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June 13, 2005

Contact: Marisa Ramirez
713.743.8152 (office)
713.204.9798 (cell)

New CMAS Visiting Scholar Cepeda Hopes to Advocate in Behalf of ‘Hidden Populations’

HOUSTON, June 13, 2005—A social scientist whose research interests include sex workers, gang members and drug users joins a 20-year tradition at the University of Houston Center for Mexican American Studies by becoming a Visiting Scholar. Alice Cepeda hopes to introduce students to research techniques that can lead to intervention, prevention and legislative policies for those at-risk populations.

“The mission of CMAS is to expose young minds to higher education,” Cepeda said. “I hope to help students focus on finding the roots of social issues and how to move that research into service programs to truly have an impact.”

Cepeda has been a senior researcher for the UH Graduate School of Social Work’s Office for Drug and Social Policy Research. Her class for the upcoming academic year, Crime and Deviance in the Latino Community, will focus on researching “hidden populations,” such as gangs, prostitutes or drug users.

“These populations are difficult to research because typically you cannot recruit subjects. You have to go and find them,” Cepeda said.

Cepeda is also project director on a National Institutes of Health funded study researching non-injecting heroin users in the Mexican American population in San Antonio. She says the goal of the project is to monitor them in hopes of learning the risks associated with transitioning to injecting that can subsequently lead to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis or death.

“Injecting drugs is widely recognized as a major route of HIV transmission,” Cepeda said. “It’s important to assess the extent to which non-injecting heroin users are at risk of initiating or resuming injecting practices. This is an important implication for the community.”

Cepeda has researched and written extensively on drug addiction, risk behaviors and hidden populations. She says one of the most important findings is that all the avenues for the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis are present in hidden populations. Among Cepeda’s conclusions in her study on public health issues among Mexican sex workers on the U.S.- Mexico border was that substance and alcohol abuse was high; condom use was low; and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases was a critical threat to both countries.

“I’m interested in how we can intervene and prevent the risky behavior with an eye on how this research can be applied to policies that will aid those populations,” Cepeda said. “Students must be able to identify a problem and apply their research skills to find causal factors and provide recommendations for ways to resolve that problem.”

She hopes to use her research to advocate for policies for these populations, and also to write a book.

“Professor Cepeda is a pioneer in research on health related issues in marginalized populations such as drug users and sex workers within the broader Latino community,” Tatcho Mindiola, director of CMAS said. “Her work has very important policy implications. We are very fortunate to have her as our Visiting Scholar.”

The CMAS Visiting Scholars Program began in 1986 and is designed to generate research about the Latino community. Since its inception, the program has attracted more than 30 scholars who have continued to tenured or tenure track positions with the university.

For more information on the UH Center for Mexican American Studies, please visit http://www.class.uh.edu/CMAS/

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