Social Impact

USC official has key role in Smithsonian women’s event

Hortensia Amaro is one of handful of women chosen to showcase the history and contributions of women of color in psychology

March 11, 2016 Eddie North-Hager

In Boston, her work in racial and ethnic health inequities, HIV prevention and substance abuse treatment led to a building being named in her honor.

In San Diego, one of the researchers she mentored as a postdoctoral student is now director of the Center on Gender Equity and Health at the University of California, San Diego.

And now in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Institute is using Hortensia Amaro to inspire the next generation as part of a nationwide campaign to reach women and girls of color in underserved communities.

Amaro, a USC associate vice provost for community research initiatives and dean’s professor of social work and preventive medicine, is one of handful of women chosen to showcase the history and contributions of women of color in psychology.

Reaching underserved communities

Hundreds of cultural institutions across the country on March 12 will participate in a special edition of Smithsonian’s signature Museum Day Live! as part of a nationwide campaign to reach women and girls in underserved communities during Women’s History Month. The exhibit is sponsored by the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Amaro will be part of the Finding Your Passion installation that focuses on psychologists who have used their passion to make a positive social change.

Amaro’s story – she emigrated with her parents from Cuba as a child, spoke little English and lived in a housing project – informed her lifelong dedication to the cause of the underserved.

“My experience as an immigrant helped me to see things that I would not see otherwise,” Amaro said. “It helped me to understand some of the issues poor families face. It’s been a source of understanding and inspiration. I wanted to contribute to making a difference. I didn’t know how I would do it at the time, but it instilled passion in me.”

VIDEO: See Smithsonian presentation about Amaro, other inspirational women

At USC, Amaro recently brought together dozens of community groups to create a report on the state of the neighborhoods that surround the USC University Park and Health Sciences campus. The report provides the context to find solutions to increase opportunities and improve outcomes for residents.

And Amaro is in the midst of a multi-year study looking at the health impacts of mindfulness – such as meditation – on low income, minority women.

Inspiration from leadership

Today Amaro draws inspiration and support from USC leadership as well. She pointed to President C. L. Max Nikias’ State of the University address that focused on increasing access to and diversity at the nation’s top universities. And Provost Michael Quick has made increasing access one of his priorities.

“What the president and provost are doing is very much related to the Smithsonian’s effort,” Amaro said. “We need to foster access for youth of color. They are or will be the majority. This is where many of our scientists in the future will come from. At this exhibit they’ll see people like themselves who are doing research that can lead to social change and addresses the ‘wicked problems’ as our provost calls them.”