The U.S. civil rights movement took place nearly a half century ago, yet significant racial disparities persist in health and justice. The elimination of these disparities is a goal shared by many, including biomedical researchers, medical practitioners, legal scholars, and attorneys. The way in which Americans conceptualize race is more nuanced than the categorical perspective that dominated the early 20th Century. Racial discrimination is itself a health risk factor and known to vary by appearance (e.g. skin pigmentation). A growing number of Americans do not fall within the clear confines of one racial category, an issue that plagues researchers (biomedical and sociological alike) and hinders our efforts to understand the genetic and environmental factors and gene-environment interactions that contribute to the disparities. Despite this, policy mechanisms implemented to resolve the disparities and promote equality continue to rely on concepts of categorical race. How we perceive race, appearance, and ancestry may have important implications for today's manifestations of explicit and implicit racism and understanding these relationships may improve our ability to develop effective policies and educational tools to eliminate disparities in health and justice. I have devoted my career and training to the study of race as a bio-cultural phenomenon and to the ultimate goal of eliminating racial disparities in health and justice. The proposed career development plan is tailored to my multidisciplinary background and is designed to help me secure a full-time faculty position in a multidisciplinary institute or a dual-departmental appointment at a premiere university. With mentor support from accomplished scholars from diverse disciplines - including primary mentor and race/ethnicity/ancestry expert, Dr. Charmaine Royal;ELSI scholar, Dr. Robert Cook-Deegan;and Law Professor Guy-Uriel Charles), I will enhance my prior training in anthropology, genetics, and law and prepare myself for professional independence by (1) gaining additional training in social science research design and analysis and multivariate statistical analysis;(2) gaining experience with research involving DNA ancestry testing, racial identity issues, and minority populations;(3) developing effective teaching techniques for courses with interdisciplinary audiences;(4) improving my grantsmanship;(5) publishing additional law review articles in my area of expertise;and (6) building collaborative, multidisciplinary relationships. The career development plan consists of formal training, informal workshops, regular seminars, and attendance at national professional meetings to maintain a current understanding of anthropology, genetics, and ELSI topics while building my legal publication record and the foundation for my independent research agenda. This proposed research seeks to address racial disparities in health and justice using a multidisciplinary approach. First, this project will involve biological anthropology research to explore the relationships between categorical race, physical appearance, genealogical ancestry, perceived ancestry, and genomic ancestry. Second, this project will involve legal research to explore whether racial disparities in criminal and civil legal contexts are more appropriately attributable to appearance or perceived ancestry as opposed to categorical race and how the existing legal framework can address more nuanced forms of racial discrimination. Third, this project will involve cultural anthropology research to explore the perceptions of race, appearance, and ancestry and the implicit racial prejudices of future legal and medical practitioners. Together, the research aims of this project will have broad implications for biomedical research, medical practice, and legal practice and will help us come closer to eliminating racial disparities in health and justice.

Public Health Relevance

This study will provide important preliminary information on how future medical practitioners (that is, current medical students) view race, appearance, and ancestry. This will assist policymakers and medical institutions in understanding the implications of racially profiling doctors and race-indicated pharmaceuticals such as BiDil or carbamazepine. The study's focus on the relationship between race, appearance, and ancestry generally will assist biomedical researchers in research design as well as medical practice.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
Career Transition Award (K99)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-SEIR-B (01))
Program Officer
Mcewen, Jean
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Pennsylvania
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Claes, Peter; Liberton, Denise K; Daniels, Katleen et al. (2014) Modeling 3D facial shape from DNA. PLoS Genet 10:e1004224
Wagner, Jennifer K (2013) Out with the "junk DNA" phrase. J Forensic Sci 58:292-4