Social justice, social change, and mental health issues have always been at the forefront of Chandra Donnell Carey’s mind. Recently Carey, Wittenberg class of 1995, set upon a course to start a center for research at the University of North Texas (UNT) that would bring together multiple disciplines to focus on racial/ethnic equity across various areas of disparity in Texas and throughout the nation.
Carey, academic associate dean and the inaugural Vice President for Research Faculty Fellow in the Division of Research and Innovation, is the co-founder of the Center for Racial and Ethnic Equity in Health and Society at UNT.
“Ever since I took a class in biological research at Wittenberg, I’ve had a strong interest in research. My desire to seek my Ph.D. was born from wanting more opportunities to investigate issues affecting people and communities,” Carey said. “As the climate in our country continued to shift, my husband, a political scientist who studies race and ethnic political behavior, and I set a course to start the center. Building the center structure and reaching out to over 40 faculty across multiple disciplines, really positioned me well to understand the need for more social science research. As founding co-director of my own research center, The Center for Racial and Ethnic Equity in Health and Society (CREEHS), I believe my collaborative spirit and interdisciplinary connections will expand the focus of research innovation across the social science and humanities disciplines, capitalizing on the strength of our faculty on issues aligned with our tier-1 Hispanic Serving (HSI) and Minority Serving (MSI) statuses.”
Carey, who graduated from Wittenberg with a degree in psychology and a minor in education, is originally from Gary, Indiana, but presently resides just north of Dallas, Texas, with her husband, daughter, and son. She earned her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her Ph.D. in rehabilitation counselor education from Michigan State University and is also a certified rehabilitation counselor. While at Wittenberg, she was a member of Concerned Black Students, a cheerleader, a member of Imani Gospel Choir, and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
She recently took time out of her busy career to answer a few questions for Wittenberg.
Wittenberg: Congratulations on being named the inaugural Vice President for Research Faculty Fellow at the University of North Texas’ Division of Research and Innovation. Tell me what this means and what you will be doing in this new position.
Carey: This is an inaugural appointment for the Vice President Faculty Fellow and I am honored to have been selected. As a social science researcher, I hope to work with the Division of Research and Innovation to continue to expand and strengthen our vibrant research enterprise. I currently serve as academic associate dean in the College of Health and Public Services, in what I affectionately call my “day-job”. The Faculty Fellow appointment with the Division of Research and Innovation, is an excellent fellowship opportunity that will both capitalize on and enhance my research knowledge, while providing a diverse voice to the research initiatives at UNT.
Wittenberg: Tell me about the importance of your research and the timeliness and relevance of your research interests in societal equity issues?
Carey: I am biased, but the research I conduct also supports my perspective, that research on issues of equity is of paramount importance right now. Although the development of CREEHS had been in progress since 2018, it wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd that it gained attention from our university administration. That situation and the advent of COVID-19 brought a lot of relevancy as our nation started to really see and process the dynamics of disparities in our justice system and in health outcomes. These inequities, of course, weren’t new, but these unfortunate events amplified them, for some folks, in ways they hadn’t been in the past. Now more than ever, we need to look beyond just the biology and more traditional STEM-related impacts on our communities and really explore how they combine with the social determinants of health and impact overall behavioral health and physical health outcomes.
Wittenberg: Tell me about where you stand on access to mental health services for underserved populations, how you can change it in your current role, and maybe your goals for mental health services.
Carey: In 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General developed a seminal report that provided one of the first comprehensive overviews of mental health and mental illnesses from a cultural perspective. It ushered our nation into a dialogue examining disparities within relevant historical and cultural contexts. We see now, more than before, efforts to address mental health across communities of color and to normalize the process of seeking treatment. Where it may be clear to others that seeking treatment is a part of the process to recovery, the stigma, stereotypes and cultural tropes regarding strength, faith, and resilience, have prompted a denial of the impact of mental health in black and brown communities, even among those likely experiencing the daily effects of it. Between improper diagnoses, attitudinal barriers, economic barriers, lack of culturally responsive treatment and interventions, and ineffective relationships with service providers, few people of color who could benefit from mental health treatment receive appropriate care. The overall goal of my work is to increase access to mental health services and to increase the cultural responsiveness of practitioners so that appropriate care and interventions are available.
Wittenberg: Tell me about your research projects in which you utilized multivariate data analyses and grounded theory to explore mental health utilization and access for underserved populations and in the cultural competency of community-based providers.
Carey: My own mental health experiences and those of folks in my family really propelled my interest in this area. I wanted to better understand the barriers to treatment outside of my own lived experience and understand the challenges to providing effective treatments. My recent grant efforts have been to address the training and culturally responsive treatment practices for practitioners, while also recruiting culturally and linguistically diverse practitioners. I really prefer to use a mixed-method approach to reviewing these issues. Raw data in and of itself gives you information and trends, but it often lacks context or the ability to make causal inferences. Qualitative approaches, provide context from those with lived experiences and often produces more nuanced understandings of why issues exist and perhaps how to best address those issues from a community-based perspective.
Wittenberg: In thinking about Wittenberg, how did Wittenberg guide you on your current path?
Carey: I think Witt had a very direct hand in guiding me to where I am now. From the biological research course I took to my work with Dr. Jo Wilson’s lab exploring the impact of diet on preschool learning and behavior, I definitely caught the research 'bug' at Witt. Exposure to research at that level of my education yielded exactly what the research shows us about undergraduate research and how it can help to develop research interest and literacy in more diverse students who can eventually become research scholars and scientists themselves.
Given my own racial identity and background, coming from an underserved, urban area, unfortunately while at Witt, income disparities and racial inequity were very apparent. I realized in my own development as a student how that can impact your educational foundation and success. So, my own experience was impactful, but I also met some great peers and developed relationships that were truly meaningful and helped me to persist. Interacting with faculty like John Young was key. His presence at that time, as the only Black faculty member on campus, really allowed me to see a future possibility for myself. As far as the beginnings of my academic career, I really would have to give credit to Dr. Wilson. I ran into her maybe six-to-eight years ago at a conference for my discipline. I was stunned to see her on the elevator. She engaged with me and was the same “Jo” that I remembered. While I’m not quite sure she remembered me fully, I took the chance then to let her know how impactful being on her research team and having her as an advisor meant to me. It was a really great moment!