LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 11, 2023) — The University of Kentucky has been selected as the nationwide coordination center for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative. Danelle Stevens-Watkins, Ph.D., will lead the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Racial Equity Initiative as principal investigator. The project is supported by a $3.4 million, five-year NIDA grant.
The UK Racial Equity Initiative Coordinating Center will be a national resource for researchers receiving funding to address health disparities related to substance abuse. The center will provide training for scientists across the U.S. consistent with best practices for conducting research with racial and ethnic minority populations and with the NIDA mission. The coordinating center will also promote synergy and linkages among projects funded by NIDA, coordinate collaborations and house shared resources for funded projects.
“There is lasting generational trauma and mistrust of research due to the ways research entities, for centuries, mishandled studies among marginalized communities and it creates unique challenges when conducting community-engaged research,” said Stevens-Watkins. “Studies show drug overdose deaths among racially and ethnically marginalized populations have increased at alarming rates in recent years, so building relationships between scientists and members of communities and effectively addressing the most pressing needs is of great importance and urgency.”
The UK center will draw upon the expertise of a team of researchers at UK, Northeastern University and Morehouse School of Medicine who have focused their careers on improving health outcomes for marginalized populations by filling gaps in research.
“In our experience, we have seen the greatest impact when studies are designed to be culturally relevant and community based. This can change historically unequal power dynamics, as well as improve the relevance of the research and enhance recruitment, among other benefits,” Stevens-Watkins said. “It is also important that, as researchers, we not forget our multiple privileged identities and how these affect our ability to develop meaningful relationships with those who do not benefit from our privileges.”
The UK Racial Equity Initiative Coordinating Center will help ensure projects funded by NIDA elevate voices of People of Color and Indigenous Americans by using the Racial Healing of Communities of Color framework, which acknowledges the generational and present-day trauma from racism affecting the relationship between scientists and marginalized communities. Collectivism is the grounding component of the framework with resilience and social justice in the center.
As principal investigator, Stevens-Watkins will bring experience gained from prior projects focused on improving health outcomes for Black Americans and other marginalized communities, for which she has, over the last decade, secured more than $11 million in grant and contract awards as a principal investigator. Stevens-Watkins, in her role as UK associate vice president for research, diversity and inclusion, also has experience leading the UNITE (UNited In True Equity) Research Priority Area at UK. It is a $10 million investment over five years focused on growing equity research at UK and the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty and students.
The network of scholars comprising the center will use their established expertise to provide assistance and consultations in four overarching areas, including: networking and training; community engagement; data collection and analysis; and communication and dissemination. The personnel include:
Danelle Stevens-Watkins, Ph.D., UK associate vice president for Research, Diversity and Inclusion
Dean, UK College of Education
Professor, Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology
Networking and Training
Lead: Candice Hargons, Ph.D., associate professor, UK College of Education Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology
William Stoops, Ph.D., professor, UK College of Medicine Department of Behavioral Science, Psychiatry and Psychology
Carrie Oser, Ph.D., DiSilvestro endowed professor, UK College of Arts and Sciences Department of Sociology
Lead: Rhonda Holliday, Ph.D., professor, Morehouse School of Medicine, Preventative Health & Community Medicine
Rakale Quarells, Ph.D., associate professor, Morehouse School of Medicine, Preventative Health & Community Medicine
Data Collection and Analysis
Lead: Reuben Adatorwovor, Ph.D., assistant professor, UK College of Public Health Department of Biostatistics
Rachel Vickers-Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor, UK College of Public Health Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health
Baron Wolf, Ph.D., UK assistant vice president for Research and director of Research Analytics
Alex Dixon, senior decision support analyst, UK Office of the Vice President for Research
Communication and Dissemination
Lead: Diane Francis, Ph.D., associate professor, Northeastern University College of Arts, Media and Design and Bouvé College of Health Sciences
Juan Canedo, Ph.D., assistant professor, UK College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine
Hannah Knudsen, Ph.D., professor, UK College of Medicine Department of Behavioral Science
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U24DA05896. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
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