Health equity for all: New social work faculty member works to advance health and wellness for sexual and gender diverse and racial/ethnic minority populations

How do contextual factors such as discrimination influence substance use/misuse and substance use disorders? How does this impact some of society’s vulnerable sexual and gender diverse (SGD) and racial/ethnic minority community members? For new Wayne State University School of Social Work Assistant Professor, Luisa Kcomt, using a social justice lens is critical to advancing health equity and promoting the health and well-being of SGD and racial/ethnic minority individuals across the nation.

As an Asian American woman and a first-generation college graduate, Kcomt’s lived experience as an immigrant has fostered a social consciousness and empathy for marginalized and vulnerable populations. “I experienced first-hand the struggles minority populations can face. Having lived in four countries (Peru, Bahamas, Canada and the U.S.), I have witnessed the degrees to which SGD and racial/ethnic minorities can be both targeted and supported by their communities. By identifying the modifiable mechanisms that may be associated with disparities in substance use, health, and healthcare access, my research informs clinical and policy efforts and targeted prevention and intervention strategies to better serve these communities.”

Kcomt’s research has demonstrated how contextual factors such as discrimination can influence substance use/misuse and substance use disorders. In a recent study, Kcomt and her colleagues analyzed data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey and found that approximately 70% of transgender individuals had experienced some form of transphobic discrimination. Experiencing transphobic discrimination increased the odds of alcohol misuse among transgender people. Specifically, experiencing three or more forms of discrimination was significantly associated with past-month binge drinking and past-month frequent binge drinking than individuals who did not experience transphobic discrimination.

Social workers and other professionals should be aware of the multi-faceted nature of transphobic discrimination as unique social stressors that many transgender people experience. We cannot create change if we are not aware of the problem. - Social Work Assistant Professor Luisa Kcomt, PhD

Kcomt is a long-standing Michigander, having lived in Southeastern Michigan for the past 20 years. “Obtaining this role as Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work is like coming home again!  It is an honor to serve at WSU and the Detroit communities.” Prior to taking on this new full-time faculty position, Kcomt served as a part-time faculty member in the School of Social Work and the College of Nursing teaching the Palliative Care and Elder Law and End of Life Issues courses, respectively. Kcomt earned her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Windsor School of Social Work in 2019. Following her doctoral studies, she was a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health. Kcomt also earned a Master of Social Work and Graduate Diploma in Social Administration from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo Ontario and a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Windsor.

Kcomt’s extensive research experience examining substance use, health disparities, and healthcare access among SGD groups recently led to new funding from the Center for the Assessment of Tobacco Regulations to explore potential differences between gender-fluid (i.e., persons who experience changes in gender identity over time) versus gender-stable individuals in their tobacco use and assess factors influencing their trajectories of tobacco use over time using nationally representative longitudinal data. “Evidence suggests that the prevalence of tobacco use is higher among transgender populations relative to cisgender populations, placing them at greater risk for smoking-related health consequences. Environmental stressors and targeted marketing efforts by the tobacco industry contribute to transgender individuals’ higher risk of tobacco use. Yet, most research on tobacco use among transgender populations comes from cross-sectional studies. Knowledge about gender-fluid individuals remains limited because of conventional binary conceptualizations of gender and the inability of cross-sectional studies to assess gender fluidity. I am excited to create new information that can be used to increase the health of the SGD community and reduce early death.”

Kcomt hopes to partner with the Social Work Queer Alliance (SWQA), a student organization committed to creating an accepting and supportive community for all people through education, advocacy, and social action, to advance her social justice mission. “Research that is led and performed by social workers is critical to informing social work practice and policy changes. The SWQA students bring a lot of passion to the table and I hope our collaboration can put our mission for social justice into tangible action creating a safe, welcoming, and inclusive learning community at the School of Social Work.”

Additionally, Kcomt will be collaborating with colleagues from the Wayne State University, the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health, and community organizations in the greater Detroit area to maximize the resilience of bereaved children and adolescents by helping them to learn adaptive coping skills. “Research has shown that substance use has increased significantly during the pandemic. Many children and adolescents have experienced the death of a significant person due to drug overdose. Combining my clinical experience with grief and loss with my research focus on substance use, I would like to create innovative methods of providing support to bereaved children and adolescents in the greater Detroit area who have suffered a death as a result of a drug overdose.”

Learn more about Kcomt’s research on her faculty profile.

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