Francine Laden awarded Marianne Wessling-Resnick Memorial Mentoring Award at same ceremony
November 22, 2022 – Women’s reproductive health is harmed by endocrine-disrupting chemicals known as plasticizers that are used in consumer products ranging from cosmetics to food packaging to plastics. Not only that, but there are differences in exposure patterns that relate to race and ethnicity; for example, studies have shown that Black Americans and Mexican Americans have higher concentrations of these toxic chemicals in their bodies.
This pioneering research is typical of the work done in the Environmental Reproductive Justice Lab led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Tamarra James-Todd. She documents the impacts of harmful chemical exposures and related environmental health disparities—and her work does not end there. She also brings the science into the community to shed light on preventable risks and show people how to improve their health.
James-Todd, the Mark and Catherine Winkler Associate Professor of Environmental Reproductive Epidemiology, received the 2022 Alice Hamilton Award at a ceremony in Kresge cafeteria on November 17 for her leadership in the area of environmental exposure and women’s health.
Presented annually by the School’s Committee on the Advancement of Women Faculty (CAWF), the Alice Hamilton award recognizes a female faculty member for her impact in public health and future promise. The award honors the memory of Hamilton, a pioneer in the fields of toxicology and occupational health and the first woman appointed to the faculty at Harvard in 1919.
At the event, Dean Michelle Williams spoke about Hamilton’s path-breaking legacy in her field and at Harvard and praised James-Todd as a pioneering scholar with a resonant commitment to translating scientific research into action.
“Like Alice, Tamarra believes that we absolutely must get academic research to the people who can most benefit from its findings,” said Williams. “Already, Tamarra’s understanding of the impact of toxic chemicals on women’s reproductive health and long-term health is advancing health equity and making remarkable impacts on the ground.”
In addition to her research accomplishments, James-Todd is known for her commitment to scholarly activism. Recently, she launched a new podcast, Beauty + Justice, on the impact of the beauty industry on health equity and social justice. She is also offering a new course this spring on environmental health, literacy, and science communication, to create more fluency around getting scientific findings to the public.
To rebuild trust in public health scholarship, academics must get outside of the ivory tower, build bridges into communities, and make science real for people, said James-Todd during a powerful acceptance lecture in which she urged scholars to not only document health disparities but also work to find solutions to reduce them. “We have to get beyond these doors,” she said. “The science has to be broadened out to the community, the industry, government, educators, and the general public.”
James-Todd wrapped up her remarks by invoking the School’s tagline, which appears prominently on a massive banner on the back of the Kresge building. “I’d like to remind you to never forget what sits outside this building: ‘Powerful ideas for a healthier world.’ That’s what Alice called us to do. And I hope that you too will see yourselves as advocates doing that work.”
Another award was also presented at the ceremony. Francine Laden, professor of environmental epidemiology, received the Marianne Wessling-Resnick Memorial Mentoring Award for her commitment to service and mentorship. The award honors the memory of Wessling-Resnick, who received the 2019 CAWF Mentoring Award just six and a half months before she passed away at 61.
Jennifer Ivers, associate dean for faculty affairs, praised Laden as a faculty member who, like Wessling-Resnick, has shown compassionate commitment to service and mentorship and a desire to connect people in ways that strengthen them both individually and as a community.