Gabriel Robles

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The New York Academy of Medicine honored Gabriel Robles, a third-year doctoral student at the NYU Silver School of Social Work, at its Sixth Annual Social Work Student Recognition Night for his ongoing research with the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH). The April 28 event recognized student scholars from each of the social work programs in the New York Metro area. Robles, representing New York University, presented a poster and gave an oral presentation,“Reconceptualizing Health Disparities: The Importance of Identifying Risk Factors Beyond Race.”

Robles’ dissertation topic focuses on adolescent decision-making, particularly around sexual risk behaviors. As Robles explained, “In studying condom use among teenage couples, often research focuses on women, i.e. ‘girls need to get empowered and get on birth control.’ This seems to place the entire burden on girls. There is little to no conversation on the boys’ part; it’s very gendered. It is critical to look at both parts.” CLAFH surveyed both boys and girls to gather quantitative and qualitative data on condom use, relationships, and family life. He will examine the unique dynamics of adolescent couples and how these dynamics influence their condom use.

Robles is proud to be a part of what he views as social work research renaissance at NYU. “Research has recently been emphasized and taken on a new presence at the Silver School,” he said. “I’m glad to be a part of that process.” While his passion for the field is evident, Robles’ personal journey into the world of social work research was a gradual one. After receiving a BA in linguistics from Long Beach State University, Robles sought a job where he could work with Spanish-speaking people, teaching English and “helping people navigate the world.” He began working at a YMCA that partnered with a community school to provide social services to his students. Robles’ experiences as director of the after-school site made him realize the vast and varied health and social needs of the Latino community, and his desire to increase his knowledge and understanding of how to work with people and groups of people. This led him to pursue and obtain his MSW from Long Beach State. He excelled in a class on research methods and statistics, and his professor encouraged him to apply to the school’s National Institutes of Health-funded Health Disparities Scholar training program, which supports minority students who want to research health disparities in minority communities. After a rigorous application and interview process, Robles was accepted.

Robles completed his health disparities fellowship work under the mentorship of the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) Center for Latino Community Health. NCLR is the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. One of his mentors there asked him about his long-term goals, and Robles said, “I want to pursue a research degree, because at one point I would like to have my own team of researchers. I want to lead a team to make a meaningful impact in the Latino community.”

With this goal in mind, he began applying to PhD programs. He was especially drawn to New York City—and NYU—for its vibrant and diverse Latino community. Robles, a California native, saw the move as an opportunity to observe and investigate issues impacting the Latino community on a national and international level. “Coming to this city, and to NYU, not only helped me understand a different perspective, but it helped me grow as far as my own personal prior beliefs of what it meant to study vulnerable populations,” he shared.

Robles has just completed his third year in NYU Silver’s doctoral program, and will now tackle the daunting task of writing his dissertation, a process that can take one to two years. He is grateful to the School’s doctoral admissions program for placing him at CLAFH, an organization whose mission and research align so well with his interests. He said, “Because my research interests overlapped with my adviser’s interests, I’ve been able to carve out what my unique research contribution will be.”

Post-doctorate, Robles plans to seek a faculty position at a leading research university where he can design and implement his own research programs “within the context of a university setting and the community.” And he is interested in expanding his dyadic approach to couple-based research to include some examination of sexual risk behaviors among adolescent and young adult LGBT couples. “In the future,” he said, “if I decide to study LGBT couples, I want to study both halves, not just one person. Often what we hear is that it boils down to power—the person who has the power decides if they use condoms or not. I want to know: are there other things at play? There must be; relationships are too complex.” Whether it is work with same-sex or opposite-sex couples, Robles hopes that his dissertation will start to pave the path of examining the complexities of ethnic minority couples that are not captured in the current research.

By Penelope Yates, MSW ’15