Ronald Romero.

For Ronald Romero, researching the links between discrimination and health is personal

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As part of Research Weeks (April 6–27) we are highlighting the work of six undergraduates whose work was made possible by VCU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Global Education Office, Division for Inclusive Excellence and guidance from faculty members.

Research Weeks takes place on both campuses and features a wide variety of projects in multiple disciplines.

See more stories by clicking on links in the “Related stories” section or learn more about the lineup of events for this year’s Research Weeks.

As a research assistant in the Discrimination and Health Lab in the Department of Psychology in Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Humanities and Sciences, Ronald Romero is helping investigate the role of discrimination in racial and ethnic health disparities.

Romero, a senior psychology major, is working on several projects. One is examining the psychological mechanisms that underlie the link between perceived discrimination and weight outcomes among first-generation Latinx immigrants in the community. Another is exploring the dynamics of patient-physician communication in family medicine clinics among black patients with Type 2 diabetes.

“My experience on these projects in the lab has been nothing short of amazing,” Romero said. “I have learned crucial skills having to do with correlational and experimental study designs as well as gaining knowledge as to how the process of psychological research is carried out, as well as what it takes to run a successful experiment.”

Romero was born in Venezuela and immigrated to the United States at a young age. As a researcher, his work to better understand the effects of discrimination is deeply personal.

“As an immigrant to this country, I’ve seen and experienced discrimination, oppression and marginalization in many forms,” he said. “With the knowledge that I’ve gained as a psychology student, I want to help vulnerable people who don’t have the resources to defend themselves, such as immigrants.”

After graduation this spring, he plans to continue pursuing research opportunities and will eventually attend graduate school. Ultimately, he intends to complete a doctoral program in social or health psychology in order to influence policies that address the many health disparities faced by ethnic and racial minority groups.

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“I’ve been in a tricky situation my whole life because legally I am labeled an outsider, but my entire life I can only recall my American experiences,” he said. “It has been hard growing up as I’ve had to grow with American peers sharing their experiences and embracing their culture knowing deep down what my true roots are.”

Romero’s job in the Discrimination and Health Lab is part of a work-study research assistant program through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program in the VCU Office of Research and Innovation.

He was recruited for the position by Nao Hagiwara, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology who leads the lab. She met Romero when he took her Social Psychology course in fall 2016.

“Ronald stood out in this large class for his enthusiasm for learning and striking intellectual abilities,” she said. “So I asked him to join my Discrimination and Health Lab in the subsequent semester.”

Since joining the team, Romero has played an important role in the lab’s work.

“In our lab, we examine the underlying psychological processes and consequences of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination,” she said. “Over the last 1.5 years, Ronald has been involved in a number of projects related to this core research question.

“Ronald is a hard-working, bright student who is eager to learn,” she added. “I truly admire his strong motivation, great work ethic and competency.”