Faculty Profile: Lynn Hernandez

Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences,
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

As a member of the Brown University community for over 9 years, you have been Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the School of Public Health, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Alpert Medical School, and a core faculty member at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies. Can you tell me a little bit about your research interests in public health?

Sure! My research broadly focuses on the development and implementation of culturally appropriate behavioral interventions for adolescents of color, mainly Latinx youth. Recognizing the important role that target community members play in shaping culturally competent intervention approaches, I approach my research through a community-based participatory framework. Within this framework, members of communities of color are seen as the experts and are actively involved during various stages of the treatment development and implementation process. As a result, I have worked a lot with various high schools, community agencies, clinics, and adolescent substance use tasks forces across Rhode Island to develop and implement culturally appropriate interventions that are easily accessible for at-risk youth of color and their families. I also apply a strengths based approach in my treatment development work by making sure our interventions capitalize on the culture-specific protective factors that exist among communities of color and that they promote the development of healthy cultural identities.

Earlier this year, you were named Brown University’s Director of University Inclusion Programs in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. Congratulations! What are your responsibilities in this new role, and how do you feel your training in public health will contribute to your success?

Thank you! My primary responsibilities within this role include leading and facilitating inclusion programs and initiatives, particularly in support of the departmental Diversity and Inclusion Action Plans (DDIAPs) each academic department and center developed this past Spring.

As I mentioned earlier, I engage in my research by implementing a series of activities that are consistent with community based participatory research. This means involving members of the target communities in every aspect of my research, from development to implementation. Implementing this approach within the research I conduct in the School of Public Health, and primarily the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, has heavily influenced the approach I plan to take within my new role. Mainly, rather than assume what the needs of each academic department are and how they can be addressed, my community based participatory research has trained me to involve members of academic departments within every aspect of the DDIAPs. Therefore, as I work with departments to offer support in the implementation process, I will also make an effort to conduct qualitative interviews, focus groups, and needs assessments with faculty, staff, and students within each department. I feel like the only way we can truly address the diversity and inclusion needs of each department is by actively involving its members in the process.

How have your research interests in public health inspired or contributed to your continuing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion at Brown?

The long-term objective of my scholarly work to date has been to develop culturally competent strategies that eliminate barriers and provide equal access to services that allow individuals to strive and develop into positive and healthy individuals. While I’ve been focusing these efforts mainly in the healthcare field, specifically in the development of culturally appropriate interventions for HIV prevention and alcohol and drug use, I feel like these efforts align really well with how I view diversity in higher education. I believe that all students deserve access to earning a college degree and beyond. Like in healthcare, there are structural issues and there are individual issues that may present themselves as barriers to an individual from a historically underrepresented group from continuing to pursue education or their scholarly work. I think that developing programs that can address both these structural and individual issues and developing culturally competent, diverse, and inclusive environments can help reduce those barriers. I see the efforts within this position as being the impetus to that.

What are some important factors to consider when attempting to ameliorate health disparities in the community?

I feel like I can’t say this enough, but I think it’s incredibly important to involve the community in every attempt to address health disparities. Don’t approach health disparities work with assumptions on what the needs of a particular community are and knowing how to fix them–let community members tell you what the needs are and how they feel these needs should be addressed. Involve them in every aspect of your research. Earn their trust and work together. This will lead to more effective strategies.

Also, it’s easy for researchers to attempt to locate the problems they’re trying to address within members of the communities they’re working with–within adolescents or their families and communities. This cultural deficit model attributes individuals’ lack of success and negative health outcomes to characteristics often rooted in their cultures and communities. That is, it blames individuals from marginalized groups for their own health-related outcomes by referring to negative stereotypes and assumptions regarding certain groups or communities and ignoring the larger systemic issues. It’s important to acknowledge that there are systems in place which contribute to the etiology and/or maintenance of health-related disparities–and that these systems are the ones to blame. We must recognize that to successfully address health disparities we must develop interventions that address and challenge the deeper systemic issues.

Further, we often fail to apply a strengths based model to addressing health disparities. In addition to blaming individuals for their negative health-related outcomes, we also tend to only identify weaknesses within cultural groups and develop strategies to address these weaknesses. A more effective approach, however, is to recognize that individuals and the communities they come from also have a set of assets and strengths that build resilience and contribute to overall positive development. We must attempt to recognize these unique cultural protective factors and address health disparities by developing interventions that capitalize on these strengths.