During the early pre-tenure part of my career, I was broadly interested in issues related to immigrant incorporation and social stratification. In general, I studied how documented and undocumented immigrants become incorporated into the socioeconomic fabric of American society. I have now become interested in how expressions of HIV stigma beliefs affect precautionary sexual behaviors in sub-Saharan Africa. In this new project, I will determine the nature of this relationship and will explain it by exploring how Southern Africans’ lived meanings of stigma beliefs contribute to their private sexual behaviors.
This research is important because it can help experts rethink the messaging of public health stigma campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, one of the goals of these campaigns is to make life more manageable for HIV-infected individuals by reducing the stigma attached to living with that disease. If this occurs, the hope is that they will increase their use of protective sexual behaviors, thereby reducing transmission of HIV to uninfected people. Support for these campaigns relies on an assumption that the uninfected are mainly responsible for maintaining stigma ideologies that harm the infected. Therefore, the target of the messaging is the uninfected. However, this target audience is too narrowly defined because stigmatizers could very well include the infected and uninfected. If public health officials understood this possibility, and were also aware of how people’s everyday experiences with HIV stigma affected their safe sex practices, they could broaden the target audience of their stigma campaigns and make the campaigns’ messaging more attune to how people understand stigma.
One's scholarly research is often related to one's personal experiences. I'm an immigrant. I was born in Jamaica and grew up in Guyana, South America and in the Commonwealth of Dominica in the West Indies. After coming to this country, my family had to participate in the same "race to the middle class" in which all immigrants participate to one degree or another. As such, issues surrounding immigrant incorporation, social stratification, and health outcomes are deeply personal.