Keisha Bentley-Edwards: Eliminating Inequalities Through Teaching, Research, Policy & Prevention

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Duke Today

Keisha Bentley-Edwards excelled in high school, but it never felt right to her that many of her classmates weren’t succeeding along with her. To Bentley-Edwards, too many people took the lower graduation rates of students of color as “normal.”

That’s a situation she will never accept.

“This just never seemed right. I was doing well academically, and went on to a good college, but I always felt like my academic success should not have been exceptional; I felt that it should have been the rule,” Bentley-Edwards said.

This semester, Bentley-Edwards joined the Duke faculty from The University of Texas at Austin as director of the Health Equity Working Group for the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and as assistant professor of general internal medicine in the School of Medicine.

Her appointment marks the beginning of a campus-School of Medicine collaboration between the Cook Center and the Duke Center for Community and Population Health Improvement (CCPHI).

An expert on identity and adolescent psychological health, race-conscious research and interventions, and the interaction between race and child development, Bentley-Edwards will lead the Cook Center’s and joins the CCPHI’s efforts to understand and reduce health inequities, as well as to examine the relationship between exposure to racism and discrimination and health outcomes among members of stigmatized populations.

“We are thrilled to have a scholar of Dr. Bentley-Edwards’ creativity, dedication, and productivity join us as the first faculty member hired jointly by the Cook Center and the School of Medicine,” said Professor William A. (“Sandy”) Darity Jr., founding director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center.

Bentley-Edwards’ research focuses on how race and racism stress influence social, physical and emotional health as well as academic outcomes throughout the lifespan, with an emphasis on childhood. Her work focuses on how cultural strengths can be used to minimize the negative outcomes related to bullying, racism stress, violence and aggression, and school/community stressors—research invigorated by Bentley-Edwards’ work and personal experiences.

“I grew up in a working-class neighborhood, and it wasn’t uncommon for people to have problems with diabetes or heart disease,” Bentley-Edwards said. “Even when I was in high school, my parents and most of my friends’ parents had problems with their blood pressure and things of that nature, even infant mortality.

“It wasn’t until afterwards—while I was in college and started learning more about health and the statistics surrounding public health, and especially as I lived in different parts of the country—that I realized everyone isn’t experiencing these types of health issues. This made me in interested in why, and in what can be done to improve health outcomes for people who come from disenfranchised communities.”

A former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections Scholar, Bentley-Edwards has developed or co-developed measurements of racial/ethnic socialization, racial cohesion and same-race violence in the black community, and used these assessments to ascertain their influence on youth health and academic outcomes. She has also studied the racial socialization of white youth and its association with healthy interracial interactions, and the prevalence and context of bullying for ethnic minority youth.

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