• Ayanna Robinson

Celebrating the Next Generation of Black Women Researchers - Tyra Gross, Ph.D., MPH

For the last week of Black History Month, we are celebrating the next generation of Black women researchers in breastfeeding and Black maternal health. We believe that Black women have the skills, expertise, and perspectives to address the disparities experienced in our community. We hope you enjoy learning about the incredible contributions of these researchers.

Bonjour from New Orleans! I am Dr. Tyra Toston Gross. Professionally, I am an Assistant Professor of Public Health Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana (HBCU love!), where I have worked as a public health instructor, researcher and mentor since August 2015. More importantly, I am a proud wife to my husband Dr. Bantu Gross and mother of three spunky kids (son Amari-5, daughter Nia-3, baby boy Kalel-9 months). I am also an aspiring entrepreneur and humanitarian. So motherhood and maternal & child health are not just topics I research, it is my everyday lived experience. The majority of my research has focused on the health of reproductive-age women, and I specialize in qualitative research. Topics have ranged from group prenatal care, postpartum HPV vaccination, and Black college women's health.

My introduction to research actually started in high school actually with an internship at Southern University (another HBCU!) in my hometown of Baton Rouge. I completed a B.S. in Nutritional Sciences at Louisiana State University (LSU) and a MPH in Behavioral & Community Health Sciences at LSU Health Sciences Center. Lastly, I completed my PhD in Health Promotion & Behavior at the University of Georgia, where my dissertation focused on successful long-term breastfeeding experiences of African-American mothers enrolled in the WIC program. This was the first opportunity for me to bring a strengths-based/asset-based lens to maternal & child health. I was both frustrated and exhausted by Black breastfeeding always framed as a problem, without highlighting the growing numbers of Black mamas who have and continue to breastfeed their little ones. So, I used a framework called positive deviance, which basically highlights that there are resilient folks in disadvantaged communities that defy the odds (or disparities) to have healthy behaviors. In this case, Black mamas on the Georgia WIC program breastfed at least one of their children for 6 months or longer, despite the stats saying Black mamas are the least likely to breastfeed and many cease to breastfeeding within the first month. Using focus groups and interviews (qualitative research), I wanted mothers’ experiences and voices to be the centered. Feel free to check out the findings here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25480019/ and https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28061039/.

Prior to joining Xavier, I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in reproductive women’s health at University of Texas Medical Branch. During this time, my interest in postpartum health was piqued working on a project targeted new mamas, ages 18-26 uptake of the HPV vaccine. It also just so happened that I conceived my first baby while working on this project. The health of moms became very important to me. I recently got my FIRST grant *happy dance*. The focus is on assessing the maternal health status of Black women in Louisiana. The data I am using comes from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System (PRAMS), which you can learn more about here:

www.cdc.gov/PRAMS. Unlike many other studies looking at Black maternal health, this study will not, and I repeat, will not do racial comparisons. My team asked for a condensed data set with ONLY Black women, with an intersectionality lens, and we will look at health behaviors and outcomes across age, income, insurance status etc. What we know thus far from preliminary data is that Black mothers in Louisiana, just like other states, need more support, especially single mothers. High blood pressure is a main concern as well as discrimination & maltreatment, and maternal mental health. Shout outs to my collaborator Dr. Amy Thierry (Xavier), graduate assistant Almetra (Xavier), practicum student Ercilla (Emory), consultant Dr. Rachel Powell Lewis, and mentor Dr. Kat Theall (Tulane). We just submitted an abstract to the 2021 APHA annual meeting.

I also am passionate about mentoring other young women. So here’s a quick shout out to my students and their research projects: Black women and uterine fibroids (undergraduate students: Tyler, Kaya & Jazmine), bias towards minority patients during maternity care (MPH student: Tiffany), mobile health units in rural Georgia (MPH student: Ercilla).

Happy to connect with liked minded others via LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/tyragross/ . It definitely takes a village to not only raise a child but to “raise a researcher”. I had a slew of awesome mentors that helped me make it where I am, and that’s why I continue to pay it forward.

Please feel free to take Tiffany’s survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/capobgyn and the flyer is below.

Capstone Flyer_Tyra Gross
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