Mienah Z.Sharif

Assistant Professor
Epidemiology and Health Systems, Population Health
School of Public Health
Sharif Epidemiology Faculty page

What is your Research Focus?

My overall research goal and agenda is to link structural inequality to health-related outcomes as we move towards health equity. The form of structural inequality my work focuses on is racism as I believe it is not possible to achieve health equity without addressing racism, the root cause of inequity. My research takes a life course, intersectional and international perspective on understanding and interrogating the many ways in which racism undermines our field’s overarching goal of advancing equity. Additionally, my work is guided by the principles of health equity set forth by Dr. Camara Jones and by the principles and goals of the Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) co-developed by Dr. Collins Airhihenbuwa and Dr. Chandra Ford. As a scholar and public health professional, I am deeply committed towards genuinely practicing the PHCRP’s emphasis on applying scholarship towards dismantling systems of oppression. Thus, my work is motivated by how the findings can inform social change and can be utilized towards broader social justice movements. In order to do this effectively, and guided by the PHCRP, my research is centered in fostering genuine partnerships with, and in communities who are directly impacted by the social condition and/or health topic of focus.

That being said, I also recognize the ways in which harms within communities can be perpetuated and sustained if we, as public health professionals, are not actively engaged in unlearning some of our field’s norms, practices and methods. A critical and historical perspective lays bare how they were not developed with equity as the core goal or focus.

This has been the core focus of my work with STOP LAPD Spying Coalition, a grassroots organization based out of Skid Row in Los Angeles, that discusses the intersection of public health surveillance, policing and criminalization of racialized and poor communities. The Coalition leads regular webinars and teach-ins with community advocates and leading scholars across the country who are committed towards reversing the harms of surveillance across communities. This is another key concept that is not widely discussed in public health. Rather, we are trained to approach surveillance as benign or inherently positive. However, if you identify and/or engage with racialized and poor communities, it is clear that surveillance strategies exacerbate inequities and facilitate a lot of forms of structural violence. I was introduced to the Coalition through Dr. Bita Amani at Charles R. Drew University, who is a Co-Founding Director of the COVID-19 Taskforce on Racism and Equity. Dr. Amani is truly exemplary when it comes to someone whose entire academic career has been deeply rooted in community mobilizing and activism. In collaboration with Dr. Ford as co-directors of the Taskforce, she co-led a special series for Ethnicity and Disease called RACE (“Rapid Assessment of COVID Evidence”). Within RACE, I co-led two studies on community advocates’ accounts of how the pandemic expanded the power and exploitative practices across the carceral system. This led to exacerbate health inequities and deepen injustices for individuals in county jails, federal prisons and in immigrant jails. Moreover, these focus groups identified how detention and incarceration has devastating impacts not only for those who experience incarceration directly but for these individuals’ families which emphasizes the concept of “linked lives” from the life-course perspective. There is a long overdue need for public health programs to fully recognize and intervene on the reality that the carceral system ultimately undermines wellbeing and health at the broader community level.

One of the central goals of my work is to actively support local and national efforts pushing for decarceration and the reallocation of resources towards investments into the community-level safety-nets. This is related to another body of work I am leading which is focusing on the immigration system as a longstanding public health crisis and manifestation of structural racism. This is done by the normalization of racism and the “othering” of immigrants and refugees and deeming certain populations as “illegal.” All of this is upheld by the principles and goals of white supremacy. The mass criminalization of immigrants is largely understudied in dominant public health discourse and is a body of work I am excited to build out here at UW and in collaboration with community partners, faculty, and students. This is part of the movement on advancing anti-racism work that recognizes the international implications of US racism. Racist policies not only compromise health equity domestically, but racism persists in US policies that undermines health and social equity around the world. This is thoughtfully articulated in the book, “Policing the Planet,” edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton where they draw historical and contemporary parallels to the racist policies of policing activities around the world. Further the book describes how many of the oppressive and dehumanizing tactics practiced by law enforcement agencies domestically are carried out by US military, and other law enforcement agencies, around the world. This further underscores why it is critical we truly adopt an international perspective as well as a  “health in all policy” approach in our work (e.g. like the effects of war, economic sanctions impact health. Yet we do not routinely incorporate them in our disciplinary narrative and/or actions). As an Afghan-American, I have been exposed to how actions and inactions here domestically jeopardize the wellbeing of communities and regions around the world and I will leverage the privileges afforded to me as a faculty member to uplift these voices and concerns throughout my career. All of this drives my work and I hope to bring all of this to my teaching, research and community partnerships as a faculty member at UW.

What opportunities at the UW excite you?

There are a lot of different opportunities here that excite me, but one in particular is the chance to work in partnership, and in solidarity, with Dr. Arjee Restar. She is a leading voice and figure in transhealth on a national level and I am inspired by her deep and genuine commitment towards equity. That commitment is made evident in all that she does and how she does it; she is truly a force. She continues to put UW on the map with her timely and critical scholarship, and advocacy. And as an entire community, we at UW are so fortunate she is here. I am excited by the opportunities to build and mobilize with her on research, teaching, mentorship and many activities within and across community contexts. My research agenda and identity are centered in the notion that solidarity and coalition building across all communities who have been systematically oppressed is critical for advancing social justice.  Part of that process is remaining humble and open to opportunities to co-learn with and from others. Dr. Restar has already taught me so much and I look forward to what we will continue to build together and in partnership with others here in the UW community toward equity.