David Williams on ‘The Virus of Racism’ at OBSSR’s Annual Matilda White Riley Event

Sociologist David R. Williams, named one of the top 10 Most Cited Social Scientists in the world in 2005 and as the Most Cited Black Scholar in the Social Sciences in 2008, will address “The Virus of Racism” for the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research annual celebration of the legacy of Matilda White Riley. The event will include presentations of innovative research from five early-stage investigator, or ESI, honorees selected by the office based on academic papers authored or co-authored by the scholars.

The NIH Matilda White Riley Behavioral and Social Sciences Honors took place virtually on June 3.

Every year since 2006, the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, or OBSSR, hosts an event to commemorate the life of acclaimed gerontologist Matilda White Riley, who had died in 2004. In a rich career that saw her transition from market research to professorship at Rutgers and Bowdoin before joining NIH — at age 68 — White Riley headed social science-based research at the NIH’s National Institute of Aging and served as Institutes’ spokesperson for social and behavioral research. She left the NIH in 1998, at age 87.

David Williams

For this 15th iteration, Williams, the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, will present the keynote address, “The Virus of Racism: Understanding its Threats, Mobilizing Defenses.” 

The presentation examines how socioeconomic, racial and ethnic status affect health. Williams will describe the added burden of race by outlining the multiple ways by which racism in the larger society harms physical and mental health of racially and ethnically disadvantaged populations. He will also highlight evidence regarding promising interventions, at the individual and community level, that can enhance health and reduce racial and ethnic inequities in health.

Williams was staff director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America and helped conduct the National Study of American Life, the largest study of mental health disorders in the African American population in the U.S. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences.

His speech starts at 1:59 in the video of the full event below:

Before Williams spoke, the five NIH Matilda White Riley ESI Paper Awardees presented behavioral and social sciences research findings from their recently published peer-reviewed articles. According to OBSSR, 250 papers with ESI authors were reviewed and rated based on three guiding questions influenced by Matilda White Riley’s scientific legacy:

How well does the paper use sophisticated methodological approaches to address important empirical questions that are derived from or that inform theoretical frameworks?

How well does the paper integrate multiple levels of influence, and/or the dynamic, longitudinal, and bidirectional effects of social systems on individuals and vice versa?

How well does the paper integrate approaches from multiple disciplines to address the research question?

The five awardees are:

Noli Brazil

Noli Brazil | Assistant professor, Department of Human Ecology, University of California, Davis

His presentation is based on the paper “The multidimensional clustering of health and its ecological risk factors” in the journal Social Science & Medicine

Keita Christophe

Keita Christophe | Assistant professor, Wake Forest University, and incoming assistant professor, McGill University

His presentation is based on the paper “Shift-&-Persist and discrimination predicting depression across the life course: An accelerated longitudinal design using MIDUS I-III” appearing in the journal Development and Psychopathology

Patricia Homan

Patricia Homan | Assistant professor of sociology, associate director, Public Health Program, Florida State University

Her presentation is based on the paper “Structural Intersectionality as a New Direction for Health Disparities Research” in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior

John W Jackson

John W. Jackson | Assistant professor, Departments of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Mental Health, Johns Hopkins University

His presentation is based on “Meaningful causal decompositions in health equity research” in the journal Epidemiology

Alina Palimaru

Alina I. Palimaru | Associate policy researcher, RAND Corporation

Her presentation is based on the paper “Mental health, family functioning, and sleep in cultural context among American Indian/Alaska Native urban youth: A mixed methods analysis” in the journal Social Science & Medicine

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