Committed to the Cause: Dr. Huijun Li Leaves Harvard for FAMU to Enhance Diversity Component of Research on Mental Health Disparities

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Dr. Huijun Li left Harvard University earlier this year to take a position as an assistant professor in the psychology department at Florida A&M University. After arriving at FAMU, she was awarded a $250,000 research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

At Harvard, Li served as director of multicultural research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. A native of China, Li received a master's degree in applied linguistics from Kunming University of Science and Technology. She has a Ph.D. in school psychology from the University of Arizona and is a nationally certified school psychologist. She remains a visiting assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School.

Li discusses the reasons for her recent move and her expansive research project that includes scientists and scholars at three universities on two continents.

DI: Why did you decide to leave Harvard for Florida A&M?

HL: The major reason is that the research interests of faculty members in the psychology department here match mine--they are studying mental health disparities in minority populations. Also, as a researcher I would see very few people from minority backgrounds on the research team. So, I take it as my professional responsibility to train as many potential researchers from minority backgrounds to actively conduct and be involved in research. Otherwise, the research results might be biased.

DI: What is the focus of your research?

HL: My research theme centers around reducing mental health disparities; specifically; I do studies on different kinds of risk factors that are related to the onset and progression of mental illness, severe mental illness, such as psychotic disorders in particular, of people from different cultural backgrounds. These risk factors could include discrimination, stigma, family atmosphere, barriers to services and help-seeking behaviors. How they affect the mental health of the individual and how they affect the treatment outcome, and it can be related to their social and role functions.

Each individual has a role in their community or in society, so because of mental illness a student may not be able to function in that role they may not be able to come to class or to get a degree because of the mental illness.

DI: How did the NIMH grant come about and what does it allow you to do? …