UNIVERSITY of WISCONSIN–MADISON: New projects study root causes of inequalities and how to reduce their effects

Fifteen projects — from improving doctor-patient communications for high-risk patients, to using data to understand racial differences in how Americans handle civil legal problems, to better understanding the factors that influence success and well-being of Hmong-American students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison — have been chosen for the Understanding and Reducing Inequalities Initiative.

The projects were selected from 73 proposals. The initiative is funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

“The proposals we received are evidence of the exceptionally wide breadth of research on our campus targeting inequalities based on factors such as race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation and geography,” says Lonnie Berger, associate vice chancellor for research in the social sciences. “The projects will help build a body of evidence that can contribute to addressing these varied and complex inequalities with implications for reducing both them and their ill effects. They stand to produce real-world, actionable knowledge about how programs, policies and practices can be leveraged to reduce inequalities in U.S. society.”

The initiative is designed to support research that moves beyond scholarship that just describes the causes and consequences of inequalities; the emphasis is also on producing real-word, evidence-based solutions for reducing a host of inequalities on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, economic standing, language, minority status, country of origin and immigration status.

The chosen projects rely on a variety of methods ranging from surveys, field experiments and in-depth interviews to collect new data and on analyzing existing data, evaluating training programs and assessing case studies.

“Although inequality is pervasive, these projects provide innovative ideas about how to meet some of society’s greatest challenges. The research portfolio supported by this initiative is broadly interdisciplinary, drawing on ideas and tools from sociology, psychology, pharmacy, education, law and beyond,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “These projects will greatly enhance the UW­–Madison research landscape in an area of critical societal need and engage with our broader communities in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.”

For example, one project — Doctor-Patient Communication and Shared Decision Making with High-Risk Patients — examines how to improve communication between white doctors and patients of color and how to build patients’ trust in their doctor.

A second project — Race, Class and Gender Inequality and Access to Civil Justice — launches a pilot designed to understand racial differences in how Americans handle civil legal problems, why they do and do not turn to law, and with what outcomes. The project speaks to the growing effort to stimulate a movement to reform American civil justice, potentially mirroring on the civil side the robust and influential movement to reform America’s criminal justice system.

Another project — Essential Immigrant Workers, Inequality and COVID-19 —

builds on a partnership with the Milwaukee-based community organization Voces de la Frontera to examine occupational health and safety issues and housing insecurity by training research assistants and members of the communities most directly affected to document problems and generate knowledge that can contribute to solutions. The project further addresses threats to health and safety that essential immigrant workers have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the home and in the workplace.

A fourth project — Amplifying Marginalized Voices in Public Deliberation: Inclusive Community Conversations About Inequities in Partnership with Journalists and J-School — partners with the national nonprofit Local Voices Network to assess whether training journalists and journalism students in reaching out and facilitating discussions with marginalized groups can amplify these groups’ voices in public dialogues about the inequities to which they are disproportionately subjected.

Research grants were supported in two categories: projects less than $100,000, and those up to a maximum of $250,000.

The projects and their principal investigators and co-PIs are:

Amplifying Marginalized Voices in Public Deliberation: Inclusive Community Conversations About Inequities in Partnership with Journalists and J-Schools
Susan Robinson, professor of journalism and mass communications

Doctor-Patient Communication and Shared Decision Making with High-Risk Patients
Markus Brauer, professor of psychology

Understanding and Reducing Inequalities During the COVID-19 Crisis
Christine Durrance, associate professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs
Jessica Pac, assistant professor of social work
Deborah Ehrenthal, professor of population health sciences and obstetrics/gynecology

Psychedelic Outcomes: Interaction of Environment, Self-Identity and Success
Cody Wenthur, assistant professor of pharmacy

Transgender, Two-Spirit, and Nonbinary Populations
Stephanie Budge, associate professor of counseling psychology

Essential Immigrant Workers, Inequality and COVID-19
Armando Ibarra, associate professor with the School for Workers
Carolina Sarmiento, assistant professor of civil society and community studies
Revel Sims, assistant professor of planning and landscape architecture

Reducing STEMM Inequality Via Culturally Aware Mentoring
Angela Byars-Winston, professor of medicine
Christine Pfund, senior scientist for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research

The Foundational Inequality — Race Differences in Equal Opportunity in the United States
Jason Fletcher, professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs
Eric Grodsky, professor of sociology

Impacts of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Intergenerational Health Mobility
Yang Wang, associate professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs
Katie Jajtner, assistant scientist for the Center for Demography of Health and Aging

Teaching Local Socio-Scientific Issues to Latinx English Learners
Diego Roman, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction

Understanding and Reducing Inequalities in Higher Education: Lessons from Hmong American College Student-Engaged Participatory Action Research
Matthew Hora, assistant professor of liberal arts and applied studies
Stacey J. Lee, professor of educational policy studies
Bailey Smolarek, associate researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research
Matthew Wolfgram, associate researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Using Social Policy to Promote Financial Inclusion: Minimum Wage Policies and Families’ Access to Financial Services
Megan Bea, assistant professor of human ecology

A Parent-Led Intervention to Reduce Children’s Racial Biases
Patricia Devine, professor of psychology
Kristin Shutts, professor of psychology
Colleen Halliday, professor at the Medical University of South Carolina

Race, Class, and Gender Inequality and Access to Civil Justice
Tonya Brito, professor of law

Understanding and Preventing the Reproduction of Gender and Racial Inequalities in the Big Data Era
Kangwook Lee, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering
Eunsil Oh, assistant professor of sociology

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