Researchers all across the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus are working toward advancing knowledge and creating solutions to critical health disparities on both local and global scales. These researchers evaluate health disparities from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, and work to find ways to address the discrepancies within medicine, child development, law, food access, education, and health communication. Each Researcher Spotlight features a health disparities researcher doing important work right here at Illinois.
Ryan Wade, PhD, is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work. He is currently investigating a phenomenon known as Racialized Sexual Discrimination (RSD), as experienced by gay/bisexual men of color on mobile apps and websites used for dating and sexual networking. He uses mixed methods to develop, validate, and refine a multidimensional scale of RSD. He also uses quantitative methods to examine the association between RSD sub-scales and markers of psychological wellbeing (e.g., depressive symptoms and feelings of self-worth).
Q: What is your research in health disparities about?
My work predominantly examines disparities in psychological wellbeing among young Black gay/bisexual men (YBGBM). Specifically, I examine the ways in which stressors across multiple socioecological levels contribute to poor psychosocial functioning (e.g., elevated rates of depression, lower feelings of self-worth) for this population. My work also accounts for the unique social and cultural contexts in which YBGBM are situated, and examines both mediating and modifying factors along the pathway between stress and health outcomes. Much of my research is grounded in a stress and coping framework, and draws on minority stress theory, intersectionality, and ecological systems theory.
Q: How are you conducting your research?
I use a combination of quantitative methods (e.g., survey research) and qualitative methods (e.g., focus groups) to conduct my research, and I do both primary data collection and secondary data analysis. At present, I am investigating a phenomenon known as Racialized Sexual Discrimination (RSD), or sexual racism, as experienced by YBGBM men in online sexual networking venues. My work aims to define and measure the multidimensional construct of RSD, and examine the relationship between RSD subdomains and indicators of psychological wellbeing.
Q: How does being a part of the Illinois community support and enhance your research?
The Illinois community has been a wonderfully supportive and progressive place to work. There are many resources for junior investigators to take advantage of, such as opportunities related to grant funding and training on how to develop a robust program of research. Moreover, there is a strong sense of collegiality that pervades both my home department and the campus community as a whole. Illinois is a place that really values interdisciplinary scholarship, which makes for a rich intellectual environment that fosters innovative and meaningful research.
Q: How will your research or work improve society or reach people?
My research aims to bring awareness to the magnitude and impact of unique race- and sexuality-based stressors that gay/bisexual men of color experience. I hope that this work will provide a strong foundation for developing culturally-tailored interventions for this population at the individual level. Eventually, I would like to move towards developing more community- and structural-level initiatives to disrupt patterns of discrimination and other identity-related stressors.
Q: Do you have a personal story to share or path that led to your interest in this area of study?
As a queer-identified man of color, the experiences of those within my community, as well as my own experiences, have led me to pursue this line of research. Racialized Sexual Discrimination is a much talked about phenomenon—common across community message boards, blogs (and vlogs) on social media, articles in LGBT news outlets, and anywhere that queer people of color congregate. Yet there has been very limited social science research into this phenomenon. Both the scope (i.e., the varied manifestations) and the scale (i.e., the pervasiveness) of RSD is not well documented. And perhaps most importantly, the impact of RSD on gay/bisexual men of color’s psychological and sexual health remains unknown. I am thus committed to investigating RSD and other under-examined issues that may be associated with poorer psychosocial functioning among this population.