ASU professor strives to reduce health disparities in Latino communities, advocates for first-gen students of color

September 17, 2020

Why do certain groups of people have a shorter life span? How can health disparities among poor and racialized minorities be reduced? Why are Latino communities disproportionately burdened by COVID-19? These are just a few of the questions Gilberto Lopez, a new assistant professor in Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies, strives to answer in his work.

Lopez takes a mixed-method approach in his research that combines his social science background and public health expertise to gain a more holistic understanding of various public health issues in minority communities. Man in glasses and sweater Gilberto Lopez, assistant professor in Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies. Download Full Image

When the COVID-19 pandemic first swept the United States, Lopez became increasingly interested in understanding the immediate and long-term effects the virus would have on the economic and psychosocial well-being of Latino populations in Arizona and California. Through his research he found that due to a number of factors Latinos are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19

In an effort to address one aspect of this issue, Lopez partnered with Creative Frontiers, an agency focused on creating behavior-change messaging, storytelling and health education, to develop the COVID Health Animation Project. The project features a series of animations on COVID-19 misinformation in different cultural contexts that are shared on social media through a number of health organizations and nonprofits.

Since the videos launched in April, the first three videos in the series have reached over 1.5 million people. Lopez is currently in the process of collecting data on the benefits and impacts of the animated videos.

Video courtesy of CHAP

Lopez has also partnered with the University of California, Merced’s Nicotine and Cannabis Policy Center to conduct in-depth interviews with Latinos in California’s agricultural Central Valley to better understand beliefs, attitudes and behaviors around COVID-19. With the results from these surveys, he hopes to quantify the aspects of the coronavirus that are misunderstood among this population and counter misinformation by developing additional animations and other resources in a culturally tailored way. He is currently in the process of collaborating with ASU’s College of Health Solutions to bring this study to Arizona.

His other work focuses on social determinants and disparities in cancer, mental health and the health inequities of rural immigrant populations.

Lopez said his motivation to do this work stems from his personal experiences growing up in rural California. As a son of Mexican immigrants who were farmworkers, he noticed a division in his community early on that led him to pursue higher education and better understand why different groups of people experience life in vastly different ways.

“My community was very divided into two groups — those who work the land and those who own the land,” Lopez said. “School allowed me to more systematically and theoretically understand these things. I started realizing that what we had always assumed was normal, like the high incidents of obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer, wasn’t actually normal and not everybody lives like that. As I learned the language and concepts, and how to ask questions through lenses of anthropology, philosophy, sociology and public health, I developed a tool kit on how to systematically ask these questions.”

For years, Lopez explored issues like these at universities around the country but said as a faculty member of color he was drawn to ASU because of the diversity among faculty and students.

“The School of Transborder Studies just feels like home. For a first-gen faculty of color, who you work with is very important. Working with people who have your same history, same background and who look like you and speak the same language, not even just literally, but the concepts, the ideas we have about what it is to be an academic, really just feels like a home.”

Lopez received a doctorate degree in social and behavioral sciences from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a master’s degree in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Chicano studies from California State University, Fresno.

Throughout his higher education experiences, Lopez said he found faculty who encouraged him. He hopes to do the same and serve as a mentor to first-generation students like himself.

“On my academic journey I was lucky enough to have mentors who took the time to understand and help. If it wasn't for them, I would not have gone to graduate school,” he said. “My door is always open. If there's anything I can do to help any student, first-gen or not, whether it's looking at graduate school programs, trying to decide on their major — anything I can do, I'm available.”

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

International religious leader Rabbi Jonathan Sacks presents a vision of hope for the future during virtual event

ASU-moderated discussion centered around 'Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times'

September 17, 2020

International religious leader, philosopher and award-winning author Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke to more than 430 people from 13 countries in a virtual discussion on Sept. 10, centered around his latest book, "Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times."

The inaugural event for “Conversations on Religion, Ethics, and Science (CORES)” for the John Templeton Foundation was moderated by Pauline Davies, Professor of Practice at Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, with an additional discussion led by John Carlson, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict; Paul Carrese, director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership; Paul Davies, director of Beyond: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Sciences; and Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, director of the Center for Jewish Studies Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

"Morality" explores moral philosophy, public discourse and the elevation of self-interest over the common good. As communities around the world have experienced in the past six months of COVID-19, bringing people together for the common good proves to be more challenging than ever. 

This timely discussion revolved around the cultural and political forces that have divided Britain, America and the wider world, and Sacks’ sincere wish that people develop a "we" versus an "I" mentality.

“We are collectively responsible for the creation of a society that will benefit the common good — benefit those, who right now are least benefiting from it," Sacks said. "That was always a part of British and American society from the 17th century, maybe even earlier, until the 1950s. Somehow we became so affluent, the world around us seemed so relatively free of threats to our peace and security that we didn’t notice as this entire moral domain became fragmented.

"So that instead of thinking about what’s good for all of us, we focused on what’s good for me. I suggested that society can’t carry on like that. We do need to be held together in bonds of mutual responsibility because without it, we will indeed fragment.” 

“I really enjoyed listening to Rabbi Sacks’ webinar,” said Kaitlyn Skamas, a first-year student in the College of Integrative Arts and Sciences. “I thought the talk was going to solely be about Judaism, but to my surprise, he was very inclusive and encouraged the concept of ‘creating friendships through faith.’”

“The biggest takeaway for me was just how truly thirsty our communities are for a civil discussion among people who may disagree about many important things, yet are sincerely interested in healing the rifts in Western society,” said Professor Barry Ritchie from ASU's Department of Physics and the director of CORES. “This honest and yet respectful discussion was a model for the destination we need to seek for discussions within the university and within society.” 


You can watch the full conversation with Rabbi Sacks on YouTube

The CORES project is made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to the Arizona Center for Christian Studies, with a subcontract to Arizona State University.

Jacey West

Communications program coordinator, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership