MHDI FACULTY SPOTLIGHT
Jordan Soliz Professor, Department of Communication Studies
Date that you joined UNL: August 2004
Hometown: For a great deal of my life, I spent much of the school year aside from winter breaks and some spring breaks in Kansas City. But, my summers and these breaks during the school year were spent in Northern California—primarily, the Lake Tahoe area.
Describe your research and how it contributes to alleviating or understanding health disparities?
Much of my research related to health disparities focuses on contested or marginalized identities and the social factors that lead to overall well-being. For instance, many of my current projects focus on multiethnic-racial identity meaning individuals with parents from different ethnic-racial backgrounds. This population is growing exponentially in the United States and elsewhere around the world. Given the racialized world we live in, the various biases related to ethnic and racial identity, and the fact that much of our scholarship, discourses, or understanding of race and ethnicity assume a singular ethnic-racial identity, individuals with mixed backgrounds have unique experiences ranging from legitimizing identity to others to navigating ethnic-racial difference in the family. As such, these projects examine relational process in the personal and social networks that lead to secure identity and, in turn, well-being. Likewise, I research socialization processes in and outside of the family-- such as memorable messages--that are internalized to potentially buffer negative effects of experiencing bias and discrimination in general. In addition to marginalized ethnic-racial groups, I also focus on interfaith relationships and collaborate with some amazing graduate students working on similar projects focusing on ethnic-racial identity, illness and disability, and sexual minorities. At the heart of this work is based on the ideas that how we talk about identity and difference has important implications for our sense of connection, understanding of self, and relational solidarity—all of these are important determinants of well-being.
My academic training centered on communication and social identity emphasizing that part of our self-concept—in other words, who we are—is made up of our connection with various social groups such as race, ethnicity, religion, culture, age, to name a few. Because of the focus on these social identities—or social groups—this approach is often labeled an intergroup perspective. In and outside of my discipline, this approach has predominantly focused on how our attitudes toward social groups such as bias toward outgroups affect our interactions or orientations toward others. As such, how we feel about ourselves whether in terms of self-esteem, general positivity, and other aspects of well-being is a reflection of how the groups we identify with are perceived in society. For instance, a person belonging to a majority social group whether ethnic, racial, religious, etc. may be more likely to have a sense of pride and positive self-concept from this affiliation compared to an individual who may internalize negative stereotypes in society or hold a disdain for their group—both of which have potentially negative effects on well-being and other outcomes (e.g., academic achievement, trust in social institutions). Likewise, there is a growing body of scholarship exploring how our social groups can serve as an important “buffer” to stressors in life whether in terms of simply a sense of connection and belongingness or actually messages about managing identity and difference. In the end, I operate from the assumption that we cannot separate the individuals from the group and, as such, this perspective has important insight into our well-being and, increasingly, other health-related behavior.
How does your research contribute to your research area at MHDI?
Inherent in the study of communication and social identity is understanding of intergroup attitudes which include bias and discrimination—including racism. Obviously, “Racism and Discrimination” is a broad field and addressing this requires expertise from faculty across the university and in the community. As a communication scholar, I have a particular interest in the relationship between racism, discrimination, and our interactions and social discourses. First, how does our communication and behavior reflect bias? We often talk about bias in terms of attitudes, but they manifest in our behavior and interactions with others. The increased attention to microaggressions, for instance, is an understanding that racism and outgroup bias manifest is subtle, yet powerful ways in our interactions. Likewise, we know that many individuals from marginalized groups have to constrain or adapt their communication and behavior to conform to social norms that are often racialized and/or reflect dominant group expectations. How does not being able to enact a “true” identity across various domains in life have implications for our sense of self and well-being. Second, how does communication and behavior affect bias? What messages lead to biased vs. inclusive worldviews? Or, related to the discussion about well-being in the previous question, what messages growing up lead to secure identity and well-being for marginalized groups in society (e.g., messages that buffer negative effects of discrimination)? Finally, I also explore communication as an “agent of change.” Specifically, how can interactions either change negative attitudes toward outgroups or how can we talk across difference to achieve a collective goal?
What advice would you give to incoming students (graduate or undergraduate) who are interested in studying health disparities?
What I have learned from my colleagues over the years is that, while we are trained in a particular discipline with a specific focus, understanding health disparities requires a much broader understanding of the various perspectives on social determinants of health and various methodologies that one receives in their disciplinary training. Therefore, make sure you are reading outside of your specific area and connect with scholars from other areas, attend presentations from colleagues outside of your discipline, etc.—all of this will enrich your perspective. All of us may have an “expertise,” but none of us are THE expert. In other words, being a scholar should be a life-long journey of learning.
What advice would you give to incoming faculty who are interested in health disparity research?
Interestingly, it would be the same advice I discussed in the previous questions about incoming students. I would also suggest that you stay true to your interests and what intrinsically motivates you!
What would your colleagues/students be surprised to learn about you?
Oh wow! What can I share here? Surprised to learn about me? Okay, I can pretty much sing the entire musical of RENT from memory.