Date published: 10/23/23
Psychological processes do not occur in a vacuum. I am interested in understanding how social and situational contexts influence psychological factors and shape individual- and community-level health behaviors and outcomes.
I am a community psychologist who is interested in (a) understanding social and psychological factors contributing to poor health outcomes and (b) developing and testing interventions to address these issues. Much of my work has focused on the sexual and HIV-related health of youth and adults who are racial/ethnic, sexual, and/or gender minorities. My lab, the Society, Psychology, and Health Research (SPHERE) Lab, makes efforts to work with people from vulnerable and/or marginalized populations, many of whom are adversely affected by health disparities. The SPHERE Lab values diversity not only in the populations and topics being studied but also in the investigators doing the research. Diverse perspectives and experiences enhance the rigor of the science produced by the SPHERE Lab.
My lab has several ongoing projects involving graduate and undergraduate students in the psychology department. One project in which we are engaged involves reviewing studies of race-based critical consciousness-focused health promotion interventions. We are interested in describing how intersectionality is addressed in these interventions. We also have several related secondary data analysis studies led by me and SPHERE Lab doctoral students that explore relationships between risk compensation, stigma, mental health, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) attitudes and uptake among gay/bisexual men. Other studies led by doctoral students in the lab focus on stigma and social and institutional factors tied to sexual and reproductive health and cardiovascular health among women of color.
I was one of the first researchers to use intensive longitudinal methods to investigate the relationship between within-person changes in psychological factors (such as mood and perceived stress) and daily health behaviors in racial/ethnic minority gay and bisexual young men, who have been disproportionately affected by HIV and a multitude of other negative health outcomes. I continue to use these methods in studies examining health in vulnerable populations. For example, the SPHERE Lab is in the process of implementing a pilot study involving 16 weekly assessments taken over 4 months by adults who have been recently released from incarceration. Using the weekly data, we will be able to describe the temporal relationship between changes in well-being and stress, and health behaviors (including substance use and engaging in illicit behaviors).
Since 2002, a key focus of my work has been on developing and examining the feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy of psychological interventions designed to improve HIV-related health and substance use outcomes among youth and adults. I am currently working on an NIH-funded randomized controlled trial of a culturally adapted intervention for women with histories of sexual trauma who are initiating antiretroviral therapy in Cape Town, South Africa. The intervention, based on the Transactional Model of Stress and Coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987), expands upon previous work conducted by our team that has shown that improvements in mental health and coping lead to increases in health promotion behaviors.
You can learn more about the work we are doing in the SPHERE Lab and opportunities for research participants and students at our lab website: https://spherelab.psych.ucla.edu/
I’m originally (and proudly) from Detroit, Michigan. I received my B.S. in Psychology from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1999. Following that I went to NYU and received my M.A. and Ph.D. in Community Psychology with a minor in Quantitative Psychology. After I completed my doctoral degree in 2004, I went to the Yale School of Medicine for a postdoctoral fellowship. In 2006, I started as faculty in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University, where I stayed until 2021. In November of 2021, I joined the faculty of the UCLA Department of Psychology.
I love working with students and conducting research but also have other passions. I enjoy hiking with my dog Hudson, exploring Los Angeles using the variety of walking guides I’ve accumulated, and eating my way through the LA food scene (I have been known to enjoy a tasting menu). I’m a big fan of pickleball and try to play a couple of times a week. Additionally, space and quantum mechanics have endlessly fascinated me since I was a child and I hope to one day get back into the student role and pursue a degree in astrophysics.