Kaston Anderson-Carpenter: A Microphone for the Marginalized

June 19, 2019 - Liz Schondelmayer

Kaston Anderson-Carpenter, an assistant professor of Psychology in the College of Social Science at Michigan State University, is dedicated to creating more inclusive, informed services for underrepresented groups. Working closely with marginalized communities – such as the LGBTQ+ community, individuals with HIV and individuals struggling with substance abuse – Anderson-Carpenter’s research seeks to find the best practices to assist those exhibiting high-risk behaviors.

Highlighting disparities, understanding high-risk behaviors

Anderson-Carpenter’s research addresses the challenges and needs of specific communities so that action can be as personalized as possible. For example, in a 2017 study, Anderson-Carpenter highlighted the disproportionate incarceration rate of transgender women of color, finding that nearly half of HIV-positive transgender women of color under the age of 26 had been incarcerated within the past year.

In 2018, Anderson-Carpenter and his team of student researchers studied pain reliever and sedative misuse amongst military veterans, looking specifically at the difference between heterosexual versus non-heterosexual veterans. The team found that bisexual military veterans are five times more likely to misuse opioid-based substances, highlighting an area of need that was previously unrecognized.

Anderson-Carpenter is also currently working on a project called Michiganders Empowered to Thrive in collaboration with the Ingham County Health Department and the Lansing Area AIDS Network. The goal of the research is to better understand the stigma experienced by individuals living with HIV and how that stigma impacts their decisions to engage in HIV care. Currently, the researchers are analyzing data from focus groups with non-heterosexual men of color to best understand their experiences within the health care system.

Anderson-Carpenter knows that, when it comes to interventions and treatment programs, one size does not fit all. “If we paint everyone with a broad brush and then try to provide treatment and prevention services and therapies, some people’s needs may not be met,” he explained. “If you want to change the behavior, you have to understand the context in which the behavior is occurring.”

Researching with communities – not in them

To Anderson-Carpenter, his research is activism. “The research questions that I ask, and my areas of interest, are guided by the communities I serve. I’m a strong believer that if what I’m doing is not seen as something that is important to the community, then I should not be doing it.

“We could sit in an ivory tower and pontificate all day, but then we’d be talking in an echo chamber. It’s my belief that if we’re not disseminating our research to the communities we’re working with in ways it can be understood and used, then we don’t belong in our positions.”