UNSW Arts & Social Science’s new Associate Dean (Enterprise, Impact and Engagement), Associate Professor Christy Newman shares a bit about why she loves working at the Centre for Social Research in Health, her top priorities as a new associate dean, and her future vision for enterprise, impact and engagement.  

What is a favourite part of your job?  

I’ve been at the Centre for Social Research in Health for 16 years, and I also did my PhD there before that, so I clearly love my job!  

This research centre prioritises the kind of impact-focused, community-partnered and multidisciplinary approach essential for making a difference in my fields of social research – health, gender and sexuality – and there is a shared value system among my colleagues in working for and with communities affected by stigma, marginalisation and disadvantage which I value deeply. 

Another favourite thing about this job are the opportunities it provides to work with researchers and students based in different disciplines and fields.  As well as working with advocates, clinicians and policy makers, I’ve been able to collaborate with academics in every school and centre, on research, teaching and HDR supervision, which has given me insights into the distinctions and the intersections across our faculty.  

We have such incredible staff and students in our faculty. 

Can you tell us about your new role as the inaugural Associate Dean (Enterprise, Impact and Engagement) - what do you plan to be your top priorities in the next six months?  

Arts and Social Sciences has a remarkable legacy in conducting research which makes a difference. As seen in our outstanding performance in the last ARC Impact and Engagement assessment, and our continued successes in securing commissioned and contract research, there is so much that we can and should celebrate about our achievements in this portfolio area. But I’m particularly thrilled the faculty has created this two-day-a-week role, because it provides a central mechanism for driving faculty priorities in enterprise, impact and engagement.  

My work in this role has changed in response to the massively challenging environment we are all now in within higher education.  

But my priorities are to support our move into the provision of online short courses which respond to diverse and rapidly changing professional development needs, to inform the design of systems which usefully capture and promote our impact and engagement achievements, and to identify the mechanisms which can ensure we are appropriately recognised and engaged as partners and consultants in contract and commissioned research, large multidisciplinary partnership projects and expert opinion opportunities.  

Although my primary focus is staff, all of these create new opportunities for undergraduate and HDR students, and so I’ll always be thinking about how to maximise those also. 

What is your future vision for the role- looking further forward to a year, a couple of years ahead?  

At the end of my term, I hope to be able to say I’ve played a role in supporting our researchers to access a broader range of opportunities to contribute their careful, critical and well theorised perspectives on the complex problems we face in our world today.  

I’m excited to have the chance to support our faculty ambitions in expanding the range of impacts and influence we can achieve and the number of meaningful and productive partnerships we can forge with industries, governments and communities of all kinds.  

I also want this to be one of the reasons students choose to study with us, and that organisations choose to partner with us, again and again. If I can play a role in creating systems to help our knowledge and capabilities become more visible and more valued, then I think that real benefits for the faculty will have been achieved. 

Tell us more about your research? What are some of the key projects you are passionate about?  

My undergraduate degree was in cultural and literary studies, and I moved into the interdisciplinary social sciences in my doctoral training, with a focus on health sociology, critical public health and health media studies. Since then, working in a research centre funded by contract and commissioned research, as well as competitive funding from the ARC and NHMRC, my research interests have developed in line with the changing priorities of governments and communities in responding to communicable diseases, mainly HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections.  

In my research, I’m passionate about bringing a critical social science lens to thinking about the impacts and intersections between blood borne virus prevention and care, sexual and reproductive health, and sexual and gender diversity. I have an interest in documenting both the lived experience and cultural representations of these issues and thinking about how they influence and are shaped by diverse ways of forming relationships and families today, and in providing care and support.  

As one example, I’m leading a Discovery Project on families affected by blood borne viruses in Australia, in partnership with the Social Policy Research Centre, as well as with advocacy, health and policy professionals who support people affected by HIV and viral hepatitis. We are beginning to publish our findings from interviews which explore the relational impacts and contributions of families, perspectives which are often overlooked in our individualised response to BBV prevention and care.  

I’ve also had the chance to work on a fascinating project on different generations of Australians who grew up ‘queer’, a shorthand for sexuality and gender diverse identities and expressions of all kinds, and this has really amplified my commitment to working to advance the rights of all LGBTIQ+ young people. 

I have a particular passion for challenging some of the assumptions and myths that circulate about families and diversity, and have written a few things about this recently, including a paper on experiences of belonging to families of origin among sexuality diverse Australians, and an article on LGBTIQ+ young people who want to remain connected to their families and their faith. I think it’s really important to tell the stories of families who choose love and connection over fear and rejection when they are asked to come to terms with a young person coming out to them, or a disclosure of a blood borne virus within the family. These stories are so important for everyone to hear. 

I’m also leading a contract project funded by the Australian Department of Health looking at the ways communities affected by blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections feel about storing and sharing personal health data in digital systems and technologies, from apps and wearables, to electronic health records and remote consultations. We know from advocacy and anecdotal accounts that there are really good reasons for  the populations prioritised in the national HIV and STI strategies – people with HIV, sex workers, and trans and gender diverse people, for example – to feel doubtful about putting their trust in these systems, as they face very real social, economic and physical risks if their privacy is breached. We hope our community survey and key informant interviews will provide timely information on how these groups feels about digital health, including the additional impacts of COVID 19 on these already complex issues. 

In all of this, I don’t do anything without my research partners. From the first idea, to the last publication, I am communicating and collaborating with colleagues in community-based organisations, non-profits, government agencies and clinical services, mainly those working to support LGBTIQ+ people, and people with HIV and viral hepatitis. I need to always be checking that the data I’m collecting and the conclusions I’m drawing will benefit the communities affected by the research.  

Social research can play a critical role in advancing the rights, well-being and strengths of communities, but only if it is conducted in partnership. I see my role as a facilitator, helping to tell the stories of marginalised communities in ways that protects their privacy, while also challenging the policy, legal and cultural frameworks that entrench disadvantage, precarity and stigma. I see my role as Associate Dean as a facilitating one also, supporting others in our faculty in achieving their ambitions of making a difference in the world. 


Find out more about Christy and her research interests and watch a recent video where she speaks with Scientia PhD Candidate Sujith Kumar from the Centre for Social Research in Health about the importance of safe and brave spaces for LGBTIQ+ young people and allies.  

Christy will join our Dean in UNSW Alumni’s new conversation series, #UNSWFromHome, where she’ll explore Relationships - Emotional Proximity in Times of Social Distancing. Register here 

Christina Kingen