The Center for Intersectional Gender Studies and Research (Intersections) at Utah State University will host renowned feminist scholar Sara Ahmed for a virtual event on Feb. 22, 2023.
CHaSS Faculty Research Spotlight: Assistant Professor of Sociology, Guadalupe Marquez-Velarde
Assistant Professor of Sociology, Guadalupe Marquez-Velarde
By Andrea DeHaan, CHaSS Communications Editor
As a health disparities researcher, Assistant Professor of Sociology Guadalupe Marquez-Velarde recently saw her work legitimized by real-time events during the COVID crisis.
At the height of the pandemic, people’s individual choices rarely helped them evade the illness, which, according to the New York Times, inflected one in three Utah residents. COVID was a widespread social phenomenon, so while individual choices like eating healthy or physical fitness may have had some impact on outcomes, they offered little in the way of protection, and Marquez-Velarde thinks we can learn from this.
“In the United States we have a very individualized view of health,” she says, “And that’s not how it works. There’s research in countries like the U.K. where everybody has healthcare and only like a quarter of your health outcomes are connected to your personal choices and your own health behaviors. Everything else is socially determined.”
Marquez-Velarde argues that if we shifted attitudes around health from the individual to the community, the chronic issues that lead to health inequities might be improved, and that is what drew her to the field of population health research in the first place.
As an undergraduate who may have been “watching too much Grey’s Anatomy,” Marquez-Velarde admits that she initially had an interest in being a clinician but soon learned that this failed to offer her sufficient variety. After dabbling in courses ranging from history to communication, Marquez-Velarde took an introduction to sociology class, which “just clicked” for her, and she figured that studying larger health trends might allow her to have a greater impact in the long run.
“Being a clinician is cool,” Marquez-Velarde acknowledges, “But maybe we could help more people by giving the full picture about what’s happening.”
Now as an academic, Marquez-Velarde says she loves “creating knowledge” and favors a collaborative approach that sees her work with faculty from a variety of disciplines. This collaboration has seen Marquez-Velarde partner with researchers across the country as well as co-teach an honors course with Seth Archer, associate professor of history. Additionally, she and Rebecca Walton, professor of technical communication and rhetoric, are the recipients of a C.A.R.E award to co-locate as they partner with a third author on an upcoming publication about underrepresented scholarship.
“It’s just like forming any other relationship,” Marquez-Velarde says of collaboration. “There are going to be strengths that I have that maybe they don’t have and vice versa.”
She explains that her preference for collaboration also comes from a desire to keep things interesting. By not solely overseeing all of the research projects, she can work on multiple things at once.
For this reason, Marquez-Velarde particularly likes finding opportunities to partner with her graduate students. At the time of this interview, she had five or six papers under review, many including USU students, on subjects ranging from racialization and players’ positions in the NFL, health behaviors among black immigrants, and food insecurity.
In doing so, she has been able to pursue different research interests and contribute to distinct bodies of literature while occasionally dealing with lighter topics like online dating during a pandemic. This variety keeps things fresh and helps Marquez-Velarde avoid feeling stalled.
While her own research continues to target health disparities related to race and intersectionality, Marquez-Velarde makes an effort to invite students to participate whenever their expertise overlaps, something she sees as foundational to their training process and likewise to her growth as a mentor. And while she didn’t expect that this would be “her favorite part,” Marquez-Velarde truly enjoys the experience of collaborating with students who are excited and curious.
“All of our timelines are socially constructed,” Marquez-Velarde explains, noting that many of her students struggle with the competing demands of school and life, thinking they need to hit specific milestones by a certain age, including graduation. “I’m trained as a demographer, and people created those timelines when people lived much shorter lives.”
Thus, she encourages students “to explore different things, try different paths and not to constrain their thoughts to made-up timelines that we as a society impose on ourselves.”
“They, of course, think I’m out of my mind,” Marquez-Velarde confesses, but she tries to live by her own advice.
However, this does not mean that she is slowing down. On the contrary, Marquez-Velarde has spent the last year working on a series of papers using the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, examining, for example, “how the social experiences of transgender individuals is associated with mental health outcomes.” For instance, one of the manuscripts argues K-12 experiences of discrimination have a long-term impact on mental health. She is also exploring transgender experiences related to family rejection, negative encounters in clinical settings, and barriers to fully transitioning, and says there is more that policymakers and healthcare systems could do to address emerging problems.
Mental health is “still highly stigmatized” in Utah, Marquez-Velarde adds, with “some of the highest rates of suicide and opioid abuse.” She knows this is something that lawmakers have been trying to tackle but sees the acceptance or lack of acceptance for minoritized groups as an important social determinant of mental health.
A major barrier in her work is the dismissal of scientific evidence by some, “You might have all the science, but if policymakers don’t care, there’s no action.”It is a challenge she often faces as a sociologist, but working collaboratively and trying to have a better understanding of how health and society are interconnected drives Marquez-Velarde and other health disparities researchers to keep forging ahead.