Sex, Drugs & Science

Jasmine Abrams

July 15, 2020 Valerie Earnshaw & Carly Hill Season 1 Episode 7
Sex, Drugs & Science
Jasmine Abrams
Chapters
Sex, Drugs & Science
Jasmine Abrams
Jul 15, 2020 Season 1 Episode 7
Valerie Earnshaw & Carly Hill

Dr. Jasmine Abrams is an international behavioral research scientist, educator, and entrepreneur working toward health equity for women of African ancestry. She is an Assistant Professor of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, founder of SpiceXperience (a sex-positive woman owned company providing premium erotic education), and co-founder of Research Unlimited (a full service research assistance agency). Jasmine talks to Valerie and Carly about her work on the Strong Black Women Schema, bringing pleasure to sexual health research, drawing energy from being an entrepreneur, and supporting Black academics. 

Read more about Dr. Abrams work here: http://www.drjasmineabrams.com/
Follow her on twitter and Instagram: @DrJasmineAbrams 

Learn more about SpiceXperience here: https://www.spicexperience.com/
Learn more about Research Unlimited here: http://researchunlimited.com/researchers/

Read about her in Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01705-x 

Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Jasmine Abrams is an international behavioral research scientist, educator, and entrepreneur working toward health equity for women of African ancestry. She is an Assistant Professor of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, founder of SpiceXperience (a sex-positive woman owned company providing premium erotic education), and co-founder of Research Unlimited (a full service research assistance agency). Jasmine talks to Valerie and Carly about her work on the Strong Black Women Schema, bringing pleasure to sexual health research, drawing energy from being an entrepreneur, and supporting Black academics. 

Read more about Dr. Abrams work here: http://www.drjasmineabrams.com/
Follow her on twitter and Instagram: @DrJasmineAbrams 

Learn more about SpiceXperience here: https://www.spicexperience.com/
Learn more about Research Unlimited here: http://researchunlimited.com/researchers/

Read about her in Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01705-x 

Valerie Earnshaw:

I'm Valerie Earnshaw.

Carly Hill:

I'm Carly Hill.

Valerie Earnshaw:

And this is Sex, Drugs and Science. Today's conversation is with Dr. Jasmine Abrams. Jasmine is an Assistant Professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health. She is also the founder of SpiceXperience and co-founder of Research Unlimited. All right , Jasmine, thank you so much for joining us today. We're thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to be able to talk to you.

Carly Hill:

Yes

Jasmine Abrams:

Thank you guys for having me. I'm excited to be here. So we have about 1,000,005 things that we actually want to talk to you about today, but we thought that we could start with some of your work on the strong Black woman schema. Mhmm.

Valerie Earnshaw:

And we were hoping that maybe we could just kick it off by asking you, what is the schema? How did you become interested in it?

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, so I guess I'll start with how I became interested in it. Um, when I started graduate school, my advisor was working on a research study, examining gender roles among Black women. And her ultimate goal was to create a measure of gender role beliefs, specifically tailored to Black women. And I was just, you know, bright eyed and bushy tailed as we often are when we start graduate school. And I, I said , uh, is there anything I can help you with, you know, I'm like here to be of service and she's like, well, I'm doing this study and it would be great if I had someone to help me, you know, go to the different community locations and collect data. And so I went around and , um, I think I was able to do the majority of the focus groups with her. We had eight focus groups for that study , 44 women all together. And the very last question on the interview guide was what does it mean to be a strong Black woman? But I noticed that in every single group, the women told us before we ever asked the question. So it was very clear to me when we were doing this study that this is something that's very important and central to the identities of these women that we have been interviewing. And from our analysis, it really appeared to me that the strong Black woman schema not only serves as sort of this ideal representation of womanhood , of black womanhood, but also sort of like a psychological coping mechanism that wraps up in it, resilience and independence and these multiple forms of strength and sort of matriarchal leadership, whether or not you have children. And what we also observed was that it helped to facilitate the survival of families in the survival of communities. It's something that women noted was apparent in their sort of for-mothers, their ancestors, their other women in their communities and families that they looked up to. And it seemed like it was aspirational for most women, but in the same breath , we also could see that women were overwhelmed by assuming all of the roles and responsibilities of a strong Black woman. And so that sort of led to some of the later work we did with the schema, just examining , sort of behaviors and other psychological constructs that it was related to. That was a long answer. Oh.

Valerie Earnshaw:

No, no, that's We're here for all of it. So we were also looking through this work and, and observing that it feels like it's, it's a bit of this mixed bag, right? So I was , um, reading some of the quotes in the original article first off, congratulations on this being like your first, you know, baby grad school project. And it being such a great article, beautifully written, it's been well cited . Like it's,

Jasmine Abrams:

Thank you

Valerie Earnshaw:

I mean, that's amazing, but I was really struck and, you know, there's this quote from one of your participants who she said, you're supposed to be a pack-man to carry it all on your back for yourself and nobody else, emotionally and physically, that strain can lead to resilience. And I think that strength is what got us where we are. So, but then she goes on to say, we had to be strong because when we wanted to fall back, there was nobody there to catch us. And that , you know, this quote just broke my heart because, you know, to me, it was really lovely recognizing the strength of, you know , herself and her community, but just this visual that I had of her falling back with this pack on her back and nobody there to catch her, I felt it was really striking.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. And it was, and being in the room and hearing women sort of affirm her, like, yes, you know, like I feel you, it was that was one of the main reasons why I was like, we have to look at whether or not this is associated with depression. Um, like we just have to, and even how women engage with the mental healthcare system, because the idea of being this strong Black woman is like, we had some of our participants that internalize it the way you just spoke about where it's like, I don't have a choice, but to embody this role. So I have to be this way. And then we had some women that were also like, well, I have support like tangible support people that I could fall back on, but I need to do it alone and independently because I need to be able to prove to myself that this is who I am. And so in , in the paper, it sort of emerged as a theme that we called, I think it was obligatory and volitional resilience or independence. And it was just clear that independence is key to these women and it can manifest in different forms depending on the type of supportive resources that women have. There's actually been some really interesting books written in the more like lay community about how to love a strong Black woman, like how, how can you be in a relationship with a woman that maybe does not want to be vulnerable or, or interdependent. And those are some of the key elements of being in a , a healthy relationship. So yeah, some of those things emerged too .

Valerie Earnshaw:

That's super interesting. And I mean, we'll get there in a little bit, but that seems to relate to some of your, u m, your work with SpiceXperience. Right. I saw that. So this is company. I mean, we'll talk about it a little bit more later, but I saw that you do sort of individual consultations with folks and that this seems like it'd be something that would come up in conversation as folks are kind of navigating their interpersonal relationships, romantic relationships.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. It's interesting. So SpiceXperience has focused more on like sex as an act itself , and less so the sort of emotional, psychological, even spiritual aspects that come with engaging in sexual activity with other humans. So I don't, that's interesting to me, I think those things definitely informed the way I , sort of consult with people and do the workshops, but those are less of the concerns that come up for women. And I have some ideas about why , I can talk about them now or later. I don't know which one.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah no, go for it.

Jasmine Abrams:

Okay. So interestingly, this whole , the , the reason why I founded the company , like bare my soul here a little bit. So I was 25 when I had my first orgasm and I was thinking, "What in the hell? Like, why didn't you tell me this was what I was supposed to experiencing?"

Valerie Earnshaw:

Were you surprised? Were you like, well , just stop . Or did you think you were having, or , sorry, I'm so interested. Did you think you were having orgasms the whole time and then you had one and you were like,

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, I thought so, I conflated like vaginal lubrication with this must be, you know, this is an orgasm, I'm enjoying it as pleasurable. But when I actually had the first vaginal orgasm, I , my socks were completely blown off. And I was like, I just started asking everyone, every woman, like, have you had an orgasm, like just started asking people in my friends circle. And then that expanded to my family. I was asking women older, younger, and I was floored at the number of people who either said no flat out, no. Or I don't know. And I knew for the women who told me, I don't know, I'm like, no.

Valerie Earnshaw:

So I love this because I feel like you're, if you're 25, were you, where were you in your academic trajectory? Were you in grad? Where are you?

Jasmine Abrams:

I was in grad school.

Valerie Earnshaw:

You're in grad school, picture her, has an orgasm and then she's like, wait a minute. What else is happening? And then you go do some field research figure out, because I feel like if you have it earlier in life, you know, you're not going to engage in the, like, you know, Q and A or the qualitative inquiry of those rounds, you necessarily know that's a really great point.

Jasmine Abrams:

Definitely grad school is sort of, and just the training you get on sort of how you should think about things and question consistently, and sort of always be skeptical and critical. That was definitely in my brain at the time. And like part of my conditioning. So it was happening with my questioning of people like you. So you never had to have, do you , have you tried, what are you doing to try? How do you feel about it? You know, and I started looking into the research literature to find that it's like, in some of these studies, the majority of women have never had an orgasm or do not orgasm during partner sex. And this is specifically for heterosexual women. And so when I start digging a little more into the literature , there's some scholars who hypothesize that because women naturally, I guess I'm air quoting naturally want to please other people like their primary goal is to make sure their partners' pleased first. They don't see the same sort of orgasm gap is what they're calling it. And with women who are lesbians or women who are bisexual, but they see it with women who are heterosexual, because the priority is always on the man. And so it goes back into some of my strong Black woman research where it's like, the priority is always someone, not myself. Okay. Yeah, its a little connected

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yes, totally connected. That's amazing. Well, the thing that I often think about with my scholarship or my research is that I have these like stigma lenses on and I can see stigma everywhere. I'm like, there goes the squirrel there's no , that squirrel might be prejudicial. Like, I don't know. So, so I think once you, especially in grad school, whatever lens, like you're putting on, I think it's, it's , um, you know, you're , you put on the right lens or you're in the right place when you see these connections with lots of other things .

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, yeah.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Circling back to the schema. So, okay . So it seems like one of the outcomes of like really kind of internalizing this strong Black woman schema might be the orgasm gap and you mentioned,

Jasmine Abrams:

So I have new data I have not analyzed it yet, but I cannot wait to run the analyses to see like we actually collected data , um, that we have our strong Black woman measure. And then we also have measures of like sexual pleasure, sexual satisfaction. So I cannot wait to see if it's actually related.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh, we're gonna, we're gonna need a part two for them to come learn more about it.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yes!

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, you've also though found, I mean, you found these interesting impacts on mental health for the schema, right. So I was particularly interested. You had this really kind of balanced take on the association with depressive symptoms. So you had noted that it's sort of, the schema is associated with atypical symptoms of mental illness, like functional depression. I think you said that might go unnoticed or misdiagnosed. I thought that was really interesting.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. I, you know, it's so funny that you ask this question because just today I was just scrolling my Instagram feed and a woman that someone that is I'm friends with posted , that she has she's, she has high functioning depression. And I was like, huh, I never heard it. Where did that way? And she's a Black woman in a doctoral program. And she's like in a lot of people don't understand that. And she sort of goes on to just tell this story about how, because she's such a high functioning person, people don't understand that she could also be depressed simultaneously. And I think that's the kind of way that depression often manifests for Black women is like their entire lives. Don't just shut down. Because in many instances they feel like I can't, my life can't shut down. Like I have, I'm the pulse and the lifeblood of this whole movement, like called life. And if I falter or fall or can't be there for everyone, then who will be , so yeah, I even heard this , I was on a radio show maybe about two years ago and a woman called in and she's like, you know, we were talking about the strong Black woman schema. She's like, this is such an interesting conversation. You know, just last week I was really having like a really rough breakdown. And if I could have checked myself into a place I would have, but I am a single mother and I'm the primary caretaker for my father. Who's, you know, an older adult with a chronic illness. And I, you know, in my thinking about, can I go and check myself in somewhere? My , the answer was automatically, no, because who's going to take care of my children. Who's going to take care of my father without putting them in a situation of, you know, maybe being in some sort of system that might be later hard to get them out of. So those are some of the reasons why I think it might manifest differently. And I was really privileged to have a counseling psychologist on that paper to be able to offer some perspective about how practitioners might, you know, differentially evaluate Black women, or also work with them in the context of depressive symptomatology.

Valerie Earnshaw:

That's fantastic. I mean, one of the things that I was thinking about as you were describing this is that, you know, who did we make our depression screeners for? Like who was the basis for those screeners? And so if you know , we were not including Black women in those samples, then we're going to miss those experiences. And I think that, you know, there's a push at the National Institutes of Health when you're doing your basic social and behavioral science and all science, really to make sure that you have representative samples so that we, when we first create our screeners or when we develop our treatments, that they, they work for everyone that we catch all of these kind of diverse symptoms, maybe in all the different ways that they manifest. And this seems like to me, a really good example of why that's so important.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. I think it , you know, you're making such a great point and I think it's one of the more obvious for us as scientists , ways that sort of systemic racism has manifested in academia and in science. And it's interesting to me that I think it was only the nineties that the NIH came out with the guidance about, like, if you've ever written an NIH grant, you know, you have that section on inclusion of women minorities. And I think it's also children. Um, but there there's this awesome scholar, I believe it's Lisa Bullock . Y'all will have to fact check me.

Valerie Earnshaw:

It's probably Lisa Bullock, she is the scholar of all the great things, so,

Jasmine Abrams:

Oh, amazing. Yeah . So I think it was her, but she wrote this incredible article about , that the, just the language of that statement. Yeah . Women and Minorities

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yes, That's the title of her article and yeah,

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, yeah. Which doesn't account for the fact that women might also be minorities, you know, like we could be both. And then she, I mean, just does such an incredible job of really explaining why that's problematic in science. But I think to your point, like this is one example of why it's problematic, even the thinking around who should be included women and minorities and then not even recognizing that we should account for the intersections of those identities as well.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Right. And it, it seems like, you know, something, when we're reading about this work with the , um , strong Black woman schema that we both have, you know, these outcomes or these associations that are leading towards , um, things that threaten women's wellbeing, but then also there's this resilience thread. Right? So it seems like, you know, the perception that I'm a strong person that I can carry this on my back, That that might have some positive impacts for women as well. So Is that something you've looked at or that you think about in your work

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, it is something I think about. I remember when I was putting together this study. So the study that came out of about strong Black woman and depressive symptoms was actually, it wasn't a thesis, it wasn't a dissertation, it was like something I decided to do in the middle that I don't know why my advisor did talk me off that ledge, but , I did it I'm thankful that I did and that she sort of supported me in doing it. But when I was talking with one of my other mentors at the time, and I was telling him, you know, I'm interested to see if it's related to this and that all these negative outcomes. And he, he questioned me and said , " How do you feel about further pathologizing Black people with your science?" And I was like, "Okay." I was like, it hadn't even occurred to me that I was taking something that is largely viewed very positively and held in a very high regard among Black women and sort of demonizing it in the literature. But I, so for me it was like important. And I'm glad that you picked up on from my work that I'm trying to sort of balance the narrative a bit. Yeah. That, yeah, it was just important for me to make sure I had that thread of like women see this as something that is good and they see it as something that has resulted in a numerous a number of positive outcomes. So that being said, I do, I am interested in looking at more of the positive outcomes associated with the schema also, so that there is a little bit more balanced in the literature, but I'm really happy that people are seeing that there are some issues associated with how we sort of characterize Black womanhood and, and the actions and responsibilities and roles associated with that. And I think it has like sort of recognizing that has sort of contributed to the narrative of self care among Black women. That's becoming extremely popular right now. I would say among all women, but definitely among Black women, this resurgence or insurgence of self care. And even now we're seeing people start to quote Audre Lorde a little bit more about this being a political act, being able to care for myself in the face of systemic racism and sexism and racist sexism. So it's really incredible to see that while it does have some, some negative outcomes associated with it, people do see it as a positive , a positive phenomenon that is empowering, that gives them a source of strength and a source of pride, which also came up in that first study. We did like being able to be proud of who I am in spite of all these "isms" that I might be facing.

Carly Hill:

Is that the hope that you had for the work originally? Like what was your original like desired outcome when you were, you know, coming out with this, you know, like, was it more like to address these sort of, you know, the negative repercussions of this schema, you know, or, or where were you hoping that it was going to kind of go?

Jasmine Abrams:

Honestly there, so there's another quote in the, the from the focus groups. I think it's in that first paper that I published in 2014, where one of the participants said , "You know, it's overwhelming, you're doing all of these things for everyone else. And you're constantly putting yourself on the back burner that after years and years, that's when you start to see health problems come up, that's when you start to see, you know, all of these issues manifest, because we're all of this time, you put everyone in front of yourself, you never attended to yourself. "And just the energy in the room in that moment and the weight of those comments, she said something like, you know, spiritual anorexia. And I was just like, "Oh wow." And that for me, made me think, like, it just set my brain on fire, like, Oh my goodness, is this related to negative health outcomes? Can this explain or, you know, is this a mediating factor or moderating factor? And how can we, like , I started becoming really interested, but I noticed the literature was lacking on a definition. Like, what is it characterizing it? So I was happy that we were doing those focus groups and able to put that out first so that we had the foundational work to be able to explore what outcomes might be associated with the construct.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Can I ask , I do a lot, or I've been thinking lately about, you know, my own position in my research. And most of that has been, you know, as a woman, why aren't I doing more sexism research? And as someone living with a chronic illness, I'm really interested overall in chronic illness, stigma, an illness stigma, but I am not doing like research on stigma, experienced by people with my specific chronic illness in part, because like it bums me out and it's scary. Like when I look at statistics, like they just, they, they bummed me out. They make me sad and they , you know, it's nerve wracking a little bit. So I'm just curious as to like what it , what it has been for you as a Black woman to do this type of research and engage and these findings as you're doing them, or as you're finding them, I guess.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. This is such a great question that I don't think is ever really talked about outside of like colleagues who share similar experiences. I'm thinking about when like the , #BlackInTheIvory hashtag came out and everyone was sort of rattling off their experiences about what it's like to be a Black person in academia. And one of the things that I continue with even during this sort of resurgence and the media's newly focused attention on systemic racism and oppression. It's, I feel like it's heavier for me because this is my work, you know, like racism is engrained in the fabric of my work. Sexism is engrained in the fabric of my work and then to turn on TV or get on social media or have conversations with family members or friends. And then it's also the central theme and all of those things, it feels sometimes it feels like suffocating. Like I want to talk about something else, you know, I want not my entire world to be something that is really sad and discouraging to think about and look at. And I , I remember a couple of years ago I was writing a paper. We haven't gotten the paper published just yet. But the paper was about anticipatory race-related stress and its impact on cardiovascular health. And we were trying to think of creative ways to like start the paper. A lot of people will notice that I often start my paper with quotes.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Mhm they are beautiful.

Jasmine Abrams:

If the journal does not say, like, please no stop, then, you know , it flies. But in this particular paper, I was trying to think of like a quote or some creative way. And I thought, why don't we just list, like, make the first page a list of names of people who have experienced , um, like police brutality. Cause that was what was trending in the media at the time. And I remember like working on that first page and starting to type up the names and I think I was maybe like 10 names in and it was like, I was just flooded with emotion. Like couldn't even fit like, no , okay . Let's not do this. Delete, delete, delete. This is like really heavy and overwhelming. Yeah. So I think to answer your question in a shorter way, it's overwhelming sometimes. It's exhausting. Sometimes it's deeply disheartening sometimes, but I also feel like I am and in an incredible position of privilege to be able to do this work , um, I'm sort of hopeful because the work is being done and like going back to read articles that were written about Black people, not by Black people in the sixties or fifties or forties. And I'm like, my God, thankfully we are now on the scene and able to contribute to the conversation. So in that way, I'm like, it makes me feel hopeful , that we have a voice in science , a emerging voice, but yeah, it can be rough.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, even in hearing you talk about it, I think that I'm able to recognize my own privilege and why I don't feel like I have to do the sexism research. Cause there's, you know, there's a bunch of White ladies. I mean, there's just a bunch of women. Like there's not as much of like a pipeline issue. Like there's, there's, I feel like I can, I can sit back and I can study something else because I think that there's great scholarship out there on that. I mean, I also think that there's great scholarship already in the areas that I'm doing scholarships. So I don't know, but you know, I think when , it's a different ball game, when you feel maybe you like, no, I need to, I need to contribute here and I need to like represent these experiences and make sure that this, that the science is accurate. And , um, so I , so for me, that's definitely a point of privilege that I don't have to, you know, do, or IBD research, which is my chronic illness. That's still very small, but I feel like, you know, that's doing okay , but at least for the sexism research more generally, I feel like there's a lot of hands on deck for that.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. It's , interesting. A few weeks ago, my project manager for the study I have going on in Haiti about stigma , um, was talking to me. She said, she, we , so we're in the coding phase of qualitative research and some of these interviews are really heavy. One of them , where we're talking to women about accessing care and experiences related to stigma, and maybe why they aren't accessing care for the, those who choose to , have babies at home instead of in hospital or clinical setting. And one of our participants said, "I would rather die at home."

Valerie Earnshaw:

Wow.

Jasmine Abrams:

And that's just like a microcosm of what we were reading and encountering in these interviews. And she, my project manager did , all of the interviews and focus groups. So I like called her when I got to that particular transcript. And I'm like, "Oh my goodness." Like, this is like, Whoa , you know, what were you thinking when they said this? And just sort of reflecting the parent. She said, she had actually talked with her therapist about it. And her therapist was like, "Were you getting therapy while you were doing these interviews?" And she was saying, "I wish I had participated in some sort of therapeutic practice while I was doing these focus groups and interviews because it did weigh very heavily on me." And so it makes me think about like doing, doing my work in general with women of African ancestry and often on topics that are heavy. And about the role of therapy in, in this work, you know, it's something that I don't think comes up much, but I'm like, damn, that wouldn't be important to do . I guess we should be in therapy after this.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, I came really late to the realization. So into some insight into why I'm currently doing a project that I'm doing and Carly works with me on this. So I have , um, you know, it's called a K01 study, so it's several hundred thousand dollars into this research project and it's all on substance use disorders and families. And, you know, I felt like I was coming at this from like a very scientific, like, you know, standpoint, like this is the stigma literature, this is the disclosure literature, and this is what we need based on the literature. Right. And then I - you know, one of my neighbors was asking me about it and I just was like, hit in the face by, Oh yeah. Maybe I have landed on this research project because of all, you know , the substance use disorders that have unfolded in my family and me just , you know, trying to figure that out in some sort of way. And , but it was just funny that it was, you know, two years into the project. It's definitely a research is me-search moment.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. And like we say that all the time, at least in grad school, I remember saying it all the time amongst my peers, but I'm like, it still rings true through like, even into my career. The research is me search is definitely still happening. Yes.

Valerie Earnshaw:

All right . Well, we know , um, that you've been doing some mixed methods work or some mixed method methods, research focused on , uh, sexual pleasure among Black women and its relationships with sexual behavior. And so this is some maybe hot off the press, this stuff, but we were hoping that you might be able to share some of what you've been finding, super excited.

Carly Hill:

I'm on the edge of my seat right now, I'm serious.

Jasmine Abrams:

So, okay. Can I share how I got into this?

Valerie Earnshaw:

We want to know all of it. How you got into it? What you've done, tell us all of this ,

Carly Hill:

Take us back to the top of the TED talk and walk us through.

Jasmine Abrams:

So, okay. I mentioned before, like I had my first orgasm, when I was 25 and that sort of set off this informal research in my own social network, like what what's going on with you? Have you ever had one of those let you know, and then looking into the scientific literature and it was at that point, it was just mere curiosity. Like people Googling random things. It was like that sort of thing, nothing. I was thinking about turning into like a scientific interest or anything like that until I was getting close to graduating. This was at VCU and we were hiring a faculty member like to join the department. So we were doing interviews and I was attending all the job talks because I was going to have to give a job talk soon and wanting to see what ones look like. And one of the job talks I went to , um, her name is Tyranny. I think her last name is Laurence. Um, but I remember her first name because she said , My first name is Tiffany or Tyranny, like the government.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well done

Jasmine Abrams:

That name will stick with me forever. But she did her presentation and I've noticed as a person that researches HIV and sexual behavior, that it makes other scientists who are not in the sex research world, sometimes uncomfortable when I talk about sex. And so I just l ove the way she started her presentation. She said, "You know, I'm a sex researcher, and today we're g oing t o talk about sex, but we're not g oing t o talk about sex i n the way that most researchers talk about sex. Most researchers tell you what's bad about sex, the STDs, unintended pregnancy, trauma. I'm going to be talking to you about how good sex is for you." And I was like, say more! So she goes through this amazing presentation about how they looked at. They essentially prescribed sex to women with depression, diagnose

Valerie Earnshaw:

I love this, prescribe sex. They prescribed it. This group has more sex. This group just keep doing what you're doing. Essentially

Jasmine Abrams:

We want you guys to have sex three times a week, and then they paired it. They did another, arm-on-the-trial where it was like, we want these participants to do sex and exercise three times a week. This group does just exercise. So long story short, the participants who were having sex three times a week, like over half of them reduce their depressant depression symptoms. And , and I'm maybe misquoting her article. This is what I remember from like the findings or something similar to this. So a lot of people were experiencing lower depression symptoms. And then several people in the study actually came off their depressive medication.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Wow.

Jasmine Abrams:

Like, wow, we can prescribe sex to be a thing, you know, so this should be a thing. And I just, like, I remember wanting to know who were her participants. And I looked up the study afterwards and I saw that it wasn't a very diverse sample in terms of racial, ethnic background. And so I started looking into the literature and I was floored there. At that time, there were maybe two studies on Black women's sexual pleasure, like explicit.

Valerie Earnshaw:

And you were in grad school in the 2010s right or? Right. Or this is like 2014, 2014 two studies. Wow. Okay.

Jasmine Abrams:

I was like, but then you Google or, you know, search EBSCO host or Pub Med or whatever your preferred database is. And you can find ample studies on Black women in HIV, Black woman in STDs, Black women in childhood sexual trauma, Black women and unintended pregnancy, like all the negative outcomes that we associate with sex, plenty of research on Black women. But when we think about sex as medicine or sex is, something good for us or how Black women are experiencing pleasure, sexual satisfaction, we're underrepresented in studies with women in general. And then there are almost no studies exclusively focused on Black women in particular,

Valerie Earnshaw:

If you're doing your little Google Scholar search near it like Black women and sex, you're never going to have sex again. Like.

Jasmine Abrams:

Exactly, exactly! The literature is extremely fragmented and one sided when it comes to Black women's sexual health.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Hmm. Okay. So you're noticing then at this point in grad school, that there is a pretty significant gap in the literature.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. And I was like, okay , dang, this sucks, but I'm doing this thing. And I know that people are like, if you, you know, you want to get tenure, you need to like focus on a thing. And what changed was I got this , fellowship opportunity at Yale and my mentor there. I was like working on like putting together a project and he just sort of stopped me. And he's like, "You don't seem very excited about this. Well , tell me what does excite you?" And so I started telling him about this stuff and he's like, "This sounds great. Why don't you do this?"And I'm like, "Well, it doesn't, it's not what I've been doing." And he's like, "Well, can you connect it?" And I was like, can I, so I , I started to look into the research literature to see what had been done in the area of sexual satisfaction, sexual pleasure, and HIV prevention. And there were some studies that have been done, none really with Black women, like Black women were maybe a small percentage of people in a study or like sexual pleasure may have been mentioned, but wasn't the focus. So I was like, this is an opportunity. And I was encouraged by my mentor to take advantage of it. So I got some pilot funding and that's how we ended up with this mixed methods study. So amazing experience.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Sounds like it , Did this mentor happen to be the Dr. Trace Kershaw?

Jasmine Abrams:

Yes!

Valerie Earnshaw:

He is so great. So I did a postdoc up at Yale and , um, he was the head of the program of the postdoc program or head of the postdoc program. And he's, I mean, he's just a phenomenal mentor and he's very like low key. You wouldn't expect that. He'd be the person, you know, saying, go ahead, go study pleasure.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yes!

Valerie Earnshaw:

That's amazing

Jasmine Abrams:

Trace is incredible. Like, I just don't have words to describe how encouraging and inspiring,affirming, like resourceful, supportive. He's literally all the good things of a mentor. And I have no idea how, because he does this for so many people, like , like talking to my colleagues, I'm like, yeah, just, you know, have my meeting with Trace. And they're like, Oh, I just met with Trace. And I'm like,

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. And as I like level up a little bit in my own career, I realized how little time people really get for mentoring. And he, and, you know, folks like him do so much and it's just so much work. And he, and there's just so such little like recognition for it . Maybe we need, maybe we need to figure out what kind of awards, because you know , mentorship awards we can nominate Trace for.

Jasmine Abrams:

I love that.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Okay. Well, we'll have our follow-up. Our follow-up episode is going to focus on your, the findings that you were talking about earlier, plus, you know, our adventure story about nominating Trace for all of the awards.

Jasmine Abrams:

I love it. Yes, yes, yes. He deserves it .

Valerie Earnshaw:

Okay. So you have , so you have your encouragement, you got your funding to do your pilot study. So what did you decide to do?

Jasmine Abrams:

So I wanted to start off just, I guess, I don't know what part of my training this came from, but making sure you're speaking the same language as your participants is something that I guess maybe it's for my qualitative. Yeah. I'm sure it's for my qualitative training. Like making sure the way your understanding of phenomenon is, or rather making sure you have a good sense of how your participants or your target population understands the phenomenon before you try to intervene on it. Like how do they even conceptualize it, define it, characterize it. And so that was step one, like figuring out how do women define sexual pleasure? How do they achieve it with themselves, with a partner? What barriers do they have to achieving it? What helps them to achieve it? Would they be open and to pleasure, focus programming? What would set programming look like? What might be barriers to participating in said programming? So that was the qualitative study. And we, I mean, it was such a phenomenal experience to be able to sit with women for an hour to an hour and a half and talk about good sex, like a great experience.

Valerie Earnshaw:

And I love this too, because like, I feel like Carly and I like our studies. I mean, maybe our recent one is slightly less of a bummer, but at least, you know, Carly's traveled like all over the state of Delaware Asking people. Tell me about , um, tell me about all the times when people have treated you like, you know, like dirt because of your HIV or because like, yeah. And those interviews are so like, well, Carly you should share.

Carly Hill:

I was just g oing t o say I'm pretty like high key right now. Like trying to get my pitch to Jasmine here, just to see if she needs anyone to do, qualitative data collection for her. Like, cause that sounds like ideal. Yeah, absolutely. W hat a complete 180 from honestly, like I feel like qualitative data collection a nd a lot of, y ou k now, social science stuff is like, can be kind of a downer. A nd to be honest, you know, like it's, b ecause like you said, y ou got to understand those downs in order to decide where to intervene, to have to make it most, you know, like, u h, impactful, I guess, but like, God, t hat w as I'm so jealous right now, honestly, l ike that was probably the coolest thing to do

Valerie Earnshaw:

More fun for the researcher and probably like a way better pitch for the participants, like

Jasmine Abrams:

Right. Yes. Yes. It , honestly, it ended up, it felt like very much like, like girlfriends just chatting with other girlfriends. Like we had some pretty light like ease them into the topic questions. And then once the ice was broken, it was like, laughter and wait wait wait, no, let me explain it. You know, it was like a really good time and people seem to really enjoy themselves. A lot of the participants were like, please send us whatever you publish on this. Like we're really interested in knowing what happens with study. So yeah, we ended up, we did the qualitative part and the quantitative part , is pretty exploratory, but definitely informed by the qualitative findings. Um, we wanted to see are some of these aspects of sexual pleasure connected to risk behaviors for HIV in a way that's protective.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh Oh

Carly Hill:

Spicy

Jasmine Abrams:

Eactly, Exactly!

Valerie Earnshaw:

You know, already you're on really good grounds, right? Because like depressive symptoms are bad for HIV risk behaviors. I'd meant, you know, if we have , if we have worse mental health symptoms than we might be engaging and more sex without condoms or other things like that. So if yeah. Okay. So for having more pleasurable sex, then maybe we're feeling better and we're also, you know , engaging in more behaviors to take care of ourselves because we feel good.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. And one of the things that really emerged, and this is consistent with women of other racial, ethnic backgrounds with regard to sexual satisfaction and pleasure is that the women in my study were saying, well, I feel most pleasure when I'm having sex with someone that I'm like very comfortable with that I've known for some time. Like we have sort of a history to our relationship. And to me what's implied about this comfort and vulnerability. They also started to mention some of that too . What might be implied is that they may be spending more exclusive time with this particular person to build that comfort, which lowers your risk. If you're having sex with less people , or even one person , your risk is definitely lower. So I'm thinking we might see the sexual satisfaction and sexual pleasure with a main partner would be related to lower numbers of sexual partners. We are thinking that it's going to also be related to decreased condom use, which of course is a risk factor. But I think it's definitely important. And I feel like this is it's rarely explored in the literature. Like the sort of sequelae of condom use is for most people that are using them. Like they use them pretty consistently in the beginning and then it gets choppy and then the condoms disappear. Right . And then it's sort of the course over a relationship that stands the test of time. And so I feel like that's not captured in the literature. Like it's more so like what can we do to get people, to use condoms and get them to use them all the time? And the reality is that as the comfort level increases with a partner and generally time also in a relationship, the likelihood for condom use goes down. So yeah.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. Well, even as researchers, I feel like we don't do a great job, even thinking about pleasure and condoms in the same mix, you know, I mean, people will kind of give lip service to like, Oh, people don't want to use condoms cause it doesn't feel as good. And then there's some sort of eye roll and it's usually presented by, you know , some researcher who probably hasn't used condoms himself in like 40 years .

Jasmine Abrams:

Exactly!

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. So like there's just, it's, it's just interesting that there's just, there's not a very full conversation about it

Jasmine Abrams:

Agreed. I think it's very clear that that's one of the main barriers to condom use is the narrative about, well, it doesn't feel as good as sex without a condom. And I remember doing a search on the abstracts of AIDS, I think 2018, the conference. And there was one presentation that explicitly had pleasure, like.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh wow So AIDS is our huge, huge, huge, huge, huge conference. And so for a conference about, you know, a disease that is largely related to sexual behavior for there to be one abstract that mentioned pleasure Is pretty wild. Yeah.

Jasmine Abrams:

Mind boggling, mind boggling. How can we met talk about pleasure in the context of sex like this is, I feel like it's , it has to be part of the conversation. So I'm , I'm happy that I'm able to do some work that is starting to draw, draw it into the bigger picture of sexual health. Also more broadly defined.

Valerie Earnshaw:

So where do you, where do you hope that this research is going to take you? Do you hope to kind of build towards interventions that are pleasure-focused that are more like realistic, what people are hoping for in their sexual lives?

Jasmine Abrams:

Yes . So you guys couldn't see it, but I'm like rapidly shaking my hands. But yes, that's the dream. So it's Spice, the company, emerged out of, "I don't have patience for research to give me the green light with helping women have more pleasurable sex. So I'm just gonna start doing it on the side." It's happening. It's a thing. And then I'm like, "Okay. And then I'll also do the research." So you know that at some point can also make this a part of my professional work. I don't know if you guys have heard this statistic, but, "Oh, from like bench to bedside or, you know, from idea conceptualization, your first initial research study to actually having something that the people, the masses can put their hands on and use the average timeline is 17 years."

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. That's like a career! If you're doing it one at a time, maybe, maybe you do that twice. So yeah. I mean when you've got something that's like, you know, I mean, it'll be great for you to continue to test it and get those data in and people will believe you and it'll become wider, you know? But at the very least, if we know that women who are having more sex are feeling less depressed, you know, then that's enough reason it feels like to go out and do this. So how much evidence do we need just to kind of jump in and do the thing is the good question.

Jasmine Abrams:

I'm like this is good for people. Good sex is good. And people need to have it, people who want to have it need to have it.

Valerie Earnshaw:

So where were you at in your career trajectory when you started SpiceXperience?

Jasmine Abrams:

I believe when I had the idea to start it, I was in the second year of the tenure track at the university I was previously at, University of Maryland Baltimore County. And, I didn't feel ready to do it then, like it was an idea and I wanted to, but I said, "No, I'm not going to do it." And then my third year, I actually hired some people to hold my feet to the fire and so it launched in 2018, which was my third year on the tenure track. Yes. And oh my God, what a labor of love it was .

Valerie Earnshaw:

What did that look like for you? I mean, people are usually like, just to put this in context, if you're on the tenure track, you typically have maybe six years where you're publishing or perishing, to kind of call it. So you're trying to publish a lot. You're trying to rock your teaching, so you get good teaching evaluations. And I think some people don't really know that at the end of those six years in these types of jobs, you submit this dossier and you basically like you're up for marriage essentially. Right? So you either get promoted and you get tenure or you can lose your jobs. So you got the pressure of that, which is a lot of work. And now you're founding this company. So what did that look like for you? Like on a day to day, were you sleeping?

Jasmine Abrams:

So I will say right, like up to the launch, like in those weeks, like up to the launch, I was not, I was not sleeping much and it was extremely stressful. Thankfully I launched in the summer. So I have a nine month contract, had with the university, And I launched in the summer intentionally so that my workload would be lighter. I wouldn't be teaching during that time. And even with the lighter workload, it was still a very intense endeavor, but I 've felt, I felt pretty good about what I was doing and where I was going, because when I was in graduate school, I started my first company with a colleague, Research Unlimited. And in my first year on the tenure track, we participated in a startup accelerator.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh, wow!

Jasmine Abrams:

Yes, it was so cool. So I got all the sort of business foundations, start-up-a-company foundations from that experience, Lighthouse Labs in Richmond, Virginia. So I was driving to Richmond at least once, sometimes twice a week from Baltimore, which is only four hours. Okay. On a bad day with DC traffic, six. So not like doing a company where I didn't have to go somewhere else every week, it felt like, "Oh, this is at least a little bit easier."

Valerie Earnshaw:

I can do it from my kitchen.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, exactly. This was where it was happening, in my dining room. So yeah, it felt like this is a lighter lift in comparison to what I was doing previously, but still a very, a very intense experience.

Valerie Earnshaw:

You know, it seems like it would be really fulfilling, you know, when you were talking about that, that lag that we have like 17 years, right? So like you have this idea, you start like gathering the data, you pilot it, you apply for funding. You don't get your funding, you apply again, you don't get it, you know, and then eventually 17 years later or whatever, it impacts people's lives. Right. But here, you've got this thing where, you know, you're saying you have workshops, you have parties and you have these individual consultations and you can see the impact of your work right there. And you can innovate too as you're going along, right? Because you're not like held by a research protocol or something like that. So has it been a nice, I would assume it'd be like a nice balance. Does it feel like that? Or do you draw energy from?

Jasmine Abrams:

Definitely it's so fulfilling. It is a lot of work to try and do both, but I cannot even begin to describe the level of fulfillment, especially once clients start telling you what changes have manifested in their lives after taking part in the workshops. Somebody told me they were like , " I got a picture of a baby." And they were like, "This is my son who was conceived the night after I attended that workshop."

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh my God. Look at you, that's amazing!

Jasmine Abrams:

I know! I'm like, "Oh my God I've helped create a human!" And yeah people telling me things like, 'You saved my marriage," or "This is the best sex my husband and I have had in years." It was like -

Valerie Earnshaw:

-it was better than a p-value of less than .05.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, it was much better than that! Yes.

Valerie Earnshaw:

That's awesome. Better than a significant result.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, it was so affirming and it just sort of like made me feel like, yes, this is hard, it's laborious, but it was worth it. It was worth it.

Valerie Earnshaw:

It's funny, because I circling back to Trace and , when I was leaving my postdoc to go off for, you know, first faculty job, I think at the time I was like, "I wanna write a book. I wanna write like a memoir." I don't know why I felt like I had things to memoir about, but, and I recently actually had to write like a thousand word bio of myself and it was so painful that I'm like, "Why would I ever write a memoir?" But anyway , I was like, "Trace , how would that be seen in academia if I did something like that?" And he was like, "Well, it's fine. As long as you're acing everything else, like research-wise, essentially. He's like, "So, you know, if it doesn't come across as a distraction." And so to me, it was really, it felt like the message of like, "Okay, you can do it, but you really need to be acing it at work so that people don't think like, "Oh, she's not , she's not performing where she should be, because she's, she's got this other thing that she's doing."

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, I definitely would say that would ring true for people who are interested in academic entrepreneurship, unless your goal... And this is , I'm actually working on something new. People are like, "How many LLCs do you have? What's going on?"

Carly Hill:

I can't, I already lost count.

Jasmine Abrams:

So working on something new and I'm doing this webinar so I can introduce it to people. And I've been working on the slides the last few days, and one of the things I'm telling people is, "It's so important for us to think of ourselves as an entrepreneurial enterprise, even if our only goal is to be the greatest academic of all time. Like still think of yourself as a business. Like you are an entity and your career is a business entity and it should function as such." And when I think about myself in that way, I don't see myself as wedded to academia.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh okay, you have options. You're a whole person.

Jasmine Abrams:

Exactly! Which academics are like, "Oh my God, what is that?" A whole person, how?

Valerie Earnshaw:

Not just a publishing machine, what? A publishing machine who stands in front of students and says facts?

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, so oh my goodness. Oh, I have like so much I can say about this one . Okay, so when we would introduce doctoral students at UMBC to our program , we do this like faculty-student exchange, and they would always ask faculty like, "What's some advice you have for us starting out?" And I always say, "Do something outside of academia that makes you feel like a valued individual."

Valerie Earnshaw:

Wow.

:

Do something that you're good at outside of this, because it's so easy for us when this is our only thing to attach our self worth and our value and academia, science is built on criticism and being critical of other people's work. And so there's rejection and critique at every turn. And if you, one don't handle that well, or two, don't have something outside of this, it's very easy to get lost in imposter syndrome, get lost in, "I'm not enough. I'm not doing as good as that person. I could be doing more there , but my to do list is never gonna end." Like it's so easy to get lost in all of the perils of academia if you don't have something that's feeding you outside of it I think. That's my 2 cents.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh my gosh. Give you all of the cents. I mean, it's paralyzing, I've seen faculty who are paralyzed by it. Like they just can't respond to reviewer critiques, you know? And I think all of us go through like the phases of like, "Oh, this reviewer is the dumbest you know, like they're the worst!" And then it's like, "I'm the worst. I'm terrible." And then finally you, like, you respond to the reviewer of your work and you're like, "I'll move on in my life." But I think some people just like, it's really hard to move past the, "I'm the dumbest or, you know, I didn't think of this, I didn't do this right. Or I think it can be really challenging, but the fact that you encouraged people to find something where they feel valued, like that word in particular just really strikes me. Because I think especially for grad students, we do such a poor job, making sure that people feel valued. Like, I just think that that's a really important thing. Yeah. So to encourage people to get it from elsewhere. And then now as far kind of like, you know, on the other side of things, making sure that, you know, once again, we're like the Trace Kershaw's and we're valuing the mentees in front of us as much as we can. I think. Yeah.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, I think that's important too . Like from the perspective of being a mentor to other people, definitely thinking about it. I always try to like preface my feedback with like, "I'm doing this out of love. You know , like if I did not care about you or your success, you would have gotten like, "This looks great" or like, "Your job talk is fantastic." You go out on your job talk and get ridiculed by other scientists. Like, no, no I'm going to ridicule you at home. And then when you go out, you'll be prepared for whatever foolery someone tries to throw at you.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. That's really, oh right. Well maybe I'll look back with more kindness and compassion at some of the foolery, you know in my direction as a graduate.

Carly Hill:

But that's also like the like seventh thing I can think of from this interview that you said that like, is so like mind blowing to me. But then when I think about it, I'm like , "Well, duh." You know, but like, I just never thought about it like that, but it makes sense. And it's like, well , well, why are we not, you know, why are we not having these conversations? But like, you know, it seems so simple. Like, you know, just value people, but it's also like you know, just, I watched the two of your faces like, "Whoa, you said, you know what now?" Like, you know, coming back to it's like. You know, and I had the same reaction, but then it's like, well, yeah, yeah. You know? Or like, how do we not talk about pleasure with HIV? Like, well, yeah, hang on. Like, what are we not doing? This is like this whole, the theme of this whole entire interview for me right now. But anyway...

Valerie Earnshaw:

I love this cause Carly can be on me, you know, as co-hosts being like, "Wait, what are you guys doing in science and academia? What is that about?" Well Jasmine, you know, thinking about things that people do strangely in academia, you received some nice and I think very well deserved attention. I think for series of tweets that you posted at the beginning of June , and you know, it was a series of them. I'd love to read the last one in the series, because it was so beautifully written. Before we started this call, Carly and I had a whole conversation about what a beautiful writer you are. And I feel like we could just like, you know, it's like, it's poetic. So not only in your articles, do you have all these really great quotes that we were like, "This woman is a poet, but then also in your tweets. So the last tweet you wrote was, "Keep in mind that the plantation has been on fire for us. And that for most, it is a legit daily struggle to do our work. We appreciate you reaching out, but we'd appreciate it more if you helped us put the fire out." So, and just for context, you know, your first tweet of this series was that many of my Black friends and I have gotten messages from White colleagues asking about our wellbeing and how they can help. And then you go on from there...

Jasmine Abrams:

Mhm.

Valerie Earnshaw:

So, a. Beautifully written. I think this could be called viral because, you know, I don't know what the threshold for viral is, but it feels like this went viral. Yeah?

Carly Hill:

Yeah. It did. I think it's like the actual definition of viral.

Jasmine Abrams:

When I saw like, checked my Twitter. Like later that day I was like, "Oh wow, like a hundred people liked it. And at that time I maybe only had like a hundred and some odd followers.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh, wow!

Jasmine Abrams:

I use Twitter very sparingly. And then I think I like went to sleep, got on the next day. And I was like, "Oh my goodness!" Like it, it caught , I don't know what it caught, but it caught something. It was off to the races, like 15,000 likes I think it had. Hundreds of reshares and then people are reaching out to me, like to ask me things about it. And I'm like, "Ohh-kay." I didn't know it was going to turn into all of this. This was like venting during my coffee.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Like, oh my gosh, if this is you venting during your coffee, and this is like the level of prose that you put out, like I need to see like what the prose you put out when you're actually like there and like writing. And, oh my gosh. Yeah.

Jasmine Abrams:

Let me just say thank you so much. As it, I think I was in, it was probably the first year on the tenure track where I realized I was like, "I am a writer."

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh yeah!

Jasmine Abrams:

Like a big part of academia. I mean, we all are as academics, like if you're an academic, you are a writer. Like you write papers, you write grants, you write proposals, you write syllabi, you are a writer. We spend so much time writing. And honestly, I, I love poetry. Some of the women, like the most highly esteemed women in my life are poets. So it means a lot to me that you would call me a poet. I'm like, oh yeah, thank you!

Carly Hill:

Absolutely. Yeah, us and, you know, 15 thousand other people apparently. I think they would agree.

Valerie Earnshaw:

And you're our favorite type of poet cause you're a scientist-poet. So like, you know, look at that intersection.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yes! Even though science tries to like squeeze every ounce of creativity now.

Valerie Earnshaw:

We see it! It's in your articles. We see it there. I mean, you've got the like, especially your discussion section. They're gorgeous. I mean, they're just there , that's where you get a little more latitude and you can see you like using that latitude of it . Yeah.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, yeah. I've had that as a critique of my writing. "Like this is too poetic."

Valerie Earnshaw:

Okay, I like get this type of stuff too. And I always feel like not, no. Okay. No one calls me poetic. I should say that, but I just , this kind of like, "Your voice isn't right for science." And I think that's not fair. I think, you know, this is your voice. This is how you're saying things and it is right for science. And I struggle with this a little bit as a mentor too. Cause I have a, a student who is like quite poetic in his prose and I'm always like, "Well this is his voice, you know?" And , but yeah, it's who you are. It's how you speak. And we should make room in science for that. I think for the diversity of voices that we all have. Yeah. So within this tweet you say, "You know, we appreciate you reaching out, but we'd appreciate it even more if you helped us put the fire out." So what are ways that people can help put the fire out?

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. You know, this is a great question, Valerie . I am in the process of trying to pitch an op-ed of 101 ways like that tweet inspired me and another colleague, like we just went on a tangent and just started writing out like things that can be done at the systems level or institutional level, things that can be done at an interpersonal level between colleagues or even at an individual level. And like structurally, one of the things we talked about were actually making long-term investments in dismantling systemic racism. We've seen a lot of the like tweets and other commentaries about universities who are sending out these sort of statements of solidarity. And we're like, "Yeah, that's fantastic. Thanks. Where's your action plan? What are you actually going to do to create lasting sustainable change? And how are you going to divest in like systems that center white supremacy essentially?" And yeah, I mean the list is so it's 101 things and the fact that we could come up with 101 things, and there were things that we removed from the list, so it was longer and we sort of picked which what would make 101. And I even, I sent it out to some of my mentors and they added, they had things to add. So it's like, you know, one of the things that I say is to consider this list sort of like an actionable, like a request for action, but also , oh, what did I call it? It was something really good...When you're telling me I'm a poet. So like now I have to give you some receipts. It was an indictment. Consider it a rolling indictment and an urgent request for actionable like change . And so, yeah, even like at the individual level, educating yourself about systemic racism, educating yourself about ways in which you've benefited from being a White person, it generally, or specifically in the academy , engaging your colleagues more. A lot of times, I really appreciate the term inclusion when we talk about diversity and inclusion, because a lot of times what happens is we're excluded. Sometimes I think intentionally, and sometimes I think it's not so intentional, it's a function of the systems that are , systems and traditions that are in place. And we don't get invited to, you know, X thing afterward where people come up with, "Oh, we're going to do this really cool grant ." Yeah , some of these more informal things , and the list goes on and on and on and on. But like in my tweet, I offered a few different specific examples, like just inviting us to co-author something where it's if we share interests or inviting us to be a consultant on your grant or a co-investigator or one of the things that I love, I saw someone who I think had read the tweets and they sort of said, "This is what I'm going to do." And they said , "I'm not going to participate in any more papers or conference presentations with all white authors. I'm not going to , um, be, if I've already been like a guest speaker at a particular event, and they're requesting me again, I'm going to offer that, you know, I'm going to recommend the name of another scholar of color that has expertise in the area". And those are some of the things that I think are AMAZING ways to show up, you know, like, yeah, if you're having an opportunity for an interview or a speaking engagement and you've done tons of them offer it to someone else. If you notice that the only people that have ever done this particular keynote have been White, offer it to someone else or recommend another scholar. So those are some small ways, but definitely universities have a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done , for faculty, for staff, for students , and not just graduate students like on down the pipeline and even, you know, for undergrads and , even our non degree seeking students, like there's so much work to be done at all of these different levels. And I'm encouraged because I do think some universities are putting forth, actionable, actionable plans. And you know, I hate to say it like this, but I think it's trending and people are gonna jump on the trend.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Hey you know, if that's what gets change, then let's, you know , make it super cool.

Jasmine Abrams:

Right, it's the latest thing everyone's doing it. Please join in.

Valerie Earnshaw:

If it works then , whatever, right.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, so I'm happy. I'm happy to see even in my department at Boston University, I can see my colleagues really wrestling with some of these topics. And I also appreciate those colleagues who recognize that it's not the job of Black faculty members to show up and educate, to show up and provide any recommendations. As one of my colleagues says, she's like, "You have the data."

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh yeah.

Jasmine Abrams:

Any more data, you don't need any more anecdotal experiences, you have everything you need to start to build change. Like you don't, you don't need any more information to start right.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Start today,

Jasmine Abrams:

Just do it.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Okay. So we could definitely turn this into a podcast, sleepover and talk to you all night, but for sure, I probably should let you go. Where are some ways, where are some places where people can come find your work? So you have your BU (Boston University) website, you've got a website for SpiceXperience, and as well as Research Unlimited and Tuzo designs, which we also dug up that your a co-founder of.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yes.

Valerie Earnshaw:

People can also find you on Twitter. Where else should, where should folks look?

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah, I have my personal website also. It's www.drjasmineabrams.com. I'm also on , like you mentioned Twitter and Instagram at Dr. Jasmine Abrams and yeah, my email is [email protected] So I'm very accessible individual, happy to chat and fraternize with all different kinds of folks. So I welcome people reaching out and I'm also really excited, I'll have to send it to you so you can share with your audience, but I'm working on putting out some materials related to increasing productivity in academia. And this is mostly for early career folks and , uh , sort of senior level grad students and postdocs . So I'm really excited. Like that's my next big thing. And I just, I can't wait. I can't wait to release it.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, you're going to be a great person to do that. I just found your Instagram right before we started. And I saw one of your recent posts , so you had three first authored papers accepted in one week, which is I don't know anyone who's had that. So you're like, yeah, bronze, silver, gold, racking it up. And all , not only did you have three papers accepted in one week, but all three papers looked super interesting and I was and were ones that I'd want to read, which also is amazing. And I needed it all.

Carly Hill:

And willing to bet for all the listeners that they're really poetic and beautiful and super engaging to read, which I think is a cool thing in science. It makes me people want to read, you know, your stuff and it's not so dry, but like also three in one week is really outstanding.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I'm, when I have those acceptances , I actually posted a happy dance to Instagram. so people could see how thrilled I was. Like it, so let me give a little backstory, collectively those papers were rejected 10 times, yup.

Valerie Earnshaw:

So thanks for sharing that. So a lot of rejection on the way to our happy dance week.

Jasmine Abrams:

Yes! Like that, that, I mean, that would be what I would love to highlight most about. We got, like I got all those papers at the same time is the only reason it happened is because even when people were telling me that the work was not publishable, I believed that it was, and I kept fighting for it to be published. Like one of those papers in particular, I think had been submitted at least six times. And I did put it down for a few years and picked it back up. But I knew when even when I put it down, I knew it was temporary. Like I'm going to put it down so I can get a fresh perspective later down the line, but this will be published. I am determined.

Valerie Earnshaw:

I just would like to hover for one moment before we do wrap on the idea that, what does it mean that reviewers are saying that work on, you know, so much of your work is on Black women. I saw one of the papers this week was, you know, young, younger, Black women. I mean the colorism paper, what does it mean that our work with Black women isn't publishable? Like what is that that's really, you know, that's really something there.

Jasmine Abrams:

I'm telling you. And honestly, oh my God. I wonder, I probably could do, this could be a study, like analyzing those reviews of rejected papers. Like, I can't tell you how many times we were told, "This is a well written paper, but...[silence]

Carly Hill:

Go ahead and finish that thought. Yeah you know,

Jasmine Abrams:

Yeah. Yeah. Like if the methodology isn't flawed, then why is the work? Why can't it be accepted?

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. The other one that really gets under my skin when I work with , you know, most of the populations that I work with are like, "Oh, this is interesting, but maybe it should go to a specialty journal", which is like, "I'm sorry, what is it about my science maybe with black women or whatever population that I'm working with, that isn't important enough for just the overall journal. Like, you know, why not just the big public health journal, right?

Jasmine Abrams:

No, that's an excellent point. That's an excellent point. And it's something that I've questioned. I think when you experience like racism and sexism, it becomes a lens through which you filter your life and you then wonder if like anything you're experiencing, like, is this like because I'm Black? Would this be happening to me if I were doing research, not on Black people, or if I were a White person doing research on Black people. And so those are definitely questions I've had when submitting my research and getting reviews back. I don't know. I guess I don't know that I'll ever know.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, you know, I think a lot of the stigmas and the patterns, so maybe someday we'll have to do the study where we investigate the pattern, you know, like investigate this feedback that people get and look at what the pattern is and then we'll have some more insights. Well , when our RAs were doing research on you for the episode, cause they, you know, our research assistants do some digging around into folks. And then, you know, we frame up some of our interview questions. In their language they described you as a Renaissance woman and as a complete badass.

Jasmine Abrams:

Oh, my God!

Valerie Earnshaw:

We wanted to leave on that and say, you know, I really admire what you're doing in your career. I think our whole lab really admires and looks up to it.

Carly Hill:

Absolutely!

Valerie Earnshaw:

And especially how you're bringing so much of yourself to it, like as a scientist, as an entrepreneur and as the researcher, or as our research assistants says it's just like a complete badass. So we're just feel really lucky that we can be in the same field as you, and that you're out there doing this amazing science. So thank you for all of that.

Carly Hill:

And again, if you ever need anyone to help you out with some qualitative interviewing, I'm probably going to be free. Maybe Valerie will likely lend me, I think, after this whole conversation. But seriously, thank you so much for talking with us today. Yeah, absolutely.

Jasmine Abrams:

Thank you guys. I appreciate you so much. I appreciate this platform for being able to have normal, everyday conversations about science and about us being whole people doing science. So thank you so much. I appreciate your work in doing this. I know it's not easy. Like you mentioned being, you know, an academic and being on timelines. I appreciate you putting your love and energy into something that may not get you, you know, an extra checkmark toward a tenure promotion.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, I mean, if all of that, this podcast, does is bring us into contact with people like you then I mean like amazing.

Jasmine Abrams:

Thank you so much. I'm honored. I really am. Thank you.

:

[transition music]

Valerie Earnshaw:

Carly.

Carly Hill:

Valerie!

Valerie Earnshaw:

I've realized the second biggest risk of hosting this podcast with all of these amazing guests. The first biggest risk is you're going to leave, but the second biggest risk is all of the RAs are going to leave. I am worried after, at the end , listening to Dr. Abrams, that they are all going to transfer to Boston University to go work with her and Scott and Kim Nelson.

Carly Hill:

I mean, I don't know that it gets a whole lot better than this , except for this, this one might be a threat. I'll be honest with you. If Dr. Abrams is listening and she knows she ever needs anyone, she knows where to find me.

Valerie Earnshaw:

But also just not quite sure how we landed on in our first inaugural season three people from Boston University who are also doing such stellar research.

Carly Hill:

I know I'm in the wrong part of the world here, I guess.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Not statistically likely that, but that's okay. Okay. Well, one of the things that the research assistants wanted us to talk a little bit more about after listening to this and also , just kind of reflecting on what's been going on this summer with the Black Lives Matter movement is they were wondering about what's the racial, ethnic makeup of faculty members in academia. So I pulled some stats from the National Center for Education Statistics. And so I'm going to start with the rank of professor. So professors just full professors, are faculty members who have reached sort of the highest rank within academia, there's, there's no more promotions to be had. They have tenure and having tenure essentially means that it's very hard to fire them. So highest rank faculty. Okay. So 54% of tenured professors are White men, 54. So over half, you know, nationally of our tenured professors are white men and then 27% are White women. So that gives us a whopping 81% of professors who are White, White men, mostly, and also White women. So I've got to say, I knew when I went to pull these statistics that they were going to be bad, but they were actually worse than I thought that they were going to be.

Carly Hill:

Yeah, I am on the same page with you on that one. That is disgusting honestly, but is really the only word for it. Yeah.

Valerie Earnshaw:

2% of our faculty nationally are Black men. 2% are Black women weighing in at 4% Black faculty members, 2% are Latinx men to 1% sorry, our Latinx women giving us 3% Latinx professors. And I can't like, I can't even, you know, with that statistic with how rapidly growing that portion of our population is so that was really striking for me. And then we've got 8% Asian Pacific Islander men and 3% Asian Pacific Islander women. I'm clocking in at 11% , Asian Pacific Islander total. So that's full professor. So that's kind of like the, you know, like I said, that's the highest ranking folks on campus. So then I looked at assistant professors. So assistant professors are newer to the field. Cause here's the other issue is that our full professors are probably also maybe a little bit older. We know that our as a nation, our socio-demographics are like shifting. So I thought, okay, so maybe the numbers might look a little bit different if we look at assistant professor, so here 34% White men and 38% White women. So we're clocking in here at assistant professor with 72% White faculty members. So it's, you know, there's less White men percentage wise and there's more White women percentage-wise here, but still it's, you know, it's predominantly White folks at this stage as well. And then when we start looking at the numbers for Black and Latinx faculty members they're, depressingly similar to professor. I mean, rather than 2% representation, it goes up to like three or 4% at this assistant professor rank. And again, this assistant professor rank, you know, these folks are, they're just starting in the professor track. They're not tenured. Tenure is like this, like I said, it's, it's really hard to fire you. So these are folks who haven't progressed that far yet, but , so, so not a good situation.

Carly Hill:

No.

Valerie Earnshaw:

The other thing that I thought was interesting in some articles have made a point to pull out this point is that our faculty don't reflect the undergraduate population anymore. So even with, you know, assistant professors is slightly better, at least for gender, maybe, I don't know? It's still terrible. I'm not, let's just reign back slightly, but, you know, so they also have some statistics for like overall across like all faculty ranks . So across all faculty ranks, it's 76% of all faculty members were White, but only 55% of undergraduates were White. So we've got this really big difference between what the undergraduates look like and what our faculty look like. So we're kind of, we're moving to this point, where our the faculty who are teaching undergraduates really don't well represent the undergrads that they are, you know, the folks who, that they are, who they are teaching. And I should mention all these data from 2017. So they're not, you know,

Carly Hill:

Not super old. You know, t hat's sort of, you know, such a strong, like 81%, you know, of these tenured faculties are White. Like I don't have all the confidence in the world from, you know, 2017 to 2020 that, that really l eaped up to where it should be. So I'm sure that they're equally as depressing, right?

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh yeah, for sure. Tenure is a very slow process, you know, it takes like a year, you know, just with your stuff under review for you to read a level up. Um, yeah. And I think, you know, one thing I think I'd like to underscore from the conversation that we had with our research assistants with our undergrads was that tenure really is a powerful thing to get. And I think if you listen back to the episode with , Dr. Stephanie Chaudoir, she talked a lot about what she felt like she was able to advocate for on campus before tenure versus after tenure. Like she called her tenure a race car, and she she's like, where's this baby taking me. And, you know, she's really been able to use that power to advocate for change on campus. And so if you know, 54% of the change makers on your campus are the people who are able to really feel empowered to make change at those highest levels are White men. I mean, it can be, there's a lot of, you know, White men out there making great change and who are great advocates, but the more diversity that we get within those circles, the better in terms of making change on campuses. For sure.

Carly Hill:

Absolutely. So, you know and to that effect to kind of highlight what Dr. Abrams was just talking about or how, you know, we forced her to talk about her Twitter. Cause it's so amazing.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . We asked her for permission to talk about it . Yeah .

Carly Hill:

But , you know, so one of the things that you guys heard her talk about was this 101, you know, this list off all the ways that, you know, people could do better, especially in academia. Um, and so the RAs just wanted us to kind of spend a little bit more time talking about this. So you heard us read one of her tweets, but I just wanted to highlight , sort of what helped birth, that list of 101 that, you know, it's not out yet, but we're sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for it. And so she says many of my Black friends and I have gotten messages from White colleagues asking about our wellbeing and how they can help. Rather than burden us with your guilt, invite us to co-author papers and grants with you, invite us to be on the symposium or be the guest speaker. And, you know, it really just, just goes from there and it's this like huge call to action that, you know, what it was retweeted 4,400 times, it got over 15,000 likes. Like it sort of took on this life of its own. And you know, can't wait to see where the, you know, what the final list of a hundred, right. Well, because, you know, from all this, l ike that was, y ou k now, my favorite is when she said, like we had to trim it down. It's not like we were scraping the barrel for 101 things. Like we had way more than we needed and we had to kind of reign it in.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. And I really love, I just love that because I feel like it's a moment in time where people are like, I don't know what to do. And just the fact that she's like easily 101 different things, here you go. No problem. Like probably came up with them in one sitting. So I love that because I love a problem when there's like, actually there's a ton of stuff that you can do to contribute to solutions. And so I think that it's like such a really smart framing to say, like here's 101 ways to solve it.

Carly Hill:

Right. For that 82% of, you know , the White tenured faculty, like, hey, actually here is a whole list!

Valerie Earnshaw:

Right?

Carly Hill:

No more excuses. Like, here we go.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. Well, it was funny too, because one of the things, when we were talking with our research assistants that they, I don't think that they totally realized before some recent conversations that they've had with faculty on campus is how much of a faculty member's career depends on papers and grants, especially, you know, at certain universities. So by specifically calling on colleagues to invite their Black colleagues or colleagues who are People of Color to coauthor papers and grants, I mean, that's really like what people need to be promoted. So it's like it's a very actionable and we should always be seeking representation, like diverse, you know , representation on our, on our symposia, on our coauthors and on our coauthored papers and on our grants, it just makes for better science. I think we could argue.

Carly Hill:

Absolutely. You know, just even like the vote in favor of our contract renewals, tenure and promotion, the situs in your papers, like , and, you know, like I even said, you know, when we were recording with her, like everything that she says at first, you're like all of these profound statements just seem so once she says them, you're like, well, duh, you know what I mean? Like, yeah. Like, why are we not doing this now? You know? And it's just, it's amazing. But either way, just the fact that this tweet really, you know , took on a life of its own and led to, you know, I can't wait to see this final product and this final list of 101 things.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. Well, just to, you know , fully satisfy maybe the RAs, is some of the other specific things that she said was, you know, I alluded to this a little bit, but invite us to collaborative meetings. So, you know, for me, I organize symposia for meetings, which means that I'll invite, you know, like three or four different speakers to come together and give presentations all on the same topics . So this is a call for me to make sure that those symposia, like those speakers that I invite are diverse. She also called on folks to say something or, or speak up at faculty meetings when something goes awry, like when someone says something that's insensitive or maybe, you know, discriminatory rather than just coming around to check in on, you know their faculty members or their friends of color, you know, like after the meeting. And I was like, yup , need to do, need to do much better at that.

Carly Hill:

And I love the way she says it too. Like the, say something in parenthesis instead of secretly coming by our office later. And it's like, you know well-intentioned, but at the same time, like it, you know, honestly, what good is it at that point, if you didn't, you know, speak up then. And I think that that's something that, you know, again, a lot of the 82% I'ms sure, you know, if anyone's listening, like do a little self-examination and ask yourself if that would be your approach. Cause I think up until then that, you know, or it's so easy to think that you're doing good there, right?. And you're being supportive there, but it's like, no, you can, you can, here's the 101 ways you can do better than secretly c oming t o my office afterwards, y ou k now?

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. And I mean, I do, you know, I check in on people like, especially with, you know, with the events of the past couple of months, I'll like check in on my colleagues and be like, "Hey, you know, how are you doing mental health check?" And I just was like, that was a really good comment for me to read. Cause I was like, Oh yeah, my like colleagues do not really need my social support right now. What they need for me to do is like something of action on campus to like make campus better for them or make their jobs better for them. So that was a really, it was a really good one. And I mean, it also speaks to like, you're making yourself feel better by this because you're like, Oh, you know, I've checked in on you. But what we really just need is for you to like take some action. Yeah. Another one that I really liked, but she said to share strategies for having a successful career. I thought this one was like really good because there's just, it also to me like speaks to this idea of like networking and old boys club. Like I think that there's just like, there's some institutional wisdom that sometimes gets like passed down or shared or like tricks for how to do some things, but then academia that like, if you're not on the golf course or if you're not, like if you're not at the bar, like having the beer with all of the men or at one of the institutions that I was at, it was like the cigar bar. So like, if you don't go to the cigar bar to, you know, get these, have these conversations, like you might not actually learn, like, how exactly did you , um, like get participants for this study? Or how exactly did you frame that part of your grant that was so successful? So like a lot of that comes out in conversation. I think so making it, making those conversations more open and maybe more strategic I think is a great recommendation.

Carly Hill:

Right.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Then she drops the bomb of like, just pay us the same. Yeah . So we're just going to leave that one there. Yes, yes , yes, yes. Pay for the extra service that people participate in. And I think this is a really big one too. I think again, one of the conversations we just had with our undergraduate research assistants was that they didn't quite realize that service activities, which can be like being a member of a committee on campus for diversity and inclusion, or maybe like serving on extra , like students theses or being a mentor to extra students on color of color on campus or things that, those things aren't really super well recognized and rewarded in academia again, because the thing you're going to get promoted on in a lot of places, not every place, but in a lot of places is just your papers and your grants. So if you're spending like 20% of your time in these like diversity and inclusion circles, and you're really like advocating for change, like that's awesome, but it's taking away from doing activities that are the ones that are going to get you promoted, which is awful. And it doesn't really like lead to change on campuses included.

Carly Hill:

Yeah, exactly.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Promote work on social media and just like, you know, as you said earlier, just promote them. Like when you look at that, which I think, you know, we can hover there for a moment and say that we've got lots of research from, they call them vignette studies that like, if people see two applications, same application, one application has a sound or has a name that sounds like a Black person. And the other one has a name that sounds like a White person that that White person's more likely to be hired and to be promoted all sorts of things. And so it's, you know, it's, it's a short recommendation, but it's quite weighty to just, you know, promote, promote people at the same rates that you would if they were White. So yeah.

Carly Hill:

Exactly.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. So we can't, you know, again, we can't wait to see if these like 101 tips and we're really grateful that she is, you know, spending time using her voice to publish them while at the same time sort of realizing and being cognizant that she shouldn't have to, she should be able to like spend her time, writing her papers and grants and...

Carly Hill:

to get that tenure,

Valerie Earnshaw:

even if this does inform a paper, which we hope that it does. It's still like more work that she has to be doing to try to change the system when she should just be doing her work on like sexual pleasure and lovely things. That's right.

Carly Hill:

Right. Yeah.

Valerie Earnshaw:

A huge, thanks to the Stigma and Health Inequities Lab at the University of Delaware, please all of you stay at Delaware and to not go to Boston university to work with Dr. Abrams, we really, really appreciate that. Thank you to McKenzie Sarnak. This episode was researched by Saray Lopez and Alissa Leung, and the episode was edited by Kristina Holsapple.

Carly Hill:

And as always, thanks to City Girl for the music. You guys can follow us on Instagram at "Sex, Drugs, Science", as a reminder there's no "and" in there, for any more updates about the podcast. And if you guys are interested in staying up to date with Dr. Abrams, which you are follow her on both Twitter and Instagram at Dr. Jasmine Abrams.

Valerie Earnshaw:

And thanks to all of you for listening.