Research Roundup

Recent news, reports, and research regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher eduation.

Electric Vehicle Mining Could Harm Native Communities

A new study from researchers at Lewis & Clark College suggests that unregulated production of electric vehicles (EVs) could harm Indigenous communities. EVs can significantly reduce carbon emissions, benefiting vulnerable populations affected by air pollution due to discriminatory policies. However, potential negative impacts arise from increased domestic mining for the minerals required for EV batteries, many of which are situated near or on tribal lands. A surge in mineral extraction from these lands could harm Native communities and their sacred sites. 

Researchers call for stricter mining regulations and greater inclusion of Native communities in decision-making to ensure that the transition to EVs does not exacerbate this issue.

Finding Bias in Generative AI Models

Researchers from University of California, Santa Cruz developed Text to Image Association Test, a tool that can be used to quantify biases in text-to-image generative AI (artificial intelligence) models. These models often replicate human biases, which can reinforce existing stereotypes and cause harm, say researchers. The tool evaluates biases across dimensions like gender, race, career, and religion, measuring bias in Stable Diffusion, a generative AI model that creates images based on user text prompts. Unlike previous methods that required manual annotation, this tool automatically assesses biases by comparing neutral prompts with biased prompts, providing a quantitative measurement. 

It’s been found that Stable Diffusion amplified biases, associating concepts like science with men and concepts such as art with women. The new research tool allows software engineers to gauge and mitigate such biases during model development.

More Menopause Education Needed
in OB-GYN Residency Training

Menopause education remains inadequate in many OB-GYN residency programs, according to a survey conducted by Menopause Society researchers, who also represent Augusta University, Drexel University, and New York University. Although the demand for menopause care is growing due to increased life expectancy, gaps in knowledge persist among OB-GYN trainees regarding symptom management and related conditions. In 2013, 

20.8 percent of residents reported having a formal menopause curriculum; more recent survey results show an increase to 31.3 percent of responding program directors having menopause curriculum to any extent. 

Researchers say the lack of standardized education indicates a need for improved training to ensure competent care of patients experiencing menopause.

Recognizing Inequities of Climate Change

In 2022, Cornell University and Pomona College researchers investigated the public’s perception of climate change’s disproportionate effects on disadvantaged communities in two national studies. The work revealed that approximately one-third of adults in the U.S. understood climate change impacts to be unequal across groups. When asked what role race played in climate change outcomes, 22 percent of respondents correctly acknowledged racial inequities. Misperceptions persisted across racial and social demographics, though Democrats and Hispanic, Latino, and younger individuals were more likely to recognize inequality. The findings suggest that a perception of climate change as a “common threat” may hinder acknowledgment of its disparities.

Researchers hope their findings will drive awareness and policy changes.

Combating Bias in Women’s Health Studies

New research led by the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Public Health reveals that participant selection bias in women’s health studies may conceal earlier-onset menopause for Black and Hispanic women. According to researchers, the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) cohort failed to consider the impact of “weathering” — the deterioration of health caused by chronic stress and social influences among those who are oppressed or exploited — which leads to the exclusion of many minority women and overlooks racial disparities in menopausal age. Black and Hispanic women experienced statistically significant earlier natural and surgical menopause compared to White women when accounting for weathering-related exclusion, whereas SWAN’s original data showed minimal racial differences.

The U-M study emphasizes the need to address eligibility criteria and data biases in longitudinal health studies to gain a comprehensive understanding of racial disparities and improve women’s health outcomes for marginalized populations.

Equity in STEM Success Through Early Child Care

A new study from University of California, Irvine researchers found that children who receive high-quality child care in their early years demonstrate better performance in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects throughout high school. Findings suggest that investing universally in child care and early childhood education could help address the underrepresentation of racially and ethnically diverse populations in STEM fields. The researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,000 families and found that both cognitive stimulation and caregiver sensitivity and responsiveness were strong predictors of STEM achievement in late elementary school and high school. Notably, caregiver sensitivity and responsiveness had a greater impact on STEM performance for children from low-income families.

The findings highlight the significance of social and emotional development alongside cognitive support in early childhood for promoting STEM success.

High Maternal Mortality Among Women of Color

A recent study conducted by University of Washington researchers indicates that maternal mortality rates remain high across all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, with American Indian, Alaska Native, and Black women facing higher risks. In states with exceptionally high maternal mortality rates among women of color, contributing factors include systemic racism, a shortage of labor and delivery units in hospitals, limited access to prenatal and postpartum care due to transportation and work-related issues, and a lack of trust in the medical community.

The findings emphasize that greater prevention efforts and policy changes are required to address this ongoing health crisis.

Identifying Rural Health, Economic Priorities

The Southwest Rural Health Research Center at Texas A&M University School of Public Health recently published a paper identifying the most critical priorities for rural America through 2030. These were determined through a survey of 1,475 rural health stakeholders, including health care professionals, government officials, and researchers. Addressing mental health and related disorders was the top priority, followed by addiction. Access to quality health care remained a significant concern, reflecting persistent challenges faced by rural areas. Economic stability was highlighted as a new concern, due to the impact of rural poverty on health care access.

The study shows that tailored programs would help address the unique needs of rural populations and underscores the importance of reducing health disparities between rural and urban areas.

Student-Veteran Belonging in STEMM

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently published a paper that examines the social support and sense of campus belonging among student-veterans and enrolled military service members in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, and medical) fields. Despite accounting for a large portion of nontraditional learners, military-affiliated students are not typically included in research that measures belonging in STEMM programs for underserved student groups; this study, entitled “Exploring Student Service Member/Veteran Social Support and Campus Belonging in University STEMM Fields,” addresses that gap. 

Researchers emphasize the need for colleges to help create opportunities for authentic interactions and connections between military-affiliated students and their peers, faculty, and staff.

DEI Efforts Among Businesses

As part of a collaboration with the University of New Haven (UNH) and Gender Fair, the Women Business Collaborative recently published a report that examines the public DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) information of 553 businesses, including Fortune 500 and 53 public and private companies. Students from UNH’s Pompea College of Business collected and analyzed the data and its accessibility on company websites. The report measured several DEI-related areas, including pay equity, supplier demographics, and workforce composition. 

One key finding is that just 30 percent of companies indicated they conduct regular internal pay equity studies, a practice that could be used to address compensation disparities.

Indian American Family Study

A new sociological study at Indiana University Bloomington (IU) examines the views and experiences of family life among first- and second-generation Indian Americans. As part of the Indian American Family Study research, Keera Allendorf, PhD, principal investigator and associate professor of sociology at IU, studied changes in family life over time among those from Nepalese and Indian origins. From September 2022 to July 2023, Allendorf and her team interviewed participants to understand their views related to marriage, childbearing, intergenerational relationships, and general family life. 

Researchers will use the findings to identify patterns and trends across the Indian diaspora in the U.S. and compare them to similar data from other Asian Americans and White Americans.

Community College Baccalaureate Degrees

Commissioned as part of its Civil Rights Project, a recent study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) finds that the expansion of bachelor’s degree programs at community colleges could address racial inequities within the state’s higher education system. Researchers examined the outcomes of existing community college baccalaureate (CCB) programs and found that they lead to greater educational attainment, especially for underrepresented students. CCB students have higher graduation rates than transfer students from four-year colleges and experience high rates of employment postgraduation. Based on these findings, the authors urged state lawmakers and education leaders to expand CCB programs throughout California.

Effects of Parental Support on LGBTQ+ Youth

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin recently studied the effects of perceived parental social support and psychological control on the mental health of more than 500 LGBTQ+ youth. 

Participants represented a wide range of sexual orientations, gender identities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and geographic locations. The study found that perceived parental social support of LGBTQ+ youth was associated with a reduction in depression symptoms, and that perceived attempts by parents to psychologically control youth — such as invalidating feelings, inducing guilt, and conditional expression of affection — were linked to an increase in such symptoms. Researchers say the study findings can be used to develop parenting literature to support the positive mental health development of LGBTQ+ adolescents. 

More Training Needed for Disability Health Care

Additional medical training and education are critically needed to ensure that postgraduate students and residents provide proper care for patients with disabilities, according to a new research brief from Kari Rezac, DO, at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. 

Rezac measured the knowledge of health care and societal inequities of people with disabilities among physical medicine and rehabilitation residents and their confidence level in treating such patients on a four-point scale (with four being very knowledgeable or confident and one having zero knowledge or confidence). Prior to participating in a series of disability-focused lectures, the residents averaged between 2.2 and 2.3 in all three categories. After the lecture series, confidence and knowledge grew to between 3.1 and 3.4 across the questions.

Racial Bias in Drug Testing of Pregnant Women

A recent study analyzing data from nearly 38,000 pregnant hospital patients in Pennsylvania found that Black women were more likely to be tested for drug use than any other racial group. 

Conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh; the University of California, San Francisco; the Friends Research Institute; and the Magee-Womens Research Institute, the study found that despite these higher test rates, Black women were less likely to test positive for alcohol, cannabis, opioids, or stimulants during pregnancy. Of those included in the analysis, 11 percent of women overall had histories of substance abuse. Among that group, 76 percent of Black patients were drug tested compared to 69 percent of White patients, despite the former group having a lower percentage of positive results. Based on the findings, researchers suggest that health care systems examine their drug testing policies and adhere to evidence-based practices to address racial biases.

Peer Reviews Show Bias Against Underrepresented Scientists

Biology scientists from historically disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to receive negative peer review outcomes in their research, according to a new study from Michigan State University. 

An analysis of more than 300,000 biology manuscripts found that peer-reviewed literature is still largely dominated by White males from the United States and the United Kingdom. Research by women and non-native-English-speaking scientists is disproportionately rejected. Based on the findings, the researchers recommend that more scientific journals implement a double-blind review process and create guidelines that explicitly mention social justice issues. Among ecology and evolutionary biology journals, for example, only 16 percent use a double-blind model and just 2 percent mentioned social justice in their peer-review guidelines.

Diversity and Inclusion in Clinical Trials

Medical products including thermometer, medication, and a stethoscope“Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion in Clinical Trials,” a white paper recently published by Duke University researchers, organizes the findings of the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative, a partnership between Duke and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

Researchers interviewed senior leaders from 20 organizations that conduct clinical trials of medical products. To address various challenges they described, such as cost and time, a delay in measurable impact, and employee unfamiliarity with DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) processes, researchers recommend that organizations provide sufficient upfront funding to support systemwide DEI practices and ensure that senior leadership is committed and accountable.

Mental Health of Black Students

Black female college student studying in a libraryResearchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health recently published a study that compares the mental health effects of Black students who attend historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to those who enroll at predominantly White institutions (PWIs). 

The study, “Estimating the Long-Term Causal Effects of Attending Historically Black Colleges or Universities on Depressive Symptoms,” analyzed the experiences of 500 Black participants starting in high school through up to 14 years post-college to determine whether HBCU students are exposed less to structural racism than their PWI-attending counterparts. Results show that among Black students who reported a high number of depressive symptoms in their teens, HBCU attendees conveyed fewer symptoms after college than their peers who attended PWI schools.

Indigenous People and Urban Housing

Overview shot of multiple homes and buildingsA new study examines the housing experiences of Indigenous people in U.S. urban areas with the goal of improving policies and addressing inequities. 

The project is funded in part by the University of Michigan’s Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity Center. Significant gaps remain in the sociological study of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN), particularly regarding life experiences outside of their reservations, according to Sofia Locklear, PhD, lead researcher and associate professor at Western University in Canada. Study participants, all of whom are AIAN people living in or near U.S. cities, are interviewed about their housing type, living conditions, and experiences in securing living accommodations. As of early March, the study had already garnered more than 800 participants.

Latina Wage Gap

woman holding two uneven stacks of coinsLatinas in New Jersey experience some of the highest pay inequality in the country, second only to California, according to a new report from the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations’ Center for Women and Work. 

Women in the state with Latina or Hispanic heritage earn approximately 45 cents, compared to 83.7 cents for women in general, for every dollar a White male earns. Along with wage gap data, the report examines working conditions, access and barriers to employment, employee benefits, and the impact of work on families. Researchers recommend expanding career-focused courses at New Jersey Hispanic women’s resource centers to include entrepreneurship, technical skill development, and legal and immigration services.