SEX WORKERS, DRUG USERS, GANG MEMBERS
FOCUS OF UH PROFESSOR’S RESEARCH
New CMAS Visiting Scholar Cepeda Hopes to Advocate in Behalf of
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 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
“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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