The organizations that link abortion with race often compare abortion with the Holocaust, genocide, and slavery. For example, one such group, Abortion in the Hood, uses images of the Planned Parenthood symbol and the Confederate flag under the headline “which one kills 266 black lives everyday?” One of the most radical organizations we studied, Klan Parenthood, goes so far as to equate pro-choice advocates to Klan members, featuring an image of a doctor wearing a Klan outfit with the slogan: “Abortion, because Lynching is for Amateurs” on their website’s homepage.

Pro-life organizations deploy such messaging about increased abortion rates for Black women to argue that the fight against abortion is the civil-rights struggle of the day, co-opting the rhetoric of anti-racism movements. For example, the anti-abortion group Protecting Black Lives writes that “if the current trend [in abortion rates] continues, the black community may cease to make a significant positive contribution in society.” A similar organization, Black Genocide, emphasizes the political implications of abortion, falsely stating that African-Americans “are the only minority in America that is on the decline in population. If the current trend continues, by 2038 the black vote will be insignificant.” While some might assume these extreme comparisons and imagery would be relegated to the fringe of the abortion debate, they actually have a direct – and growing – effect on state-level policy. This is evident in the increase in laws that restrict access to abortion based on the race of the baby. One such example is the passage of an Arizona law in 2011 that banned abortions based on the race of the fetus, justifying it as a tool for addressing “race-related discrimination that exists in Arizona and throughout the nation.”

The Real Link between Racism and Reproductive Health

Anti-abortion groups find it possible to make extreme racial claims because statistics, such as data from the Guttmacher Institute, show that women of color have higher abortion rates than white women. Despite significant declines for all groups in the past decade, women of color still obtain abortions at a rate two to three times higher than the rate for white women. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, while non-Hispanic Black women account for only 13.3% of the U.S. population, they receive approximately 35% of all abortions.

Yet even though it is accurate to say that Black women have higher rates of abortions in proportion to their share of the general population, research shows that this is due to higher rates of unintended pregnancy among women of color in general, and Black women in particular. When researchers control for rates of unintended pregnancies, Black women do not have a higher percentage of abortions.

  • In 2008, 69% of all pregnancies among Black women were unintended, compared to 56% of pregnancies unintended for Hispanic women and 42% unintended for white women.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 2006 to 2010, 9% of births to non-Hispanic white women were defined as unwanted, compared to 18% for Hispanic women and 23% for Black women.

The percentage of unwanted pregnancies that end in birth rather than abortion suggests that Black women are actually more likely than women of other races to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Further, given that many more of their pregnancies are unintended, it is not surprising that the abortion rates of Black women are higher than those of white and Hispanic women.

Why do minority women in the United States have higher rates of unintended pregnancies? There are many reasons, but limited access to affordable and effective contraception is among the most important causes. Limited access, in turn, is often attributed to funding cuts to programs that provide contraception to low-income and minority communities, plus the scarcity of reproductive healthcare providers in neighborhoods where high concentrations of minority women live and work. Other recent studies – such as the Turnaway Study of women who did and did not receive desired abortions – find that many women of all races cite economic reasons for terminating a pregnancy.

The overall picture is that Black women in the United States often face difficult socio-economic circumstances, which influence their reproductive access and choices. As long as pervasive racial disparities in health care and economic wellbeing persist, Black women will face disproportionate risks of unintentional pregnancy – and many of them, as well as many white women, will choose abortion.

Abortion providers are hardly the ones discriminating against Black women. Instead, they are trying to address their needs and choices. Abortion providers will continue to serve the unmet needs of Black women who are making the best parenting decisions they can for themselves and their families.

U.S. Gun Violence Increased 30% During COVID-19 Pandemic

Gun violence increased by more than 30% in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study by Penn State College of Medicine researchers. The researchers said that stress, domestic violence, lack of social interactions and greater access to firearms might have contributed to the increase.

According to the researchers, these findings come at a time when many hospitals remain inundated with COVID-19 cases and face challenges related to limited resources, such as blood products, intensive care beds, personal protective equipment and staffing. They said gun violen2nd ce increases the burden on health care systems that are already in high demand. The researchers also warn that if gun-related incidents continue to rise, hospitals may experience additional strain.

The researchers obtained data on shooting deaths, suicides and gun-related injuries from the Gun Violence Archive. They analyzed daily incidents in each state, as well as the District of Columbia, from February 2019 through March 2021. They compared incidents reported before the pandemic (February 2019 through February 2020) to gun violence reported during the first year of the pandemic (March 2020 through March 2021).

According to the findings, 28 states, including Pennsylvania, experienced a significantly higher number of shootings during the first year of the pandemic. In some states such as Minnesota, Michigan and New York, the rate of gun violence rose by more than 100%. Meanwhile, Alaska was the only state to see significantly lower rates of gun violence during the pandemic.

According to the researchers, added stress and worry, along with fear and uncertainty may have fueled an increase in gun sales. Based on data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, there was a 41% increase in handguns sold in March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. According to the researchers, all of these factors may have led to the increase in gun-related injuries and deaths during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has yielded harmful ripple effects that need to be addressed,” said co-lead investigator Dr. Paddy Ssentongo, assistant professor at the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering. “The spike in gun violence in the era of COVID-19 comes as a stark reminder that we can’t afford to ignore it any longer. Now is the time to focus on this public health crisis.”

“Our data reinforces the need to promote multiple interventions — vaccinations, testing, contact tracing, masking and ventilation — to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and in doing so, hopefully we can mitigate the downstream effects,” said co-investigator Dr. Jennifer McCall-Hosenfeld, associate professor, Departments of Medicine and Public Health Sciences.

Penn State researchers Anna Ssentongo, Emily Heilbrunn, Dr. Joshua HazeltonDr. John Oh and Vernon Chinchilli contributed to this research. Claudio Fronterre from Lancaster University and Dr. Shailesh Advani from Georgetown University School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health also contributed to this research.

The researchers declare no conflicts of interest or specific funding for this research.

Read the full study in Scientific Reports.

The “Money in Politics” Debate and Effective Ways to Improve Local Democracy in America

Ideally, local governments as the smallest jurisdictions in the American political system allow citizens to engage in a direct and substantive way. Local elections are one way this happens, as citizens select about half a million elected officials, one for every 450 adults, to serve in more than 85,000 U.S. local governments. But despite their potential to serve as entry points for average citizens, local elections suffer from the same campaign issues as state and national elections, including issues about the role of money in politics. And reform efforts to date have not done enough to limit the impact of resource disparities among contending candidates.

The Role of Money in U.S. Elections – Including Local Elections

Past research on money in U.S. electoral politics has concluded that raising campaign money is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. Very few candidates win without spending at least some threshold amount, but spending more than the opponent does not guarantee victory. Candidates cannot actually “buy” an election by spending exorbitant amounts.

These patterns hold true for most local elections as well. Even though the raw dollar amounts are less, on a per-voter basis local elections are just as expensive as state or national contests. In other words, local candidates spend just as much money communicating their message to each voter. In most mid-sized and large cities, candidates need to assemble campaign funds to be competitive. Only in the smallest cities and towns – those with less than 10,000 registered voters – do candidates routinely run successful campaigns without campaign funds. Similarly to state and national elections, though, raising more money than opponents is not decisive. Wealthy, high-spending candidates are common on a local level, but they do not have a great track record of electoral success. A sizable minority of local election victors – perhaps slightly over one-third – prevail despite being outspent by their opponents.

Although it’s easier for candidates to jump into races, local elections are not more competitive than state or national elections – and most local as well as higher-level incumbents win re-election (in one study, 80% of city council incumbents win). In general, local elections resemble state and national contests. Except in scattered small places, they do not live up to their potential to be grassroots, citizen-driven affairs where money has little relevance.

Campaign Finance Reforms at the Local Level

Some cities have implemented campaign finance reforms to limit the influence of money – but without much-proven success:

  • New York and Los Angeles have public matching fund programs lauded by reformers to provide public funding to candidates who accept voluntary expenditure limits. The intent of these programs is to reduce the amount of money in elections, level the playing field, and encourage more candidates to run. However, there is scant evidence that public matching funds have much effect. After a typical “novelty effect” in the first election reforms were put in place, similar numbers of candidates run in contests that are about equally competitive. Incumbents win just as often. And candidates circumvent limits by relying on independent spending by outside groups.
  • Similarly, although legal contribution limits may reduce the number of large donations given directly to local candidates, there is little evidence that they reduce the overall amounts of money in local elections. Candidates find ways around such limits through independent group expenditures or by “bundling” contributions from multiple donors.
  • It is still too early to draw firm conclusions from Seattle’s “democracy voucher” program, which provides four twenty-five dollar vouchers to every registered voter, so that he or she can donate to participating City Council candidates. The program started in 2017, and after the novelty effect wears off, it may run into the same problems as public funding programs: many candidates may choose not to participate; the funding may not be enough to run competitive campaigns; and independent expenditures may be used to skirt the intent of the law.

Better Paths Forward

So what can be done to reduce harmful influences of money in local elections? To answer this question, problems must first be accurately diagnosed. Local candidates need money to pay for advertising, the single largest expenditure for most local candidates. Because so few voters pay much attention to local races, candidates really do need resources to get their messages out. Realistic and effective reforms could aim to reduce, not just donations, but candidates’ need to pay for advertising. Efforts to limit money in local elections are bound to fail without addressing the underlying reasons candidates must raise and spend campaign funds in the first place.

Public funding – whether matching funds, “clean elections,” or Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers – addresses the need to pay for advertising by providing taxpayer subsidies to candidates. Even though this is a reasonable approach, the voluntary nature of these programs limits their effectiveness. Some candidates may join these programs and accept their rules to get public funding so they can advertise, but many may choose to rely on private donations instead. What is more, there is little public appetite for diverting taxpayer money to candidates who fill voters’ emails and mailboxes with appeals and flyers.

A better approach is to reform campaign finance not by limiting the amount of money candidates raise and spend, but by reducing the need for candidates to pay for advertising. This means finding ways to engage citizens in local elections or providing more, and better, information to those who are engaged – or both. So far, efforts such as registration drives and voter information websites have not shown much promise. But there are other experiments that can be tried to enhance local democracy. For example, elections might become more interesting if they involved events to let citizens deliberate over contentious local issues or hear solutions to local problems offered by community groups. Candidates could be asked to reply. Even though it is not clear what can be done to reduce the need for candidates to use paid advertising, reformers should turn their attention to that key expense. Maybe money donated in local politics is not as much the issue as how money is used – and should be used – to maximize citizen interest and engagement.

The Jon Gruden Case and Why the NFL Still Isn’t Serious About Social Justice

On October 11th, the National Football League (NFL) community was shocked when news surfaced that Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden announced his resignation just five weeks into the season. Gruden was one of the most high-profile figures in the NFL over the last 20 years, serving both as a Super Bowl-winning Head Coach and Monday Night Football Commentator. His resignation came after a slew of emails sent by him were made public that included a racial trope, antigay language, and a generally wide range of hurtful and insensitive rhetoric. The news was groundbreaking and hard to fathom for many who had beloved Gruden over the years, but there’s more to the story. The focus has rightfully been exclusively on Gruden and his fall-from-grace. Still, the lens of judgment has failed to focus on the multi-billion-dollar organization that has facilitated such behavior for far too long: the NFL. In the following, we’ll break down the necessary details of the Gruden case and why his resignation was essential. But we’ll also take a look into the NFL and what this case means for an organization that has a lousy track record of failing to support social justice issues, its players, and what’s morally right.

Details of the Case

As tends to be the norm in situations like this, there are many moving parts and details that are perhaps too complex to cover for this piece. With that being said, we must understand the chain of events here to better comprehend the whole picture.

From a public perspective, the Gruden ordeal began on October 8th, just a few days before his resignation. That Friday, The Wall Street Journal published a story revealing that the NFL was investigating Gruden for using a racial trope in a 2011 email to describe the NFLPA Chief DeMaurice Smith. Additionally, WSJ also reported that the NFL had been analyzing over 650,000 emails as part of their investigation that had begun back in June of 2021. The NFL’s investigation was spawned from a separate investigation on the Washington Football Team for workplace misconduct – a perhaps even more disturbing case if you’re unfamiliar.

In part of the NFL’s investigation, they came across the initial email in question, sent to then Washington Team President Bruce Allen. At this point, the NFL stated that the investigation had been launched under NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s direction. Goodell had then received a summary of the inquiry earlier in the week the story was published. The NFL also stated that it was sharing emails related to Gruden to the Las Vegas Raiders, who then employed him as their Head Coach.

The WSJ story broke headlines and sent a shockwave throughout the league. Many instantly began calling for Gruden’s resignation and action from the NFL. However, the NFL simply stated at the time that it was reviewing Gruden’s status for potential discipline. Gruden went on to coach his team’s game that Sunday, and it seemed as if a suspension, at best, was looming in the near future for Gruden. But then Monday came around.

On October 11th, The New York Times reported that Gruden was cited using anti-transgender, antigay, and much more offensive language in additional email correspondence with Bruce Allen for several years. Once again, the story shook up the league, and it seemed inevitable that Gruden would not escape this one. By the end of the day, Gruden met with the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders and would shortly thereafter announce his resignation as Head Coach.

A Word on Gruden

Before we look at this issue in a broader scope, we must be clear on Jon Gruden and his fate. Without question, his fall-from-grace was well-deserved, and he certainly doesn’t belong on an NFL sideline, now or ever again, for that matter. Gruden was a beloved coach and personality for many years, but no resume or persona outweigh actions. If we’re serious about shifting societal norms and scales of what’s accepted and not, then individuals who engage in such behavior must be dealt with in such a fashion. But with that being said, there’s a bigger issue at play here that hasn’t gotten enough press, and that’s the continued incompetency and lack of authenticity from the NFL to take social justice issues and questions of morality seriously in favor of the bottom line.

The NFL’s Culpability

Let’s start with the case in question. For starters, it’s a bit questionable that an investigation of emails, especially once the initial one was found, took nearly five months. According to the NFL, it took from June to the second week of October for a summary of the investigation’s findings to be presented to the Commissioner, the same one who supposedly launched the investigation in the first place. Even if this is true, it shows a severe lack of legitimate and effective protocols in place at the NFL to take matters like this as seriously as possible. Five months is far too long for a multi-billion-dollar organization that claims these issues are among their top priorities.

Then there’s the inaction after the initial story. Gruden faced no discipline, not even an indefinite leave of absence when the initial racist email was made public. For a league that has recently launched a massive social justice campaign that allows players to wear decals such as “End Racism,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” and more, it’s highly problematic that they let Gruden go on to coach a game just a few days later. Plus, they hadn’t even met with and briefed the team that employed Gruden as their Head Coach: the Las Vegas Raiders.

The way this whole case played out and the lack of action from the NFL is concerning, to say the least. It begs the question, what happens if the second story never came out? Better yet, what about the first? It makes one seriously wonder if this issue would’ve ever seen the light of day. When it comes to racism or any form of hate for that matter, we all know by now that it takes more than just being opposed to the actions; you have to be anti-racist, anti-hate, and do more than just launch a multi-million-dollar PR campaign. I said before, and I’ll say it again, nothing outweighs actions here. And once again, the actions, or lack thereof, show that the NFL is still miles behind in taking social justice issues seriously.

Closing Remarks

It may seem as if the criticism of the NFL is perhaps too harsh for just this one incident, but the point is, it’s not just one incident. The way the NFL handled the Colin Kaepernick situation and players kneeling during the national anthem is a perfect example of a league that has failed to evolve and support its players above all. This is the same league that has banned multiple players for over a year for Marijuana usage, yet they hesitated with Jon Gruden. This is also the same league that has repeatedly shown that they don’t take domestic violence or sexual misconduct actions seriously either. The NFL has a bad track record when it comes to how they handle social justice issues, and if this case proves anything, it’s that they haven’t seemed to learn much of a lesson. A PR campaign might inspire some change, and we can all support that, but when your actions don’t reflect your words, then words mean nothing.

Why Understanding Black Women’s Beliefs About Motherhood Can Help Improve Reproductive Health Care

Chanel, now a middle-class mother of one, is just one of many women who have used abortion to end a pregnancy. “In college,” she explained, “I had two abortions and I had them not because I didn’t want to be a mother but because I wasn’t ready. I wanted to finish school and I just felt like I was too young… [M]y mother really stayed on me about not having kids and I saw what it was like for her to have kids at such a young age and to be unmarried… I never wanted to do that.” Researchers can distill Chanel’s lived experience down to the briefest of statistics: Black woman, college-educated; three pregnancies, one child. But her candid testimony sheds needed light on the complexities of personal choices about pregnancies. When I interviewed her, Chanel made it clear that her abortions were her own decision. But such decisions are always made by women in the context of external forces that constrain their options.

Decades of previous research have illuminated the significant racial and economic disparities that affect women who seek access to reproductive health services. Black women, especially, bear the brunt of socioeconomic and political factors that impede their full autonomy in making reproductive choices. Much has been made of data from the Guttmacher Institute showing that abortion rates for Black women are almost three times higher than for white women, and that unintended pregnancies are nearly twice as frequent for Black women. Meanwhile, abortions are increasingly concentrated among poor women, who accounted for nearly half of all abortions according to the latest available 2014 data.

What might create more favorable and equal conditions for Black women dealing with reproductive health issues? Studies have suggested many possible solutions – including better sexual health education for young people; expanded health insurance coverage; and increased access to reproductive care, including all forms of contraception, abortion care without stigma, and quality pre- and post-partum care for mothers and children. Many scholars are now also probing the ways in which institutional racism undercuts good health care for Black women.

Effects of Wealth, Class on Black Women’s Ideas about Motherhood

Although a focus on collecting and analyzing systematic data contributes to our overall understanding of women’s reproductive decisions and consequences, my research using in-depth interviews seeks to fill gaps left by previous studies. Discussions about abortion and contraception for Black women, I find, are often influenced by Black communities’ understandings of the centrality of motherhood in the reproductive life course. A richer understanding of the importance of motherhood to the Black community may help researchers and policymakers provide resources and programs grounded in the realities of Black women’s reproductive lives.

My conversations with research participants highlight the role of class in Black women’s definitions of motherhood and interpretations of “choice.” For poor and lower-class women, womanhood is deeply imbued with the value of motherhood. These women largely approach motherhood as destiny rather than as one choice among many. In contrast, upper- and middle-class women grapple much more with the “hows” and “whens” and “with whoms” – with the mechanics of fitting motherhood into their lives. Kim, a young working-class mother of one, explained that her own mother controlled some of her early reproductive health choices: “When I was younger my mom put me on [birth control] and said it was for my periods.” In contrast, Mia, a 33-year old middle-class women with no children, described a more deliberate decision to avoid pregnancy: “Kids are expensive… It’s cheaper to take birth control than have the kid. [laughter] so um yeah I’ll just keep taking birth control until I hit the lottery.” Both women exercised reproductive autonomy by taking birth control, but only the higher-income woman expressed the feeling that preventing pregnancy was her own choice to make.

Including Understandings of Motherhood in Reproductive Health Policy

As they make reproductive decisions, Black women struggle with expectations and obligations about motherhood. Devising policies that take account of community expectations and constraints may help reduce unintended pregnancies, increase access to reproductive healthcare services, and improve health outcomes for Black women. Exploring the meaning of choices made by Black women can reveal how variously situated women make different decisions. This, in turn, will allow more equitable provision of reproductive services.

My work begins to paint a detailed picture of Black women’s reproductive health journeys. But more research remains to be done. To combat the obstacles Black women face, we must interrogate and supplement quantitative data with qualitative explorations of personal experiences and beliefs. Data and interviews so far suggest a number of useful steps to be taken by key stakeholders ranging from policymakers to doctors:

  • Increase access to insurance to reduce the financial burden of preventing pregnancies or bearing children.

  • Foster cooperation among researchers, clinicians and educators – to improve understandings of beliefs important to the Black community, including ideas about motherhood and the meaning of womanhood. Such understandings can help providers improve the dissemination and reception of reproductive health education and services in the Black community.

  • Earmark funding for more research about the ways Black women in various social positions understand their reproductive lives. And encourage studies that encourage community participation and place a central emphasis on hearing Black women’s voices.

Black women make all sorts of reproductive choices, from using birth control to having abortions to raising babies. As their stories reveal, every choice is influenced by social class and the expectations of their families and communities. Researchers and advocates who want to improve reproductive health outcomes for Black women would do well to listen to what Black women have to say and view individuals’ choices as profoundly shaped and limited by social circumstances and cultural ideas and expectations.

How Focusing on Teen Pregnancy as a Personal Moral Failing Deepens Social Inequality

In the 1980s and 1990s, concerns about teen pregnancy voiced by policymakers and pundits helped garner support for welfare reform – as the public reached a consensus that teen pregnancy contributes to poverty and was encouraged by overly lenient welfare programs. Resulting welfare changes in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 imposed strict lifetime limits on the number of months a poor family can receive assistance while making it harder for impoverished families to qualify and remain eligible for aid. This policy was supposed to reduce welfare dependency by promoting work, reducing out-of-wedlock and adolescent pregnancies, and promoting marriage.

However, studies show that the age at which a person gives birth is not causally related to poverty or negative health outcomes for the parent or child. Teen pregnancy is a symptom of poverty, rather than its cause. While the 1996 law is credited with reducing the welfare rolls, experts argue that it has also increased the number of Americans living in at the deepest level of poverty. Declines in adolescent pregnancy cannot be attributed to that policy shift. If anything, welfare reform may have increased the rate of adolescent pregnancies among welfare recipients.

Welfare Reform and Shifting Perspectives on Teen Pregnancy

After the 1996 passage of welfare reform, conversations about teen pregnancy that had previously included attention to urban conditions, unemployment, inadequate health care, and the shortcomings of public education turned to an almost-exclusive focus on adolescent sex and the personal and moral failings it supposedly represents. My research examines political discourse, popular culture, and national and local efforts to prevent teen pregnancies to better understand why teen sex and childbearing remain central to popular culture and policy debates, despite research showing that teen pregnancy is a symptom of poverty and not a cause. I further examine why there has not been a reevaluation of welfare policy despite the documented shortfalls of earlier reforms. And I also probe how these two phenomena may be related.

Moral arguments have featured prominently in debate about adolescent sex since the 1970s, when teen pregnancy was first named as a special problem. Before the 1996 welfare legislation, however, the moral aspect was one of many. Only since then have the personal moral responsibilities of teen parents become the only lens through which responses are discussed.

Who Shapes Images of Teen Pregnancy and Why?

Some of the same voices that narrowed the discussion of welfare reform in the 1990s still shape discussions today. In 1996, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (recently renamed Power to Decide) was founded as a counterpart to welfare reform. Power to Decide remains influential and is guided by leaders who helped popularize the overly-narrow view that teen pregnancy is largely a moral issue. In addition to helping enact welfare reform, these politicians and social scientists changed the debate about teen pregnancy. But to what end?

By studying shifts in public portrayals of teen pregnancy as a problem in national debates and in the activities, social media output, and television contributions of Power to Decide, I discovered that the moralized focus has specific effects:

  • It removes teen pregnancy from the context of welfare. Whereas the issue was almost exclusively part of political debates about the welfare system in the 1980s and 1990s, in subsequent decades it is discussed primarily within debates about sex education and abortion.
  • It paints the issue as an equal-opportunity problem. No longer is teen pregnancy represented as primarily plaguing Black and Latina communities. In shows like 16 and Pregnant, which has a mostly white cast, as well as in online games with multicultural characters and public service announcements with high-profile celebrities such as Bristol Palin, teen pregnancy is now publicly portrayed as equally affecting all races and classes.
  • It depicts burdens of teen pregnancy as primarily physical and emotional. Stress on the pains of childbirth and the strains of parenthood for young relationships displaces earlier discussions of the potential impacts of teen pregnancy on a young person’s economic self-sufficiency and educational attainment.

Such shifts in public discussion fail to account for race, class, and the importance of social institutions in shaping the rate and experience of adolescent pregnancy. If U.S. systems of education, welfare, taxation, criminal justice, and health care are not portrayed as contributing to this problem, they will be left out of proposed solutions. The current focus on personal morality avoids addressing any societal roots or remedies. Instead, politicians and advocates informed by the rhetoric of the 1996 welfare reform offer attractively packaged information about sex and morality – often safely conveyed on the Internet – as their response to teen pregnancy. Questions of racism, inequality, and the inadequacies of the social safety net do not arise. In effect, public framings of teen pregnancy as a personal and moral problem blink at systematic racial disparities and leave low-income Americans vulnerable as inequalities widen.

Better Approaches

Focusing on teen pregnancy as a moral failing distracts citizens, policymakers, and advocates from addressing the real problems in young people’s lives. Instead, the priorities should be:

  • Reducing discrimination against pregnant young women and young parents in schools.
  • Providing comprehensive sex education and reproductive health care to all young people, not in the name of stigmatizing certain pregnancies but to equip adolescents with the knowledge and tools to make informed choices about sex and reproduction.
  • Replacing earlier failed welfare programs with economically redistributive measures to help people in difficult life circumstances – and boost the resources of marginalized communities.

New Center to Combat Global Human Trafficking

Each year, an estimated 800,000 people are trafficked globally, though the true number may be higher. In a quest to arm officials and stakeholders around the globe with more accurate and trusted data to better understand and address this global problem, the University of Georgia has established a new interdisciplinary center to combat human trafficking through research, programming and policy development.

The Center on Human Trafficking Research & Outreach will be housed in the School of Social Work, and David Okech, an associate professor at the school, will serve as the center’s first director. This collaborative effort aims to identify better ways to measure the prevalence of trafficking while crafting real-world solutions to best equip nongovernmental organizations and policymakers with the tools and information they need to combat trafficking.

Joining Okech in driving research and program development at the center are Nathan Hansen, a professor of health promotion and behavior at the College of Public Health, Tamora Callands, an assistant professor of health promotion and behavior at the College of Public Health, Jody Clay-Warner, professor in the department of sociology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Lydia Aletraris, an associate research scientist in the School of Social Work. They have been part of the African Programming and Research Initiative to End Slavery, known as APRIES, which is providing the foundation for the transition into a center.

“Science is always a building block,” Okech said. “You build it up, and sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s small, but you keep building. Through the center, we want to let the research speak for itself. If particular research or methodologies work, good, and if it doesn’t, then we need to think about what else could work because right now we don’t know what really works well in terms of estimation methods and generating reliable data that can inform anti-trafficking policies and programs.”

Faculty members across campus from law, political science, psychology, public health, social work and sociology as well as postdoctoral research associates and students all will be active in advancing the center’s mission in enhancing the science around measuring and monitoring the prevalence of human trafficking and implementing plus evaluating evidence-based programs and policies to reduce the problem.

“Human trafficking and modern slavery are large, complex problems that require solutions from multiple perspectives to address,” Hansen said. “Thus, a multidisciplinary center allows a variety of disciplines to work together on these problems. Further, locating this center at the University of Georgia allows access to the broader university community, including many talented and motivated faculty and students, who can contribute to finding solutions to these issues.”

“Having a center will enable us to take all of our collective expertise, knowledge and skills, and package it in a way where we can get this information out to those who need it,” Callands said. “This will be a center that will benefit from the connections we have, the work we’re doing and the lessons learned, enabling it to be successful. That means sharing information with others, and providing trainings, programming and other resources to advance this important work.”

It’s the culmination of a years-long effort by Okech and his team to advance efforts to not only better understand and track global human trafficking and human slavery, but also curb this epidemic of cruelty.

Estimating the Prevalence of Trafficking

Okech has been instrumental in guiding the success and growth of APRIES, securing close to $24 million in implementation research funding from the Program to End Modern Slavery at the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons since 2018. Research, policy and programming work is being done in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal. In Brazil, Costa Rica, Morocco, Pakistan, Tanzania and Tunisia, the center is collaborating with U.S.-based and local  researchers to test and validate the existing methods of human trafficking prevalence estimation through the Prevalence Reduction Innovation Forum program.

“As far as we know, this is the first time that researchers are applying and comparing more than one method to measure human trafficking prevalence on the same population,” Aletraris said. “The results from the Forum should be able to provide guidelines on which methods work best and why. This will be extremely helpful, not only for research on human trafficking, but for research on other hidden populations as well.”

By rolling APRIES into the center, its work will benefit from greater collaboration and an infusion of funding to help Okech’s team better monitor prevalence, while also developing effective interventions that are appropriate and customized for those who have been trafficked. The center will also expand its focus to include domestic trafficking, including trafficking here in Georgia as well as in other parts of the U.S.

Crucial to that work is eliminating that knowledge gap when it comes to prevalence. Without a practical understanding of the severity of the problem, it is difficult to craft solutions.

And while Okech said one distinct measurement of success for the center is a drop in the prevalence of human trafficking, he noted an initial increase could also be interpreted in several ways, including more public awareness leading to more reporting. This would indeed be a good thing but ultimately, efforts should lead to measurable and drastic reduction in human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is a multidimensional and complex problem,” Okech added. “It is important to address the root causes of trafficking by focusing on the drivers and facilitators of the phenomenon.”

Preparing Future Researchers

Also crucial to the center’s success is preparing the next generation of anti-trafficking researchers and advocates. As such, the center will offer an immersive learning experience to students across the university. Okech noted many programs and centers of study offer ample opportunity for research, but he and his team envision integrating students into nearly every facet of its operations.

“They’ll be involved in writing manuscripts for publications and grant applications. They will be involved in engaging with various stakeholders so they can grasp the problem holistically as well as the array of solutions to mitigate the problem,” he said. “They’ll be involved in meetings with local government officials so they can understand how policy is made. They’ll be involved with our programs so they can see and experience how such initiatives are run.”

The Case for Ending the Anonymity of Egg & Sperm Donations in the United States

Egg and sperm donations in the United States have long proceeded under the cloak of secrecy. Twenty-five years ago, when I first started interviewing patients who used donors to conceive a child, many intended parents struggled with whether eventually to tell their child about the nature of his or her conception. While some professionals in the fertility industry advised that this was a parent’s personal decision, others encouraged disclosure, and still others recommended never telling a child how they were conceived. The last approach dovetailed with the industry standard that required donor anonymity. In subsequent years, my research has led me to conclude that mandatory donor anonymity is problematic – not only for the children conceived with donor help, but also for donors themselves and the people who created their families with donor assistance.

After a boom in the late 1980s and 1990s, the use of donor sperm and eggs continues to expand in the United States – and increasing numbers of donor-conceived adults are going to want access to their biological information, including access to the identities of the people who helped create them. The United Kingdom has abolished donor anonymity. Why has the United States not followed suit?

How Does Anonymity Affect Donors and Donor-Conceived Children?

Many professionals in the fertility industry maintain that mandatory open donor identity would reduce the number of people willing to come forward to provide eggs and sperm. In countries that have national registries and have abolished donor anonymity, these fears have not borne out. In the United Kingdom, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority reports that the number of sperm donors has increased since anonymity was banned; and since ending donor anonymity, Australia and Sweden have also seen increases in donors volunteering.

In the United States, given that donors are compensated – indeed, egg donors are substantially compensated – the financial incentive alone is enough to ensure that people will still come forward to provide gametes for other people’s children, even if their identity is revealed to the children born from their gametes. Many donors prefer an end to anonymity. In my current research project, I have to date interviewed over 90 donors and collected 190 online surveys. Only a handful of egg donors, I find, want to remain anonymous in perpetuity – yet the majority reported they were told anonymity was their only option.

Many sperm and egg donors go to great lengths to meet their genetic children, turning to DNA tests, online registries, and ancestry websites in their searches. Meanwhile, the first generation of children conceived via banked sperm or donated eggs are now young adults, who have their own feelings about donor conception and their own desires for forging connection, or not, with their donors. Some experienced emotional fall-out from being told later in their childhood they were donor-conceived or discovering it themselves after having the truth was concealed for of their lives.

In my conversations with donor-conceived people, those who seemed most at ease were told at a young age and continued to hear their conception story as they matured. People who were told as adolescents or later, or discovered the “secret” on their own, report feeling a sense of betrayal at having been lied to by the parents they were supposed to be able to trust. For families who decided not to inform their donor-conceived children, the secrecy appears to have been largely rooted in the stigma and shame many people feel about infertility and the inability to have a biological child.

Dealing with the Downsides of Anonymity Falls to Individuals

In a quest for identity, many donor-conceived adults report using a combination of techniques to find their donors. Some sign up on registries, such as the Donor Sibling Registry. This service charges a $200 lifetime fee for donors and donor-conceived people to sign up and search for matches, using the donor identification numbers that clinics, sperm banks, or egg donation agencies assign. Others have turned to free online sites – such as donorconception.com – that help donors, donor-siblings, and donor-conceived children find each other by combining donor information, direct-to-consumer genetic tests, and ancestry registries.

Essentially, anonymity is already obsolete; U.S. policy simply has not caught up with modern technology. The rise of direct-to-consumer genetic testing increases the likelihood of donor-conceived children finding their genetic parents, whether the donor wants that to happen or not. If anyone in a donor’s family does a test and registers on a website like ancestry.com, chances are good a donor-conceived child can find them. While such consumer testing and ancestry sites do raise privacy concerns about the public availability of genetic information, they make it virtually assured that anyone can be found.

The Need for a Donor Registry

Many fertility industry professionals have voiced concerns about how a registry would function given U.S. patient privacy law. The industry’s fear that registries reduce donors has not borne out in other countries that have implemented them. And by now, offering anonymity as an option misleads prospective donors into believing that their privacy can be guaranteed, when it cannot. With anonymity increasingly a non-viable option, it is time to consider establishing a national registry for egg and sperm donors. Not only would such a registry make it easier for people to find biological kin, it could also provide other advantages:

  • A registry could keep track of the number of live births per donor in the same geographic area, to reduce the risk of unions between donor-conceived biological siblings.
  • For egg donors, a registry could track completed egg donation cycles to reduce the risk of donors going through more cycles than is considered safe.
  • A registry would allow researchers to track egg donor health to better understand complications and give women considering egg donation more information for their decisions.

Partnering with Clergy to Prevent Domestic Violence

Domestic violence remains a serious and widespread problem in the U.S., particularly for women from racial or ethnic minorities, who experience higher rates of abuse than the national average. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Georgia have developed an online training that leverages the influence of religion to prevent intimate partner violence in Korean American communities.

The CDC defines intimate partner violence as physical or sexual violence, stalking, or psychological harm caused by a current or former partner or spouse.

“For many immigrant communities, the commonality that I witnessed, and that research bears out, is that religious organizations and religious leaders are a very important piece of the puzzle to prevent partner violence because they have so much power in the immigrant communities,” said project lead Y. Joon Choi, an associate professor in UGA’s School of Social Work.

While some religious traditions have at times reinforced gender inequity and norms that discourage women from seeking help, religious leaders have the power to shape attitudes and behaviors within their communities and promote new norms that support healthy relationships and reject partner violence.

Aware of this critical influence of religious leaders, Choi wanted to not only educate clergy on the problem, but empower them to speak out against violence and support parishioners who come to them for help.

Choi collaborated with Pamela Orpinas, professor of health promotion and behavior in UGA’s College of Public Health who also studies intimate partner violence, and instructional designer ChanMin Kim with Penn State University, to build a program comprised of four interactive case simulations that guide clergy through real-world scenarios. The program is called Religious Leaders for Healthy Families.

The researchers worked with domestic violence prevention groups and gathered feedback from Korean American faith leaders to present cases that were culturally appropriate and supported the clergy’s ability to be domestic violence prevention advocates.

“What we wanted to see was behavior change,” said Orpinas. “After this training, are faith leaders going to be able to help victims when they suspect abuse? Are they going to be involved in the prevention of partner violence within their congregation?”

The key, say the researchers, is to build confidence within faith leaders that they could take action to promote healthy relationships and connect domestic violence service providers to parishioners who need their support. The interactive case simulations allow clergy to practice responding to victims who are experiencing different types and degrees of partner violence in a safe space.

“We wanted to make sure that through this medium, they were able to practice how they are going to interact,” said Choi, “and also they are going to learn what are good responses versus dangerous, unsafe responses for the victims. We are hoping to increase their self-efficacy through this intervention.

Though this project is focused on Korean American clergy, the team designed the modules to be easily translated to other communities.

“Much of what they need is there,” said Orpinas, “in terms of asking open-ended questions and supporting and believing the survivor. The case simulation helps clergy practice how to talk about those things.”

The team is eager to see the program be adopted more broadly by immigrant communities or any community where faith leaders are trusted and influential resources.

The full development of the online program, including theoretical underpinnings, community feedback, and performance objectives, is described in a paper published in Health Promotion International. It is available here.

Challenging Assumptions About the Use of Contraception by U.S. Muslim Women

By Henna Budhwani and Kristine Ria Hearld

Contraception is complicated. Reproductive health scholars can comfortably weigh the protective benefits of condom use compared to the convenience of intrauterine devices. However, for most people, contraception continues to be a sensitive subject not appropriate for casual conversation – and consequently many Americans lack an adequate understanding of their contraception options. Likewise, even the best-intentioned clinicians know little about how minority communities engage with reproductive healthcare and utilize contraception. Due to these knowledge gaps, providers of contraceptive services often struggle with how to approach family planning with individuals from minority populations, particularly those belonging to highly stigmatized groups that are underrepresented in scientific research. This can be especially true for “culturally conservative” populations of clients, among whom sex itself is stigmatized and sexual health is not freely discussed in the home or the doctor’s office.

Knowledge gaps are especially prevalent about the reproductive health behaviors of Muslim women, arguably one of the most understudied populations in the United States. This dearth of research is not surprising, given that Muslim women are part of a religious minority group that experiences ongoing intersectional stigma and discrimination in American public life. Because past studied have sometimes taken advantage of minority and marginalized populations, groups such as Muslim women may be suspicious of researchers and wary of divulging personal information, particularly on sensitive topics like contraception use.

Nevertheless, good research is needed, because in its absence, pernicious assumptions can take the place of actual evidence – and myths can misinform clinicians and policymakers as well as the general public. Social scientists therefore have a pressing calling to conduct research that may ultimately dispel harmful myths and give voice to a group of women missing from academic discourse. Our work examines this set of issues, contraception use and reproductive health preferences, in Muslim women in the United States. We collected information from Muslim women themselves about their lives, and our findings refute presumptions that women in this population typically experience low bodily autonomy and high sexual risk factors.

Path-Breaking Research from the Muslim Women’s Health Project

In 2015, the Back of the Envelope mechanism at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health funded a grant to collect exploratory data from Muslim women across the United States. Our research team developed an online survey that included measures of stigma, mental health, and contraceptive use among participants. Respondents were women who self-identified as Muslim and who were at least eighteen years old and current residents of the United States. To be sure, online surveys have limitations – for example, American Muslim women who did not have a computer in their home or did not regularly use the Internet would likely not have been exposed to the survey at all. Nevertheless, one major benefit of online surveys is their ability to engage difficult-to-reach populations, including respondents in stigmatized populations, minority enclaves, and groups fearing persecution. Data from our respondents, including participants from Muslim subgroups, were analyzed to identify notable barriers and facilitators to various kinds of contraception use – namely use of oral contraceptive pills, condoms, intrauterine devices, and reliance on withdrawal during sex.

In the United States as a whole, some national estimates suggest that 62% to 75% of women of reproductive age use contraceptives. Rates of contraception use by women in Muslim majority countries varies widely, from a low rate of use by 38.5% of reproductive-age women in Pakistan and to a high rate of use by 62.3% of such women in Indonesia. Because of these statistics, we assumed Muslim women in the United States would use contraceptives at a higher rate than their counterparts in Muslim majority countries, but at a lower rate than other women in the wider-population of Americans.

Results from our survey showed that our hypotheses were wrong. We found that almost 80% of eligible Muslim respondents used some form of contraception. As we delved further into characteristics of our sample, we realized that the women who responded to the survey tended to be highly educated (over half had completed graduate or professional school) and had relatively high incomes (43% had a household income of over $100,000 annually). They also had high rates of health insurance coverage, given that fewer than six percent were uninsured. A deeper investigation through multivariate analysis showed that education and income were more important to understanding contraception use than religion, ethnicity, or even immigrant status (whether a respondent was born in the United States or elsewhere).

Essentially, our inquiry found was that when the social playing field is leveled through higher education, increased income, and full access to health insurance, contraceptive utilization increases – even among populations that are predominantly foreign-born and where people may be religious or hail from culturally conservative communities where women hold a secondary social status. Such factors are typically associated with low contraception use, but in our study, we found these factors could be counteracted by positive social conditions associated with empowerment.

Why Policymakers and Advocates Should Further Overall Improvements

When officials or advocates aim to boost contraceptive use by racial and ethnic minorities in order to reduce unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, it may be valuable to address community conditions holistically. Working patient by patient in health care settings can be helpful, but this approach is limited in scope, costly in time, and influences only the identified, targeted health behaviors. The better approach may be to expand women’s overall access to advanced educational opportunities that can lead to socioeconomic success and improved quality of life – even for women who belong to culturally conservative communities. Overall empowerment, we conclude, is the best way to increase rates of contraceptive use and ensure better life choices and opportunities for women in all communities.

Democrat-Led States Tended to Have Stronger Response to COVID-19, Which Improved Health Outcomes, Study Shows

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — States with Democratic leaders tended to have responded more strongly to COVID-19 and have seen a lower rate of the spread of the virus, according to new research led by faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Binghamton University Professor of Political Science Olga Shvetsova and her colleagues wanted to gain a clearer understanding of how politics affect COVID-19 outcomes. The researchers used data on public health measures taken across the United States to build an index of the strength of the COVID policy response. They combined this index with daily counts of new COVID cases, along with political and other variables that they thought were relevant to the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic and governments’ response to it. Using this dataset, they assessed the effects of policies on the observed number of new infections and the difference between the policies adopted in Republican-led and Democrat-led states.

This study connects the aggregate strength of public health policies taken in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in the U.S. states to the governors’ party affiliations and to the state-level outcomes. Understanding the relationship between politics and public health measures can better prepare American communities for what to expect from their governments in a future crisis and encourage advocacy for delegating public health decisions to medical professionals.

“The state governments led by Democrats, on average, took stricter measures than the state governments led by Republicans, and the states with stricter measures had the virus spread much slower,” said Shvetsova.

The difference between the policies made in Democrat-led states and those made in Republican-led states corresponded to an about 7-8 percent lower rate of the spread of the virus.

According to the researchers, these conclusions reinforce the findings of previous studies that application of public health policy was politicized for COVID-19, and this affected health outcomes.

“The main lesson of this research is that better public health requires a less partisan approach to the making of public health policies,” said Shvetsova.

Additional researchers and institutions on the study included: Andrei Zhirnov from the University of Exeter, Frank Giannelli from Rutgers University, Michael Catalano, and Olivia Catalano.

The paper, “Governor’s party, policies, and COVID-19 outcomes: Further Evidence of the Effect,” was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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