CHIBPS Internship – Blog 1

Each morning, I sip my coffee on the commute to work. When I arrive to our building nested in New York’s Greenwich Village, I greet the security guard, tap my research ID on our scanner and make my way to the 5th floor. Once I reach our office, I say hi to whichever intern is taking their turn at the front desk and wind my way through the isles of cubicles to find an open desk to check the schedule for the day. My tasks vary between shadowing or administering assessments of study participants, venturing to another corner of the city to post flyers, entering data, screening potential patients on the phone and, alas, making folders and organizing cabinets. On weekends, we attend Pride events or hand out study info outside queer clubs and bars. While not every task is the most engaging, the work we do feels important.

NYU’s Center for Health Identity Behavior and Prevention Studies (CHIBPS) is a research program in the Steinhardt School of Public Health. The primary goal at CHIBPS is to pursue research that “improves the well-being of all people, including sexual, racial, ethnic and cultural minorities and other marginalized populations,” particularly members of the queer community. Current studies are focused on HIV, substance abuse and the overwhelming mental health burden facing sexual minorities.

The primary research projects at the moment include a longitudinal study of HIV negative men who have sex with men in the New York City area to assess behavior outcomes and syndemics of HIV, a study utilizing GPS technology to investigate spatial mobility across neighborhoods, and a study testing a model of resilience among older HIV-positive gay and bisexual men by studying the links between psychosocial burdens and health. My specific roles include in-person assessments of sexual behavior, substance abuse and mental health in hopes of developing interventions that are geographically contextual and rely on social networks. In addition, I assist in web-based/mobile recruitment and community outreach at local community centers and Pride events.

On paper, my tasks have a stark resemblance to internships I’ve completed in the past in clinical psychology labs. However, our approach at CHIBPS is vastly different. My bosses emphasize the importance of treating our participants as people. We do not wear business clothing to narrow the power distance between researcher and participant — to appear as a peer rather than an authority figure. While these details seem small, they cary weight and change the way we navigate research. It centers the people impacted by the research, rather than the researchers themselves.

The people most at risk for contracting HIV are among the most marginalized members of our country: queer people of color. At the moment, the president of the United States has ambiguous plans for future HIV and AIDS policy. While acting as the governor of Indiana, Vice President Pence’s severe cuts to public health funding led to a massive HIV outbreak. The Trump administration’s proposed healthcare plan had the potential to severely devastate the mentally ill, HIV positive people, and limit access to sexual health services. Put simply, the American government is sending the message to LGBTQ+ and other marginalized people that they do not matter. Conducting research is key to changing that narrative. CHIBPS brings together experts in the areas of public health, psychology and social work to harness their powerful role in producing research that helps push policy forward, offers practical solutions to solving the issues unique to LGBTQ communities, and gives marginalized communities a voice in their own liberation.

I entered this internship in the hopes of improving my research skills while simultaneously assisting in research that is accessible, applicable, politically relevant, socially just and ethical. I am hopeful that I will feel I have accomplished this by the end of the summer, and that I will feel confident conducting research visits independently.

-Alex Shapiro