Director of Social and Behavioral Sciences Core: Kim Blankenship, PhD

June 01, 2014

Upon moving to Washington, DC to become Chair of the Department of Sociology at American University (AU) and founding director of AU’s Center on Health, Risk and Society, Kim Blankenship, PhD set her sights on making valuable contributions to a city with some of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country. An experienced and NIH-funded HIV/AIDS researcher, she serves as both the Director of the DC D-CFAR Social and Behavioral Sciences Core and the Institutional Representative for American University.

A National Institute of Mental Health pre-doctoral fellowship program in Comparative Studies in Immigration and Ethnicity at Duke University ignited an early passion for historical and qualitative sociology for Blankenship. Greatly influenced by the experience, she then went on to complete her PhD at Duke, and wrote her dissertation on the development of US employment discrimination policy, which helped propel her toward a position in Yale University's Department of Sociology.

While at Yale, Blankenship's studies on discrimination and gender in the workplace evolved to include reproductive rights issues, and ultimately to HIV, when she became a regular attendee and co-organizer of the Yale AIDS Colloquium Series.

Later, while leading a CDC-funded project on structural determinants of and interventions to address HIV risk among drug users, Blankenship became convinced that high rates of incarceration, particularly in the black community was an important determinant meriting further exploration.

Now as a seasoned researcher, Blankenship often straddles the line between public health and sociology, frequently focusing on themes of incarceration, sex work and racial disparities while balancing the need for developing theory with necessary action and intervention.

Domestically, Blankenship’s research is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and she examines how the movement between prison and community, largely as a product of US drug policies, impacts HIV risk and may contribute to racial disparities.

With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of the Avahan: India AIDS Initiative, Blankenship recently completed a project synthesizing evidence regarding the impact of HIV prevention interventions in India and is continuing research examining the implementation and impact of community-led structural interventions for female sex workers in the state of Andhra Pradesh..

As the Director of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Core, and co-lead of the Criminal Justice-Affected Communities Working Group, Blankenship sees the DC D-CFAR as providing both an infrastructure to support and an intellectual community to inspire innovative, collaborative HIV/AIDS research to impact the epidemic in DC and beyond. She is currently working to expand her own HIV/AIDS research portfolio in DC, with a focus on factors of community disruption (such as incarceration/re-entry, gentrification and immigration/deportation) that contribute to HIV risk.