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Expert Highlights Link Between Racism, Health Disparities Among African-Americans

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Author: Tina Joly

Release Date: Feb 19, 2013

Internationally renowned expert Dr. David Williams explained the various links between racism and health disparities among African-Americans during the inaugural Distinguished Lecture Series sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

Students, faculty, staff and members of the Montgomery community got an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of racism and its impact on African-Americans’ health during the inaugural Distinguished Lecture Series on Monday, Feb. 18.

ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences sponsored the event, which featured Dr. David Williams, an internationally renowned Harvard University professor and clinical sociologist who has conducted numerous research studies on health disparities among African-Americans.

During his presentation, titled “Racism and Health: Findings, Questions and Directions,”  Williams explained the link between racism and high rates of diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes among African-Americans.

Williams said stressors such as racism and discrimination literally are making people sick, affecting the onset, progression and severity of illnesses.

“After you look at the factors that contribute to the risk of diabetes and after taking into account diet and physical activity, discrimination makes an additional contribution to people with diabetes,” Williams said. “Studies also show that among African-American women … discrimination directly contributes to breast cancer over and above other risk factors for breast cancer.”

Another health issue impacted by racism is substance abuse, Williams explained.

“We find that people who experience high levels of discrimination are more likely to abuse alcohol, more apt to smoke cigarettes and more likely to use drugs,” he said. 

Marcy Anderson, an ASU senior biology/pre-health major, said Williams pointed out ways that future health professionals can close the gap on racial health disparities.

“I have sickle cell disease and plan to become an occupational therapist,” Anderson said. “Dr. Williams gave me ideas on how to deal with patients who may be dealing with similar health issues and racial health disparities.”

Williams closed with a passionate statement about eradicating racial health disparities.

“Racism in multiple forms has emerged as a major health disparity. We need to put more attention into developing political will and support so we can insure that every child and adult can become everything that God ever wanted them to be,” Williams told the audience.

ASU Interim President William H. Harris said the lecture series highlighted an important topic for the community.

“A lot of people would suspect that we don’t have health disparities, but we do have significant disparities across a wide range of illnesses and diseases, and who better to talk about this topic than Dr. Williams,” Harris said.

Dinner Presentation Shares Steps Everyone Can Take to Become Healthier
On Sunday evening, Feb. 17, Williams delivered a more intimate presentation during a special dinner and fundraiser attended by community members and ASU’s leadership team, deans and students.

During the dinner presentation, titled “Making America Healthier for All: What Each of Us Can Do,” Williams explained specific steps that everyone can take to become healthier.

“When most people think about health, they think about doctors and hospitals, but where you live, learn, work and worship is where we can take steps to improve our health,” Williams said. “Health is about all sectors of society working together to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Dr. Bertis English, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, said the lecture series was established to bring noted scholars such as Williams to ASU to present their research and publications.

“This is an opportunity to show connectivity to ASU’s own scholars. It’s also an outreach effort to the community. I don’t think there can be anything greater than making that link with the community,” English said.

Zillah Fluker, ASU’s associate vice president for Development, said Williams’ Sunday visit, sponsored in part by the Alabama Department of Public Health, helps ASU students understand what they can become in the future.

“We are grateful that we were afforded the opportunity to have Dr. Williams engage students and share his vast knowledge. He is a leader of the School of Public Health at Harvard and one of the most quoted sociologists in the world,” Fluker said.

For more information on the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the Distinguished Lecture Series, call 334-229-5176.

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