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David R. Williams Professor of Public Health and Professor of African American Studies and Sociology at Harvard University

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  • Creating Inclusive and Accepting Environments for All Our Children
  • How Social Policies Shape Health: Evidence and Opportunities

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David R. Williams is the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology at Harvard University. His first 6 years as a faculty member were at Yale University where he held appointments in both Sociology and Public Health. The next 14 years were at the University of Michigan where he was the Harold Cruse Collegiate Professor of Sociology, a Senior Research Scientist at the Institute of Social Research and a Professor of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health. Dr. Williams holds an MPH degree from Loma Linda University and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Williams is internationally recognized as a leading social scientist focused on social influences on health. His research has enhanced our understanding of the complex ways in which race, racism, socioeconomic status, stress, health behaviors and religious involvement can affect physical and mental health. The Everyday Discrimination scale that he developed is currently one of the most widely used measures to assess perceived discrimination in health studies.

He has received numerous honors and awards. In 2001, he was elected to the National Academy of Medicine (formerly Institute of Medicine) and in 2007 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the first non-white scholar to receive the Leo G. Reeder Award from the American Sociological Association. He has also received the Stephen Smith Award for Distinguished Contributions in Public Health from the New York Academy of Medicine and an inaugural Decade of Behavior Research Award. He was ranked as one of the top 10 Most Cited Social Scientists in the world in 2005 and as the Most Cited Black Scholar in the Social Sciences in 2008. In 2014, Thomson Reuters ranked him as one of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.

With funding from the National Institutes of Health and the sponsorship of the World Health Organization, Dr. Williams directed the South African Stress and Health Study, the first nationally representative study of the prevalence and correlates of mental disorders in sub-Sahara Africa. This study assessed the effects of HIV/AIDS, exposure to racial discrimination and torture during apartheid, on the health of the South African population. He was also a key member of the team that conducted the National Study of American Life, the largest study of mental health disorders in the African American population in the U.S. and the first health study to include a large national sample of Blacks of Caribbean ancestry.

Dr. Williams has been involved in the development of health policy at the national level in the U.S. He has served on the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics and on eight committees for the National Academy of Medicine, including the committee that prepared the Unequal Treatment report. He also served as a member of the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Dr. Williams has played a visible, national leadership role in raising awareness levels of the problem of health inequalities and identifying interventions to address them. He served as the staff director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America. This national, independent and nonpartisan health commission was focused on identifying evidence-based non-medical strategies that can improve the health of all Americans and reduce racial and socioeconomic gaps in health. He has also worked on ethnic inequities with the Toronto Public Health Department, the National Health Service in the U.K. and the Pan American Health Organization.

He or his research has been featured by some of the nation’s top print and television news organizations and his TEDMED talk was released in April 2017. He was also a key scientific advisor to the award-winning PBS film series, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?


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