I began the Digital Publishing fellowship motivated to use the protected time to build a project that utilized digital methodologies to explore the impact of racism on maternal and infant health outcomes. As an applied Sociologist with interdisciplinary training, I wanted to use GIS mapping to visualize fruitful opportunities to build on existing quantitative measures by including new variables informed by critical, intersectional, social scientific theorizing. In addition to physically acquiring a new skillset to create a GIS map, this fellowship has also provided space to invest in my professional development and career trajectory to better understand how to market the unconventional, artistic, and informative nuance digital humanities can bring to traditionally privileged and community knowledge spaces.
The remaining reflection will include a word cloud image detailing a variety of emotions, thoughts, scholar(ship), skills and topics related to the first four weeks of the fellowship. The image is in the shape of Iowa symbolizing the emergency focus of the project.
Maternal Health & Iowa
In 2018, Black birthing people had anywhere from 2.3 to 3 times the infant mortality rates as non-Hispanic whites. Black infants are four times as likely to die from complications related to low birthweight, and the rates have continued to worsen. In 2020, Black mothers in Iowa were up to six times more likely to die than white mothers. Some scholars argue that these rates may be related to maternal lifestyle behaviors, biological indicators and/or access prenatal care, all of which are relevant, however, this project seeks to identify key stakeholders, social characteristics such as neighborhoods composition and investment, quality and type of institutions (I.e. hospitals) embedded within communities and the policing and incarceration rates of communities as risk factors facilitating the persisting and growing racial differences in maternal and infant health experiences and outcomes.
Reflections from Summer Fellowship
The original goal of my summer digital project was to create a product that achieved the following goals: first, it allows interested audiences to better understand why protective factors are not protecting Black birthing people and their babies. Second, better understand Black maternal health in the United States and, third, to create a map that visualizes the association between barriers to flexible protective health resources, such as poverty, and maternal and infant health outcomes.
After several roadblocks, multisite troubleshooting and watching many tutorial videos; I created a map using US Census and CDC data and ARCGIS software. The link to the current project can be found here. These data served as pilot project for visualizing and comparing the association between social determinants of health and health outcomes for Black birthing folks and their babies in the United States in 2020.
One of the biggest lessons I learned throughout the fellowship was to “Be Patient”. This lesson is most applicable when identifying and quantifying a social determinant of health. First, there are no perfect variables! I found it difficult to decide which variables I wanted to focus on, however with the help of my contact person, I learned useful data can take many forms and what data and variables I choose for any project has less to do with ‘What is the most desired dataset’ and more about ‘What data do I have the most access to?’.
A highlight of the fellowship came from building connections with other fellows and the studio staff. My peers came from such a wide range of backgrounds and were interested such different topics that it granted me a unique opportunity to experience uncommon platforms, programs, and examples of digital scholarship. Together these connections have inspired ideas about new avenues for future and current research.
Moving forward, I will continue to refine this mapping idea to include attributes that illustrate how a variety of fields and theorist conceptualize relevant social determinants of health. More specifically, I will use the time invested and deliverables created from this fellowship to build a database for my dissertation work on measuring structural racism. My next steps include refining, expanding, refining the current database and map, for example, in the next version of this project, I will refine my topic by focusing on either an individual state or region of the United States. Once I narrowed down my location, I can include data on county specific institutional factors, for example, hospital administrative data.
Watch video here: youtube.com/shorts/A2tg9DOKwt8?feature=share