The Second Century Initiative (2CI) brought more than 80 leading scholars and researchers across a diverse array of disciplines; its successor program, the Next Generation Program, continues to do so. Each faculty member has provided the university with their unique perspectives and leadership in their fields. Their work moves forward important and innovative research and scholarship, while lifting the reputation of Georgia State University and its colleges/schools for work addressing the challenges of the 21st century.
This article is part of a series highlighting individual faculty members and their perspectives through a question-and-answer format. Dr. Laura Salazar came to Georgia State under the first round of 2CI, and is a professor in the School of Public Health.
Q:Can you tell me briefly about your research and scholarship?
A: My research and scholarship span two areas of focus that, in some instances, intersect to form a syndemic, while in other instances, remain as a separate trajectory : 1) understanding and ameliorating significant health disparities in HIV experienced by racial, sexual and gender minority populations; and 2) understanding and ameliorating violence against women. In numerous HIV epidemiological studies, I have focused on the contextual influences of sexual behavior and HIV infection among those most at risk to provide pathways for reducing disparities. My research has provided evidence to show that social determinants (e.g., homelessness, poor neighborhood conditions and poverty) as well as immediate environmental influences (e.g., high risk peer groups, low perceived social support, intimate partner violence and perceived norms) are significant contributing factors to HIV. I have also been involved in numerous NIH-funded HIV intervention studies. These interventions targeted sexual and racial minorities and resulted in significant effects. Moreover, I am as dedicated to preventing violence against women as I am to preventing HIV. I have conducted several studies that have examined the effectiveness of a range of intervention approaches in reducing violence perpetration and victimization as well as an innovative epidemiological study that focused on the multilevel protective factors of sexual violence perpetration among a sample of 30 colleges in Georgia.
Q: What first interested you in your field of expertise?
A: I was trained as a community psychologist; consequently, my theoretical perspective is that public health must move beyond the individual level to include emphasis on environmental factors that shape behavior and contribute to disease and negative health outcomes. I became keenly interested in gender-based violence while still in graduate school. I had the opportunity to work as part of the evaluation team for an intervention involving a coordinated community response (CCR) to domestic violence. A community-based organization, Men Stopping Violence, received a 5-year grant from the CDC to implement a CCR in two counties in Georgia. This work shaped my perspective. Soon, my early publications reflected these views. My research has provided evidence to suggest that violence committed against women is influenced by social norms, attitudes and perceptions of criminal justice policies. At the time, psychopathology of male perpetrators was the main perspective and focus. I continue to adhere to this same perspective and apply it to my research on sexual violence perpetrated against college women. There has been much media and political attention to this topic recently, and rightfully so, considering that it has been a significant public health issue documented over the past 30 years. Following graduate school, I completed a post-doctoral training fellowship in HIV/AIDS clinical research and learned that for women, especially minority women, experiencing intimate partner violence was a significant risk factor for acquiring HIV. Thus, my post-doctoral experience greatly influenced my research trajectory and continues to do so where I have expanded my focus to target sexual and gender minorities who experience HIV disparities.
Q: What did you find attractive about Georgia State?
A: I came to Georgia State in 2011 as a scholar of the Second Century Initiative. I was a part of the Health Justice cluster. The fact that Georgia State created this initiative to attract researchers and scholars, who could collaborate and work together to solve pressing social and public health problems was very attractive to me. Additionally, President Mark Becker’s goal of elevating Georgia State to a high-level research institution was exciting to me; I wanted very much to be a part of that endeavor. Also, because Georgia State is positioned in downtown Atlanta, has diversity in its student, staff and faculty, and was a champion and supporter of its new Institute of Public Health (now accredited as a School of Public Health), were major factors that attracted me to Georgia State.
Q:How have your research and scholarship grown since you first arrived at Georgia State?
A: Perhaps most exciting is the future plans for RealConsent, the web-based program I developed and tested for efficacy while research faculty at Emory University. I have been collaborating with an entrepreneur, George Cavagnaro, Principal for Behavioral Sciences Technologies (BST), LLC, on revising RealConsent to allow for widespread distribution. We received funding from Georgia Research Alliance for programming revisions and to conduct market research. Revisions are complete and RealConsent will be offered to colleges and universities as an evidence-based primary prevention program and has potential for making a significant difference in the high rates of sexual violence on college campuses. Also, we were recently funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) under a R42 Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Fastback mechanism (5R42AA025817-03) to address the other half of the prevention equation by developing a female version of RealConsent that will target female college freshmen to reduce their risk of sexual violence victimization by targeting alcohol use, sexual communication and self-defense skills. We will also test the program for efficacy with a RCT implemented among a well-powered sample of N=750 female college freshmen recruited from three southeastern universities. In addition, I am very excited about expanding my repertoire of intervention strategies into the Virtual Reality (VR) field, where recently, I together with BST was funded by Georgia Research Alliance. As part of this project, we will collaborate with Georgia State’s Creative Media Industries Institute to develop and test a VR module that will teach skills to freshmen to intervene in order to prevent sexual violence. Regarding HIV-related research, I was part of a Georgia State School of Public Health team to collaborate with researchers and community partners in Africa (Uganda), which was a first for me. The goals of the research were to examine the role of alcohol use and other risk and protective factors for HIV among street youth in Kampala. And, most recently, in collaboration with another faculty researcher in my department, who has expertise in mindfulness training, we submitted and a grant application to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) to adapt her training program for African American transgender women to help reduce their risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV infection by increasing emotional regulation and reducing perceived stress.
Q: What sorts of collaborations have you been able to build at Georgia State, both within the university and outside of the institution?
A: I have built strong collaborations at Georgia State with research faculty in various other departments (e.g., Psychology, Sociology, College of Education and Human Development, etc.) and within the School of Public Health. These collaborations have resulted in various grant applications, several of which have been funded, in addition to multiple publications regarding HIV risk and violence against women. In addition, I have collaborated with multiple departments (e.g., Education, Economics, Sociology, Psychology, etc.) on several 2CI and Next Generation proposals, of which, three have been funded. Outside the institution, I continue to collaborate with researchers at Emory University with whom I have a long history of collaboration and at Johns Hopkins and University of Kentucky on projects involving HIV disparities research.
Q: What new developments do you foresee with your research/scholarly development in the future?
A: As a behavioral scientist, I look forward to developing and testing innovative and significant interventions to reduce stigma and discrimination for transgender women; to continue to reduce sexual violence against women; new strategies for racial and sexual minorities that incorporate multilevel approaches, mindfulness training and biomedical technologies; and devising technological strategies to target healthcare professionals and parents in interventions to ameliorate sexual violence among high school and college populations.