Spotlight On: Christina Jackson, Betsy Erbaugh
Galloway, N.J. – Black women in New Jersey experience seven times the rate of pregnancy-associated death compared to their white counterparts. Additionally, Black women experience 3.5 times the rate of infant death compared to white women. These troubling statistics are ones that Associate Professors of Sociology Christina Jackson and Betsy Erbaugh began addressing in research related to First Lady of New Jersey Tammy Murphy's Nurture NJ campaign, specifically the need for a maternal and infant health center in Trenton.
Partnering with Stockton and Kean University's Watson Institute, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) administered a grant in spring 2022 to conduct a landscape analysis and collect data from Black women and other women of color about their vision for the center and reproductive journeys in Trenton.
Erbaugh and Jackson, serving as project PIs, have conducted community-engaged research across New Jersey, particularly in Vineland, Atlantic City and Atlantic County, over the last 7-10 years. The Sociology and Anthropology program is known for conducting similar, collaborative work. Sreelekha Prakash, assistant professor of Health Science, and Alysia Mastrangelo, professor of Physical Therapy, have also been tremendous assets to the project, contributing their proficiency in health science research.
As a Black twin mom, myself, I was lucky to feel supported in my pregnancy in Pennsylvania, and it has been sobering but not surprising to hear of the experiences Black moms have on the daily juggling work, children, and school on top of securing safe housing for themselves and their families.
"For this project, working with the state and Kean University in conjunction with community groups in Trenton has been great. Our job has been to hold focus groups with moms in Trenton as well as conduct interviews with service providers," Jackson said. "Learning from the reproductive justice and Black Lives Matter movements, we facilitated this project in ways that center black women's experiences within the health care system and the larger environment, placing them as the authority of their experiences. We believe this approach will provide some initial answers to why there is such a large maternal mortality gap between Black and white women."
Erbaugh and Jackson are exploring securing new grants to continue the work of maternal and child health equity in South Jersey, creating more of a research hub in Atlantic City. They revived an initial concept by Jess Bonnan-White, associate professor of Criminal Justice, and Erbaugh for a collaborative research initiative here at Stockton – the space for the new collaborative opens at Stockton’s Rothenberg Building in Atlantic City in January 2023.
“It's exciting to work with the Office of the First Lady and partners across the state on such a bold and potentially transformative project,” Erbaugh said. “At the same time, we want to bring focus to the communities in Atlantic City and South Jersey that have been confronting persistent maternal and infant health disparities for years. We also want to bring Stockton’s community engagement strengths to bear and engage our students’ social science skills to understand the interlocking obstacles to equity and health, from multiple perspectives.” Stockton graduate Kiera Williams has joined the team alongside Kean student interns providing research support.
When asked how Jackson felt about being part of this project, she reflected, "This work has been so significant for me personally in addition to being a community-engaged researcher. As a Black twin mom, myself, I was lucky to feel supported in my pregnancy in Pennsylvania, and it has been sobering but not surprising to hear of the experiences Black moms have on the daily juggling work, children, and school on top of securing safe housing for themselves and their families. As researchers, it has been significant to further reveal that these staggering maternal mortality numbers are not just about the moment of having children; it's about the whole experience or what we call the social determinants of health. We have the opportunity to make that story clearer. Safe housing, career ladder jobs, access to fresh fruits and vegetables and support make a difference. Transforming medical institutions that have historically exploited these women for medical gain takes time, work, and making new connections we haven't made before."
Reported by Mandee McCullough