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UTA African-American Studies Conference features three School of Social Work professors

UTA School of Social Work social media booth at CSWE
Assistant Professors Jandel Crutchfield, Maxine Davis and Ryon Cobb

Three UTA School of Social Work professors presented research this month during an annual conference at the University of Texas at Arlington.

The professors were among six – including a researcher from the University of Alabama at Birmingham – who presented data on behaviors affecting mental health and well-being among African-American parents, young adults and minor athletes.

Assistant Professors Jandel Crutchfield, Maxine Davis and Ryon Cobb, each detailed findings from their independent research on “colorism,” domestic or intimate partner violence and connections between discrimination and aging.

The scholars’ work was presented during the seventh annual Center for African American Studies “Black Bodies: Health and Wellness” conference.  The Center hosted the conference Feb. 15 in the E.H. Hereford University Center on the UTA campus.

The professors’ research topics are relevant and, though some, such as “colorism,” are emotionally-charged, they should be publicly discussed, says Jason Shelton, director of the UTA Center for African American Studies and an organizer of the conference.

“I don’t know if we know these things in the ways that we should,” Dr. Shelton says of some African-American parents. “We don’t teach our kids a whole lot of things in terms of black history.”

Dr. Crutchfield’s presentation traces the roots of “colorism,” the practice of treating persons of color who have fairer complexions and Eurocentric facial features preferentially than those who have darker skin tones, thicker lips and tightly curled hair, to slavery.

She says the practice lingers in modern culture. Citing magazine advertising and television commentary on internationally-ranked tennis player Serena Williams, Dr. Crutchfield, questioned whether descriptions of the athlete are colorist.

Williams is darker complexioned, often wears her naturally-curly hair in braids and has a wide smile and broad nose. By comparison, Hollywood actress Halle Berry is fairer complexioned, wears straight hair styles and has a higher-bridged nose and thinner lips.

Williams has partnerships with Nike, Gatorade, Chase Bank and Beats Electronics, in which she often runs or displays her athletic abilities in company ads. Meanwhile Berry is the longtime “face” of Revlon cosmetics, often modeling products that highlight her facial features, such as foundations, lip colors or mascara.

The differences in opportunities between the two celebrities are not lost on young African-American girls, Dr. Crutchfield contends.

“Serena is described as ‘strong,’” she says of the magazine and TV ads.

“Is Serena ever thought of as ‘beautiful,’” Dr. Crutchfield asked the audience, rhetorically.

The event drew dozens of undergraduate and graduate students, UTA faculty members and children from a local school district. At one point, organizers had to order additional lunches for the overflow crowds.

A session led by Dr. Cobb, who researches the effects of discrimination on aging individuals, was attended by several dozen people.

According to recent data, a surprising trend in racial discrimination has emerged: blacks and Latinos die at lower rates from discriminatory practices than whites, says Dr. Cobb.

“Discrimination is really affecting the mortality rates among whites, but not among black and Latinos,” Dr. Cobb’s data revealed.

One reason African-Americans’ and Latinos’ death rates from discriminatory practices are lower than that of whites, he says, is because whites experience the mistreatment during later years of their lives.

Additionally, he says, “blacks develop a type of coping mechanism” while experiencing discrimination.

Other speakers at the conference were Verna Keith, a University of Alabama at Birmingham scholar, Krystal Beamon, author of The Enduring Color Line in U.S. Athletics and a UTA professor, and Roderick White, a Fort Worth attorney and former college athlete.

Dr. Shelton, director of the Center for African American Studies, says the professors’ research all highlight unique experiences among African-Americans in the United States.

“Whether we’re talking about sports…or body images, there’s a rich story that has to be told,” he says.

Dr. Davis, who studies relationship violence, also cited a startling trend: According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of four African-American women experiences domestic abuse over the course of their lives.

However, she says, many women who call the police to report their perpetrators end up going to jail themselves. “We depend entirely too much on the criminal justice system,” Dr. Davis told attendees in her conference session.

She sees a better response from churches, although she says, clergy members need training to deal with issues surrounding intimate partner violence.





News Topics: Faculty, General