CHIBPS – Final Reflections

I have spent a lot of this summer realizing how impactful research can be for social change, and how many vastly different ways there are to serve socially just causes. There are so many channels: conducting research, participating in community activism, working on political a campaign, working at a non-profit, becoming a social worker (to name a few). Considering the multitude of ways that people fight for progressive change and justice, particularly through their careers, is mostly exciting, from a social perspective, and somewhat daunting career perspective. When I started this internship, there seemed to be two clear career routes within the realm of public health: being an epidemiologist or other type of researcher, or working in policy and advocacy. While this internship has taught me so much about how research contributes to social justice and serves as a tool for improving public health policy, it has also made me question whether I would like to conduct research for the entirety of my working life.

As the CHIBPS summer internship program has started to wind down, the staff has organized several career-related talks for the interns. Yesterday, I attended the masters in public health seminar. One of the directors of CHIBPS discussed her trajectory through public health, her schooling and various jobs. It made me feel even more indecisive about my career path. But at the end, she left us with one last piece of sage advice. She said, “everything is public health.” This means that every industry and field of work has an impact on public health. In addition, all social justice work relates back to health, even if it is not explicitly discussing the physical or mental health of the people it is fighting for.

Public health is a prominent topic in the mainstream political discourse at the moment. For instance, the senate’s turbulent plans to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act that potentially threatens 22 million Americans’ health insurance coverage. Or the recent tumultuous debates surrounding women’s reproductive health and Planned Parenthood funding.

These issues are obviously explicitly public healthcare related, and thus the social justice activism surrounding them is focused on the goal of improving (or preserving) the health of at-risk populations. However, social justice activism aimed at issues related to LGBTQIA rights, police brutality, sexual violence, immigration, the environment, etc., are all tied to health. This is because identity greatly influences people’s access to healthcare, and how the healthcare system and healthcare providers interpret individuals. As for the environment example, it should be obvious that without a healthy environment, there are no healthy people (not to mention environmental racism’s impact on negative health outcomes, i.e. Flint, Michigan). Outside of activism, industries have a massive impact on the public health both economically and culturally.

From this standpoint, the biggest piece of advice I would give someone looking to pursue a social justice-related job or internship is to keep this in mind and consider how your career passions might work to serve causes you are passionate about. Consider the ethics of organizations before you apply to them. Decide how closely you would like to work with the community you are working with. I am lucky to have found an organization that improved my research skills and allowed me to interact with community members. However, the downside of research is that the results of our labor are not immediate and that is something that I sometimes struggle with. Despite that, I am happy to have interned at CHIBPS and so thankful that the WOW allowed me this formative summer in New York.

-Alex Shapiro

CHIBPS – Blog 3

The Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies primary social justice goal is to “improve the lives of those affected with or by HIV, substance abuse and mental health burdens through the rigorous application of social science and public health research paradigms.” CHIBPS is identified as “a leading HIV, substance abuse, and mental health, behavior research center that is focused on the well-being of all people including sexual, racial, ethnic and cultural minorities and other marginalized populations.”  While this goal sounds broad, its vastness allows CHIBPS to create research projects that are focused on wide ranging issues relevant to the communities we aim to serve. Currently, that includes studies of men who have sex with men, and a study of older HIV positive men who identify as gay.

As I hinted in my previous blog, CHIBPS recognizes the important role researchers play in furthering knowledge on issues of public health to better our cultural understanding of HIV, and to destigmatize the mainstream narratives which thus influences policy. However, one of the things that I find most challenging when attacking issues of social injustice from a research angle, is that researchers do not witness the immediate change and cannot influence or bias the results. In the context of our research projects, this means that we are not able to tell people that they should be changing their behavior to lower their risk of contracting or transmitting HIV. We can offer resources if they ask, but we cannot influence their behavior in any way. In addition, the American healthcare system is extremely complicated and bureaucratic. Therefore, policy or innovation moves rather slowly. Research, particularly on human subjects, is a lengthy and messy process. And it looks different depending on which study we are working on.

This summer, my role in the study of older HIV positive, gay identified men is centered primarily on study recruitment either online, in community centers or at Pride events around the city. The goal of this study is to understand how psychosocial factors such as homophobia, ageism, etc., impact the process of aging with HIV. Thus progress in this context looks like identifying those factors and understanding what it is like for the first generation of people who have aged with HIV as their life expectancy now matches the rest of the population. Progress in this context looks like deepening our knowledge of an older HIV positive gay man’s experience, in the hopes of both humanizing them and improving their quality of life.


In the longitudinal study that has been following young men who have sex with men in the New York metropolitan area, the goal is to understand the development of both maladaptive and adaptive behaviors and to further develop a theory of syndemic production of HIV. This would, again, further our knowledge of HIV to help improve HIV related policy and hopefully decrease the rate of transmission among men who have sex with men. My involvement in this study entails interviews of subjects surrounding their sexual behavior and substance use. The fact that this study is longitudinal implies that it is a long, evolving process. To summarize, the broad goal of our behavioral research is to find results that deepen our understanding of HIV, and lead to tangible progress for the communities we serve.

-Alex Shapiro

CHIBPS – Blog 4

The past several weeks have been absolutely transformative. I have learned so much about how important it is to tackle issues of social justice from many angles as our research may not have an impact without the help of activists, health advocates, etc. Further, I have come to understand how our research would not even be possible without the legacy of HIV activism that pressured the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) to dedicate funds to HIV research, and gave use the foundation of knowledge from which we pull to build our research projects.

At this pivotal moment in my life when I am soon to transition out of college and into the true world of work, I have struggled with picking a career path. Adults have advised me to think critically about my core values. The values that I struggle between the most are security and financial stability at one end, and justice at the other. What I have learned through working at CHIBPS, a professional and renowned work environment that emphasizes social equality and ethics, is that I do not necessarily need to compromise one of my core values for the other. Further, it is possible to find financial security while still dedicating oneself to social justice. I am inspired by the people I work for, and am relieved to meet people who work in prestigious institutions who are geared towards social causes. This was something I used to be skeptical of, but my coworkers give me hope.

However, the most crucial thing I have learned this summer about the ‘world of work’ is how important it is to me to work alongside people who are equally, if not more, dedicated to narrowing social inequalities and fighting marginalization through their work. I have also learned how much easier it is to stay engaged and work hard when everyone around me is doing the same. Research can get frustrating as it inherently lacks the instant gratification found in other professions, particularly within the realm of social justice. But I work alongside people who motivate each other to think critically about the work we do. I have found an internship that I look forward to every morning because I know that, even if I am assigned to menial tasks that day like making folders or printing study screeners, I will still be engaging in compelling conversations with ridiculously passionate people. This lesson is something I will take with me into the professional world; I am able to tolerate the aspects of work that are less exciting if I enjoy the people I work with.

In addition to the lessons I have learned of myself, I have learned a lot about what it means to exist in the ‘world of work,’ particularly as an intern within a large institution. Unlike college where we receive grades and comments from professors, the professional world often lacks the constant flow of validation (or invalidation that alerts you whether you are doing well). Put simply, we are not applauded for doing exactly what we were hired to do. I have learned how to gauge my competence and celebrate my minor victories like completing a study assessment on my own and doing it correctly, without expecting to be congratulated by my mentors or bosses.

The skills I am excited to have gained during this experience include conducting in-depth interviews of study participants on my own, mastering the complicated nature of our assessment documents, screening study participants by the phone, consenting study participants and getting pretty skilled at taming our beast of an office copy machine. All of these skills will help me as I pursue graduate programs in the future. In addition, they will help me think critically about research that I read in my psychology classes at Brandeis.

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

CHIBPS Blog 2: Research as Social Justice Work

The day after Trump was elected was a hard one. I attended Professor Luis’s Sexuality and Healthcare course. We had spent the entirety of the semester discussing the systemic oppression woven into the American healthcare system, and the dark history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. It was painfully relevant. We discussed our fears for the future of healthcare in America under the Trump administration, and the implications for the queer community. The historical background I learned in that course, particularly of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, equipped me with the historical context of which our studies are grounded.

Activists had to fight hard to push policy forward that would allow HIV positive people to live longer, healthier lives. A key component in this process is research on prevention and treatment. Further, the Trump administration’s proposed healthcare plan has the potential to severely devastate the mentally ill and limit access to sexual health services. The American government is sending the message to LGBTQ+ and other marginalized people that they do not matter, a narrative that echoes President Reagan’s mishandling of the AIDS epidemic at its peak. As we discussed in Professor Luis’s course, conducting research is key to changing that narrative. At the height of this epidemic, this led to revolutionary outcomes like the development of medical treatments and prevention. While these developments were crucial in reducing the spread of HIV and allowing HIV positive people to live longer and healthier lives, the work is not done.

Taking Professor Luis’s course motivated me to seek an internship in psychological and public health research that is accessible, applicable and politically relevant in this critical moment in history where so many people’s healthcare is in jeopardy, particularly people who carry marginalized identities. This is a crucial time for psychologists, medical professionals and public health experts to harness their powerful role in producing research that helps push policy forward, to offer practical solutions to solving the issues unique to LGBTQ communities, and to give marginalized communities a voice in their own liberation.