Mahshid Abir is an emergency physician and senior policy researcher at RAND, and fall 2021 health equity fellow in the RAND Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy.
Jan 31, 2022
Q&A with Jason M. Etchegaray
Jason M. Etchegaray, senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND, was among the inaugural cohort of center affiliates and ambassadors—a program that aims to give RAND staff an opportunity to engage in racial equity studies. In this issue, Etchegaray discusses his experience.
Can you explain your work within the center and the affiliates program?
My work was initially focused on developing a foundational knowledge base around racial equity. I acquired this knowledge by completing two microcredentials—short training programs—and participating in candid discussions with colleagues about topics related to equity, including concepts such as reflexivity, cultural schemas, anti-racism and how that term is conceptualized today, and approaches to developing inclusive outcomes. Our cohort, led by the center director, created a safe and inclusive space for honest discussions about our various experiences with equity. I also learned the importance of thoughtfully structuring collaborative discussions with stakeholders with opposing views, which is an important technique to use when facilitating conversations around potentially charged topics.
How would you describe your current thinking about racial equity, and how has your thinking changed since your appointment as an affiliate/ambassador?
I knew very little about racial equity as an academic construct, so the program has been immensely beneficial. My entry point into this space was pretty uninformed in terms of terminology and theory focused on racial equity. My first "aha" moment was when we examined definitions of equity, and I learned that it could be a process and/or an outcome, much like many constructs I typically research. That moment helped me understand that there was not necessarily one truth about how researchers conceptualize equity but multiple depending on one's perspective about how one frames equity in one's research. Knowing that different researchers and theorists have different conceptualizations about how equity fits into research was a relief on some level, as one overall concern I had was that I would think about some construct incorrectly or misuse it, thereby inadvertently alienating groups of people I was trying to help.
Now that I have developed a good knowledge base focused on racial equity, I understand better the role of racial and ethnic inequity. There are times when I feel overwhelmed by the inequity I see because I’m unsure how to solve it—and I also acknowledge that there are many inequities I am still unaware of. However, I have learned that an integral approach in this space is to try to do something meaningful, through the approaches I take in grant applications or in seeking new collaborations.
As part of the affiliates program, you took part in microcredentials on how to apply the equity principles of reflexivity, contextualization, and development of action-oriented, inclusive outcomes. How did this impact or inform the development of your project?
I realized that because of the inequities I was more aware of daily, I was more easily triggered by the fact that these inequities existed. The principle of reflexivity helped me consider on a much deeper level why I was triggered (i.e., factors about the situation, people in the situation, and me that made it triggering) and ways to react (or not). The process of being reflexive helped challenge my assumptions about why I believed what I did and aided in thinking through different ways to make sense of situations. Reflexivity was challenging at first because it required me to have some uncomfortable conversations with myself, but it is these types of conversations that can yield great insight. I think the biggest lesson I learned from the affiliate experience is that for our research to have action-oriented, inclusive outcomes, we need diverse partners, collaborators, and trusted messengers to join us in our endeavors. As part of my work as a center affiliate, I am developing a checklist for researchers to use as they develop project ideas and teams and incorporating various principles into this checklist so that equity is a critical component of project development efforts.
How has your affiliates appointment prepared you to effect change in racial equity policy going forward?
The program has helped me incorporate equity considerations into my work on grant proposals to help ensure that such factors are addressed in the research. Additionally, as I have been developing and contributing to new projects at RAND, I am cognizant about asking questions that will help highlight the importance of addressing equity into the project. I have been able to start applying a racial equity lens to current projects and I am excited and energized from the affiliate experience to continue finding ways to study racial equity. While my learning has essentially just begun in this space, I look forward to continuing to learn and apply my knowledge to drive more equitable outcomes for as many groups as possible in the future.