GW Research Spring 2014 Edition

New Faces: Lisa Bowleg, Professor of Psychology

Lisa Bowleg
(Photo: Jessica McConnell Burt.)
May 01, 2014

Area of Research: HIV prevention among black men, in particular heterosexuals, and the design of interventions that take into account the intersection of identities, such as race, class, and gender—for example, being Latina and a woman.

Background: The three-time GW alumna—including her PhD in 1997—returned to the university in 2013 from Drexel University, bringing with her a pair of new, five-year grants from the National institute of Mental Health.

Current Projects: Heterosexual black men have been “surprisingly absent” from much of the HIV research and interventions, she says, despite accounting for the majority of cases among men due to heterosexual transmission. To help fill that void, Dr. Bowleg is co-leading, with a colleague at the University of California, San Diego, a study that tests whether embedding HIV prevention into case management services for other needs—in this case, heterosexual black men seeking help with unstable housing or unemployment—will result in less risky behaviors than those of a control group.

A second study led by Dr. Bowleg is aimed at understanding the role of neighborhoods in HIV risk. Public health experts “can tell you so much about your health outcomes based on where you live,” she says, like issues involving nutrition and obesity. “Might it be the same effect for HIV, particularly since in the U.S. HIV is densely concentrated in predominantly black and Latino low-income networks and neighborhoods?”

In D.C., where the HIV prevalence, at last count, in 2011, was 2.4 percent in general and 5.4 percent among black men—more than five times the U.N.’s 1 percent threshold for a “generalized epidemic”—stones can hardly be left unturned.

She’s now in the process of trying to reveal stressors and strengths for neighborhoods across D.C. by gathering and mapping neighborhood block-level data, such as crime, homeownership, and retail presence, and conducting interviews with black men in D.C.

“The issues are so much bigger than just HIV when you talk about health disparities in black communities,” Dr. Bowleg says. “We know this. it’s hypertension, diabetes— it’s all that stuff. HIV becomes just one other thing. So understanding it in a new way, beyond individual behavior, has lots of opportunities for intervention.” —Danny Freedman