MIAMI — With Haitians in the U.S. often categorized solely as Black, several academic researchers based in Florida are undertaking studies they hope will surface more data specifically about Haitian Americans. The researchers are looking at how factors such as immigration, economic status and language make the Haitian experience unique in hopes of reducing inequalities.
“Not only are we exposed to all the discrimination, all the inequalities that Black people are exposed to in the U.S., but on top of it, you have everything that’s happening in Haiti,” said Judite Blanc, a research assistant professor at the University of Miami leading “The Haitian Well-being Study.”
Through her 10-year study, Blanc aims to track the impact of historical trauma on Haitians in the U.S. and in Haiti. The study will investigate emotional distress, PTSD, depression, discrimination, genetic exposure, substance abuse and the subjective experience of well-being.
Using the word “well being” in the study title, Blanc said, is meant to avoid what she calls a “deficit model” in the healthcare system. As data is collected, Blanc said, she will post periodic updates for the community on a website under construction.
“I’m not just interested in everything that is not working in your body or your mental health,” Blanc said. “ I’m also interested in what protects ‘you’, resilience factors and global well-being.”
Guitele Jeudy Rahill, an associate professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, dedicates her research to reducing health and mental health disparities for Haitians. Her most recent study, published in March, focused on non-partner sexual violence and trauma-informed care for female victims.
“Haitians are underserved in terms of services and health disparities, and they are underrepresented in research,” Rahill said. “It’s so much more than language and having health insurance.”
“What I’ve learned is that health access for my study is about having human relationships,” Rahill added.
Rahill’s peer reviewed articles have appeared in the American Journal of Public health, AIDS Care, the Journal of Affective Disorders, the Encyclopedia of Immigrant Health, the American Journal of Psychotherapy, and the Journal of Health care for the Poor and Underserved.
In one study, she found lack of consistent and accurate sex information among teens in Cité Soleil led to more poverty and burden. Through interviews with Haitian teens she learned they were told male condoms made the experience less enjoyable, and were not taught in school or at home that female condoms exist.
In 2019, Rahill helped organize a prevention campaign using krik krak storytelling through skits on a variety of topics, including roleplaying how girls can safely refuse sex. Another study published in 2022 revealed Haitian women in post-disaster settings are at even greater risk for adverse health outcomes and suboptimal sleep, compared to men with similar experiences.
“People who are here in the diaspora experience often the same kinds of trauma that people are experiencing now in Haiti, when relatives and friends can’t go to school or step outside because of the kidnappings and the violence,” Rahill said.
Rahill is also an advisor to a younger group of Haitian post-doctoral research students, such as Fednold Thelisdort.
Thelisdort plans to study the retention rate of Haitian-decendent first generation students in Florida public universities.
“We have seen an increase in systemic challenges that Haitian immigrant students are facing both at home and on campus,” Thelisdort wrote in his first draft of his research proposal.
This topic is personal to Thelisdort, who is a first-generation immigrant and college student. He plans to investigate the “shame and fear” of identifying as Haitian, and the “pain and sadness” of separation due to deportation, limited health access and educational services citing former studies by Ann Shillingford and Alejandro Portes.
“I’m taking courses at the same time that I’m adapting to [the U.S.] system,” Thelisdort said. “I’m put in the same box as an African American without consideration of those unique barriers that I have as a Black immigrant Haitian person.”
To take part in the “Well-Being” study at the University of Miami, apply here.