Two UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professors have been recognized with the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute “Impact Award” for their research into LGBTQ health disparities.
Dr. Susan Cochran, professor of epidemiology, and Dr. Vickie Mays, professor of health policy and management, received the awards at the Williams Institute’s 2022 Annual Update Gala; the institute is the leading research center at UCLA on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
“Dr. Mays and Dr. Cochran conducted trailblazing work on LGBTQ health disparities even before the Williams Institute was created,” said UCLA Law Associate Dean Brad Sears, founding executive director of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. “Much of the research we have conducted over the past two decades has been built from the foundation they created and continue to expand.”
As a researcher, Cochran, trained as both a psychologist and an epidemiologist, focuses on understanding the role of social stigma and discrimination in health care access, health behaviors, mental health, and health outcomes.
“While we still have a long road to go, I think it is also fair to say that we should celebrate the substantial progress in LGBT rights that we all here have accomplished in a relatively short period time,” Cochran said.
Mays, who also teaches in the Department of Psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences, currently serves as director of the UCLA BRITE Center for Science, Research & Policy and is a senior fellow in mental health at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
“To witness the Williams Institute grow out of the early scholarship foundation that I and others carved out is the excitement about the award,” Mays said. “My sense of being exhilarated and thrilled is not about what I did, but what (the Williams Institute) did with what that work and the early risk-taking in my career.”
Cochran received her Ph.D at UCLA in 1982, and has taught at the Fielding School since 1996; Mays received her Ph.D from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1979, and has taught at Fielding since 2003. Both have researched and published widely on health and health equity, especially in regards to the LGBTQ population. Some of this work, cited in Supreme Court cases, has been instrumental to challenging laws and paving the way for important rights and benefits, including LGBTQ individuals being parents.
“Nearly 25 years ago, quite unintentionally a few health surveys included questions that could be used in a novel way to identify respondents' sexual orientation,” Cochran said. “This was a sea change - we scientists could now confidently compare health outcomes of sexual minorities to those of heterosexuals, and perhaps more importantly, finally publish our findings in highly respected scientific journals. Today this comparative work is routine, but at the time it literally changed the known, accepted truths about our lives. We could now show unequivocally that social marginalization creates harm in our communities.”
At the April 8 awards event, Mays, who currently also serves as a special advisor on Black life to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, shared a personal remembrance of how the academic environment has changed for scholars from historically disadvantaged communities over her career.
“The Williams Institute was created, which gives all of us researchers a sense of empowerment, independence from convention and belongingness for a shared vision and commitment to making a difference,” Mays said. “It was in the creating of a place like the Williams Institute that we are free to dream and do the work that we, you and others believed was among the most important work for social justice without losing our careers.”