New Research Collaborations: Building Scholarly Community to Address Big Questions
Under Anna Kirkland’s directorship, IRWG is growing as a networking hub for research collaborations that seek to tackle big societal issues related to gender. “Questions about gender are everywhere, but on a large, decentralized campus like Michigan’s, it can be hard for researchers to connect. This is where IRWG comes in,” explains Professor Kirkland.
Three research nodes comprise three large topic areas: transgender health, sexual harassment and gender-based violence, and insurance justice and discrimination. Each node has its own interdisciplinary and cross-professional faculty team, funding and future funding possibilities, research program, community or industry connections, and growth possibilities.
Transgender Health Research Network
There is a well-established group of researchers working on transgender health at U-M, but they are spread out across units. With funding support from the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research (MICHR), IRWG will act as a new collaboration hub for bringing together all U-M researchers working on transgender health topics. Participants include key researchers in Medicine, Public Health, Social Work, Nursing, the Institute for Social Research, and LSA. This is the first time anyone has tried to organize them across campus.
One of the primary goals of this network is to create research teams that can apply for large extramural project and center grants from the National Institutes of Health. Seven faculty members were awarded “Transgender Health and Empowerment” seed grants in 2019. The funded projects seek to develop innovative tools, useful research infrastructure, or to promote equitable and meaningful research with transgender and non-binary people in empowered ways. Seed grant awardees already do community-based participatory research with partners such as Nuii-Waav, the Trans Sistas of Color Project, U-M’s Spectrum Center, and Counseling and Psychological Services, among others. These faculty awardees, along with more than 70 transgender health researchers from across the university, have begun to work on large center grant planning with a team from MICHR.
Sexual Assault and Gender-based Violence Research
Gender-based violence and sexual harassment are longstanding and seemingly intractable problems. Though much practical and research work has been done to address both, much more needs to be done. We are seizing the moment of attention on this topic at IRWG. Building on #MeToo, the 2016 Michigan Meeting on Sexual Violence, and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report, IRWG is readying a research team for grant proposals in both currently funded areas and new funds we anticipate will become available once the federal government commits promised research funding to sexual harassment.
The core group of researchers in our Initiative on Gender Based Violence and Sexual Harassment includes faculty from Nursing, LSA (Sociology, Women’s Studies, Psychology, Organizational Studies), Law, Psychiatry, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Emergency Medicine, and Social Work. In 2019, our seed grant award program brought in new people to the established group. This interdisciplinary group of scholars, practitioners, and activists from across disciplines has been meeting with the goals of building a strong research agenda and seeking external grant funding to support this important work.
Insurance Justice Research Project
The landscape of health insurance plans is extremely complex and private companies typically do not make details of their plans easily available for research. While federal employee plans, Medicaid plans, marketplace plans, and other publicly linked plans are available for study of their terms and costs, researchers have not been able to systematically study what private companies offer.
Partnering with Leverage Global Consulting, led by UM alumna Christine Ferguson, to gain access to a proprietary health insurance database, IRWG researchers are looking at consumer- and patient-side insurance problems and barriers in areas such as women’s health, transgender health, contraception and abortion coverage, opioid addiction treatment coverage, and mental health coverage, and how these events drive life chances and economic circumstances among the insured population. Community-based research with transgender and non-binary people done by UM Social Work faculty member Shanna Kattari confirms that insurance barriers are a top research priority for this group, and the team will be gathering interviews with transgender patients about their insurance coverage experiences.
With funding from an Mcubed grant and the National Science Foundation, Anna Kirkland and her collaborators—Sarah Burgard (ISR, Sociology), Vanessa Dalton (Obstetrics and Gynecology), Shauhin Talesh, an insurance law expert from UC Irvine, and Karra Greenberg, a sociologist and IRWG postdoctoral fellow—will model different costs, access, and complexities from the patient’s perspective. The team is planning on seeking additional NSF funding and expanding collaborations.