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.
He 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 is the author of more than 325 scholarly papers in scientific journals and edited collections and his research has appeared in leading journals in sociology, psychology, medicine, public health and epidemiology. He has served on the editorial board of 12 scientific journals and as a reviewer for over 60 journals. According to ISI Essential Science Indicators, he was one of the Top 10 Most Cited Researchers in the Social Sciences during the decade 1995 to 2005. The Journal of Black Issues in Higher Education, ranked him as the Most Cited Black Scholar in the Social Sciences in 2008. In 2001, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences and in 2007 to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2004, he received one of the inaugural Decade of Behavior Research Awards, in 2011, he was the first non-white scholar to receive the Leo G. Reeder Award from the American Sociological Association and in 2013, he received the Stephen Smith Award for Distinguished Contributions in Public Health from the New York Academy of Medicine.
Dr. Williams has been involved in the development of health policy at the national level in the U.S. He has served on the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics and on eight committees for the Institute of Medicine including the Committee that prepared the Unequal Treatment report. He has held elected and appointed positions in professional organizations, such as the American Sociological Association, the American Public Health Association, and Academy Health. He also served as a member of the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Dr Williams has also played a visible, national leadership role in raising awareness levels of the problem of health disparities 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.
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 psychiatric 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. Currently, he directs the Lung Cancer Disparities Center at HSPH, one of 10 Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Williams has appeared on national television, including ABC’s Evening News, CNN, PBS, the Katie Couric Show, Al Jazeera, C-SPAN and the Discovery Channel. His research has been featured or he has been quoted in the national print media including the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Essence, Jet and USA Today. 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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