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The Demand for Greater Representation of Filipinx in Health and Social Work Research

Dale Maglalang, a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at the Brown University School of Public Health in Rhode Island, is challenging the current state of academia, advocating for greater representation of marginalized communities in health and social work research.

“People don’t exist in vacuums. We exist and hold a lot of identities,” Maglalang said. “All the identities we hold and how people perceive us influence how we navigate the world and the institutions and systems that we have to deal with on a daily basis.”

With work informed by Kimberlé Crenshaw’s research on intersectionality — a term used to describe the way people’s social identities can overlap and “intersect” with one another — Maglalang focuses on the social, cultural, and structural determinants of health, specifically how racism and other forms of oppression influence health behaviors in Black, Indigenous, and communities of color (BIPOC).

As an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis, Maglalang took up pre-nursing courses but eventually realized that his passion lay in Asian American Studies. He went on to explore the intersection of public health and ethnic studies, learning about the different health policies established in the Philippines and their effects on the health and well-being of Filipinos. Maglalang received encouragement from his mentor, Dr. Robyn Rodriguez, to pursue graduate school, a path he had yet to consider for himself as a low-income, first-generation student. By 2016, he earned his master’s degree in Asian American Studies from San Francisco State University and later pursued his MSW and Ph.D. in Social Work at Boston College.

Through his experience, Maglalang saw the need to expand approaches to health policies that cause health disparities among marginalized populations.

“I wanted to look into the origin of all the social, cultural, and structural factors because all these different aspects influence our health,” Maglalang said. “The institutions and policies that are in place, oftentimes, were never meant for people like us and were designed to keep a lot of us unhealthy.”

Maglalang advises BIPOC communities to leverage cultural assets, from the languages they speak to the food they consume, to be healthier individuals. Seeing how data and funding in the Filipino American health field are severely limited, Maglalang was determined to broaden the pre-existing scope of research, so researchers and nonprofit organizations could apply for grants to provide services for Filipino communities in need.

“We know these disparities exist in our communities. We see it, we live it,” Maglalang said. “It’s unfortunate that we continually have to make an argument why people should care about us, right?”

As a community organizer, Maglalang aims to boost political consciousness among Filipinx. He has worked with Migrante SOMA (South of Market) to advocate for the human and labor rights of Filipino service and care workers, Boston Pilipinx Education, Advocacy, and Resources (PEAR) to raise political concerns about Filipinx Americans in the diaspora and back in the Philippines, and Matahari Woman’s Worker Center in Boston to raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Massachusetts, that extends fair labor rights to eligible domestic workers. Maglalang intends to continually utilize his social work research to change and improve policies in health and racial justice for the better.

“My role is to be able to use the resources that I have in academia to be able to advance the work of people on the ground,” he said.

A part-time MPH student in epidemiology at Harvard, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Maglalang will be a tenure track assistant professor at New York University Silver School of Social Work in the Fall. He believes his latest study concerning the impact of stigma on BIPOC gay men that causes them to smoke will provide much-needed insight into the correlation between discrimination and smoking.

Maglalang stresses the importance of developing a stronger sense of identity, whether it be one’s ethnicity, gender, racial or sexual orientation, within marginalized groups to grow individual and community resilience and critical consciousness against racial oppression and reduce overall substance abuse. He offers words of advice for BIPOC individuals aspiring to do work in the field of health and social work:

“Stick with what you are passionate about, don’t allow what is a hot topic or what is most popularly funded to dictate what you can do your research on.”

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