Research Roundup

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

Alcohol Use and Intimate Partner Violence

A team of researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University are developing a study to monitor heavy college drinkers in real time to prevent intimate partner violence. The study, supported by a $434,491 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, involves 100 self-identified heavy drinkers with histories of intimate partner violence. They will be using pocket-sized devices to track drinking habits, alcohol levels, mood, and behavior. Participants will receive prompts on their phones five times daily to report Breathalyzer results and answer surveys. The objective data aims to identify blood-alcohol concentration levels associated with the highest risk of perpetrating violence, addressing the challenge of under-reported alcohol consumption among college students. The study also broadens the definition of intimate partner violence to include online and technology-based forms, including cyberstalking and bullying. Researchers hope that the results of the study will help in developing solutions to reduce alcohol-related domestic violence.

Graphic depicting the transgender flag

Dispelling Myths of Regret Among Gender- Affirming Surgery Patients

The scientifically unfounded theory that many transgender and gender-diverse (TGD) individuals regret gender-affirming surgery (GAS) has been recently challenged by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. By examining the existing studies on post-GAS regret, the researchers found that fewer than 1% of TGD individuals who underwent GAS reported feelings of regret associated with their surgery. The researchers propose that further studies on GAS regret improve their analysis by using tools like GENDER-Q, waiting to evaluate regret until one year after surgery, and considering baseline factors

Effects of High Risk Pregnancy on Children with Disabilities

Northwestern University scientists, January 2024 recipients of a $5 million National Institutes for Health grant, are leading a two-year study to explore the impact of a high risk pregnant person’s environment, diet, stress, medications, and social well-being on both pregnancy and their resulting child’s health. As part of the national Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program, the researchers aim to uncover bidirectional influences between mothers and children.— from pregnancy through early childhood. Unlike other ECHO awardees, Northwestern researchers will specifically investigate a cohort of children born during the study who are subsequently diagnosed with disabilities, including those with physical and neurological conditions, a group who has historically been excluded from medical research.

Health Inequity a Greater Motivator for Social Action

A new American Association for the Advancement of Science study examines the impact of highlighting racial disparities in health, economics, and belonging on social media engagement and support for disparity-mitigating policies. Led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania; University of California, Irvine; and University of Michigan, a series of four health-related studies found that racial health disparities prompt greater action support, social media engagement, and policy endorsement compared to economic or belonging-based disparities. The findings suggest that people view health inequity as violating sacred moral values, enhancing perceived injustice. Despite many of these inequities being intrinsically linked, an emphasis on health consequences is more likely to garner support, even for economic solutions. The study provides evidence of the potency of health-related disparity information, highlighting its potential to mobilize public support and guide efforts to address racial inequality.

Challenging Gender Roles
Through Anthropology Studies

Recent research from University of Delaware anthropologists challenges the conventional belief that in prehistoric times men were hunters and women were gatherers, with male hunting driving human evolution. The study disputes the notion of strictly assigned gender roles. Researchers identified instances of equality in ancient tools, diet, art, burials, and anatomy, undermining the previous assumptions surrounding gender. The study also suggests that early humans likely had a more egalitarian division of labor, with both men and women engaging in subsistence gathering and hunting.

Researchers say this shift in perspective could reshape future studies in anthropology as scholars move away from traditional gender-based assumptions regarding ancient societies.

Using AI to Help Domestic Abuse Survivors

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers are developing a software tool powered by AI (artificial intelligence) to address digital security issues in cases of domestic abuse, in which abusers often exploit the internet and mobile technology to extend their harm. This tool, inspired by developments in cognitive security, aims to assist survivors by recognizing and countering technology-enabled cognitive security risks. It will employ psychologically based learning strategies to alert survivors to potential or observed abuses, such as using finances or shared children to manipulate the survivor after they have physically separated from their abuser. The AI technology will function as a supportive coach, learning from abusive behavior tactics and survivor responses, providing personalized guidance based on recovery progress and goals while considering potential risks.

The research focuses on helping domestic abuse survivors navigate complex, challenging situations in which communication with abusers may be unavoidable.

Depression and Anxiety Rates Higher for Marginalized and First-Generation Students

New research from the University of Georgia highlights the growing issue of depression and anxiety among college students, with a particular focus on the impact of racial background and first-generation status. The study, which had more than 3,100 responses, found that self-reported non-White students at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) indicated significantly higher rates of depression than their White peers. At historically Black colleges and universities, students who were not Black also experienced higher rates of anxiety and depression. First-generation students also reported high rates of depression regardless of institution, but more than half at PWIs said they had moderate-to-severe levels of depression.

Researchers emphasize the importance of inclusivity and mental health support in the campus environment and advocate for continued investment in diversity, equity, and inclusion resources to help all students feel a sense of belonging.

Bias Training for Police Force

A study led by Washington State University found that a two-part training program aimed at helping police officers recognize their implicit bias has led to improved behavior and reduced discrimination complaints from citizens. In the study, 50 Sacramento police officers underwent a total of 12 hours of training, including coursework and Counter Bias Training Simulation — an interactive program that utilizes full-scale video to create virtual simulations of citizen encounters. The researchers analyzed body camera footage before and after the training, comparing it to a control group. Trained officers showed a significant improvement in their interactions, particularly with homeless individuals from different racial and gender backgrounds. They also had 50% fewer discrimination complaints.

While more analysis is needed, researchers suggest that continued engagement in anti-bias training may have a positive impact on police behavior.

Academic Medical Leadership Diversity 

A cross-sectional study from researchers at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, and Henry Ford Health examined the diversity demographics of academic medical leadership across various specialties and compared them to the average across all residency programs. The analysis covered data from 2007, 2019, and 2020, involving faculty, program directors, and chairpersons. The findings revealed that surgical specialties consistently had lower leadership diversity than the overall average, whereas primary care specialties typically showed similar or increased diversity. Notably, internal medicine and general surgery saw significant increases in people of color from 2007 to 2019, while several specialties experienced increased female representation. In general, the study indicates that some specialties have made strides in improving diversity in leadership, while others still lag behind. 

Recommendations include publishing diversity efforts, having representative demographics on leadership selection committees, and promoting diversity in the selection process.

Contextual Reviews to Promote Equity in Admission

The University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina recently published a study that shows a contextualized review process of high school students could help college admissions offices identify those from diverse backgrounds without using race as a factor, a practice banned by the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Examining anonymous educational data from Midwestern states, the research indicates that this holistic process — which considers the levels of school, community, and family resources available to students relative to their test scores and GPA — is strongly linked to their success in college. The research suggests that admissions officers reviewing applicants in these contexts may be able to identify diverse candidates who are likely to succeed and graduate.  

The authors hope the process, which has been adopted by a minority of Midwestern institutions, can be a valuable tool in promoting and maintaining equity in admissions without violating federal law.

Helping Marginalized Veterans Navigate Mental Health Services

Two new studies from researchers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Regenstrief Institute, who are also faculty at Indiana University and the University of Minnesota, examine the outcomes of a new program that supports racially and ethnically marginalized veterans in seeking mental health care. The program, entitled PARTNER-MH and designed for VA mental health clinics, uses peer support specialists to help patients navigate and engage more effectively with mental health services. It empowers patients to identify their health priorities, communicate better with clinicians, and participate actively in treatment decisions, all of which lead to improved outcomes. 

Among the 50 veterans included in the study, the program significantly improved self-reported mental health and depression outcomes compared to a control group. This initiative aims to address disparities in mental health care access and outcomes among marginalized populations.

Understanding Neurodivergent Experiences

Researchers at the Utah State University College of Engineering and Minnesota State University are working to gain a better understanding of the experiences of neurodivergent engineering students, such as those with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder. The three-year study, known as & Research, employs a mixed-methods approach, involving social media mining, machine learning, and narrative inquiry to categorize neurodivergent strengths and challenges. This project, funded by a recent National Science Foundation grant, will use the findings to identify ways in which STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education environments can be more accessible and inclusive to neurodivergent students.

As part of its goal to bolster inclusivity, the research will emphasize a celebration of neurological differences rather than treating them as medical conditions that need to be cured.

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.