Q&A with Dr. Madina Agènor

Dr. Madina Agènor shares her research interests and the experiences that have shaped her career.

What are your current research interests?
My research investigates the structural and social determinants of sexual and reproductive health and cancer screening and prevention inequities in relation to multiple social positions and power relations—especially sexual orientation and heterosexism, gender and (cis)sexism, and race/ethnicity and racism—using an intersectional lens and mixed-methods research approach. I am currently focusing on examining how multiple forms of structural, institutional, and interpersonal discrimination, including racism, heterosexism, and (cis)sexism, independently and jointly influence access to sexual, reproductive, and cancer-related health services among marginalized U.S. populations, especially sexual minority women, Black and Latina women, transgender and gender diverse people of color, and Black sexual minority women.

How did you get interested in that research area?
My commitment to social justice and health equity comes from growing up in Haiti and Washington, DC and seeing social and economic inequities all around me and feeling that poverty, hunger, and homelessness were deeply unjust. As a college student, I connected these observations and feelings to public health issues and also deepened my understanding of the role of history, racism, sexism, and colonialism in shaping social injustices. After working with a women's health and rights organization in Costa Rica and helping with projects focusing on gender relations, poverty, intimate partner violence, and HIV among poor rural women, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career focusing on the structural and social determinants of sexual and reproductive health among women of color and poor and low-income women. In graduate school, I also became interested in LGBTQ+ health and have since also been committed to advancing health equity for sexual minority women and transgender and gender diverse people in particular.

What are 1-2 important take-home points about your work?
A key take-home point of my work is that health behaviors and health outcomes don't occur in a vacuum. Rather, they are shaped by the larger societal contexts in which people live. So, if we want to mitigate health inequities and advance health equity and population health, we have to identify and address the social determinants of health, as well as the structural factors that drive them in the first place (i.e., the determinants of the determinants)--including the laws, policies, rules, regulations, practices, norms, and governance structures that underpin and promote structural racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, and xenophobia, among other forms of structural discrimination, across all social systems and institutions. Another key take-home point of my work is that, while the health of marginalized populations is undermined by structural, institutional, and interpersonal discrimination, marginalized people also actively challenge and resist these injustices and promote their health and well-being every day through both individual and collective agency--and these efforts should be recognized and supported.

What are a couple of your favorite things to do when you’re not working?
In addition to being a researcher, I'm also a dancer. I've studied modern, jazz, and ballet since I was a child and have also performed, choreographed, and taught modern and jazz dance as an adult. As an undergraduate student at Brown, I was a proud member of Fusion Dance Company, which was a highlight of my time here. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find me taking a dance class, most recently Horton technique with Nailah Randall-Bellinger. During the pandemic, I also picked up hiking and now integrate daily walks into my schedule, which I find helps me think more clearly. I also practice yoga and meditation daily, which help me stay centered and grounded as I navigate academia--and really, life in general!