‘We need more research which examines racism and racialization on health and wellbeing of black women’

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers science writer/Dr Jenny Douglas, The Open University

Dr Jenny Douglas, The Open University. Image: Jenny Douglas

To mark the launch of the new research topic entitled ‘Dismantling racial inequalities in higher education’, Dr Jenny Douglas of The Open University reveals how events in her childhood opened her eyes to racial inequality and the need for more research into black women’s health and wellbeing.

Despite various efforts to tackle racial inequality in higher education across the globe, numerous research efforts have shone a spotlight on the obvious disparity between grades received by people of color versus white students.

Now, in an effort to catalogue this inequality, Frontiers has launched a new Research Topic called ‘Dismantling racial inequalities in higher education’ led by topic editors Prof Marcia Wilson and Dr Jenny Douglas of The Open University, based in the UK. It is based on a series of group seminars held by the university for black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers.

In relation to racial inequalities in higher education, a plethora of reports have identified the BME awarding gap and the experience of BME students in higher education; the lack of BME academics, particularly BME professors in higher education. For example, there are only 26 black female professors in the UK.

However racial inequality in higher education also extends to BME research students. Of 19,868 PhD studentships awarded by all the research councils between 2016 and 2018, only 245, 1.2 % were awarded to black and mixed-race students and only 30 were awarded to black Caribbean students.

Douglas is a senior lecturer in health promotion in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies at The Open University. She has a PhD in women’s studies from the University of York, an MA in sociological research in health care from the University of Warwick, an MSc in environmental pollution control from the University of Leeds and a BSc (Hons) in microbiology and virology from the University of Warwick.

She chairs the Black Women’s Health and Wellbeing Research Network – which she established – and her ambition is to establish a research institute on the health and wellbeing of black women.

Because open access and sharing research is part of Frontiers’ mission, we want to give researchers the voice to express themselves and their research with more creativity and freedom than they otherwise would have in publishing an academic paper.

If you’ve recently published your paper with Frontiers and believe you have a great story to tell, then send an email to press@frontiersin.org with ‘Frontier Scientists’ and your name in the subject line.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

I was inspired to become a researcher when I heard of the poor health experiences of members of my family. Even though many women in my family worked as nurses, they experienced poor treatment from the NHS. It was also when my own mother almost died following a hysterectomy and my aunts – who were all nurses – set up a rota to care for her in hospital as the hospital did not seem to be providing her with appropriate care.

Working for training in health and race enabled me to research specific aspects of health in relation to diet and nutrition. My particular interest was the diet and nutrition of African-Caribbean communities in the UK and providing training for health workers, particularly health visitors and dietitians to enable them to give appropriate dietary advice to African-Caribbean communities.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

For the last 10 years I have focused my research on black women’s health and wellbeing. For that reason I set up the Black Women’s Health and Wellbeing Research Network to facilitate knowledge exchange through seminars and conferences.

Over the last three years, my focus has been on black women and maternal mortality, because of the huge disparities between black women and white women in the UK. Black women are between four and five times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts.
In your opinion, why is your research important?

This research is important because we do not know why there should be such huge disparities.
Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?

There are some misconceptions about biological differences between black and white women. These misconceptions are totally unfounded as we know that race is socially constructed and there is no biological basis for differences. We need more research which examines the impact of racism and racialization on the health and wellbeing of black women.
What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead? In the years ahead, I would like to see more research on the health and wellbeing of black women in the UK. This would be led by black women researchers and which examines and interrogates the factors that influence black women’s health and wellbeing and takes an intersectional approach. Ideally, I would like to see a black women’s health & wellbeing research center.

If you have recently published your research with Frontiers and believe you have a story to tell, then you might feature as part of our new Frontier Scientists series! Send an email with the subject line ‘Frontier Scientists’ and your name to press@frontiersin.org , as well as details on what your most recent research was about.

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