Black History Month - Alice Mũthoni Mũrage

February 26, 2024

In this Black History Month series, we share the stories of Black community members at SFU. In alignment with the Scarborough Charter, SFU has adopted the theme “Building Connections for Black Flourishing” for 2024. Read other stories, discover events and activities and learn more about Black History Month at SFU.

Alice Mũthoni Mũrage is a PhD candidate with the Faculty of Health Sciences, a Research Fellow with the Pacific Institute of Pathogens, Pandemics and Society (PIPPS) and a Dialogue Associate at SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. She is also the Director of the African Ancestry Project, which she initiated in partnership with the BC Black History Awareness Society in 2020.

What are your research areas of interest?

I am particularly interested in an intersectional analysis of social determinants of health, as well as effects of health emergencies (e.g., COVID-19) on these determinants. The determinant I have recently been focusing on, and which will form my PhD research, is precarious work.

Work is central to access to resources that shape other determinants of health. It shapes the lives of most adults, yet this focus is still considered an emergent field of study. For my PhD, I will particularly work with the Black population in BC.

Why is it particularly important to research Black populations when it comes to health?

Black people in Canada are disproportionately affected by unemployment and underemployment; yet, a look into how race intersects with other social identities such as gender and immigration status to shape precarious work as a determinant of their health is understudied.

Can you tell us a bit more about your work on the African Ancestry Project?

I initiated the African Ancestry Project in 2020 and partnered with the BC Black History Awareness Society with the goal of creating a greater sense of understanding of the diversity of Black people in the province: our diverse histories, identities, and experiences, which is often overshadowed by shared experiences of racialization in Canada. I conducted community-engaged research and wrote a comprehensive report which is now freely accessible online and across public libraries in BC. As part of the project, I have also organized and facilitated public dialogues on the topic, including a youth dialogue series.

Over the years, I have been engaging the public on the project's findings and particularly during Black History Month, with audiences in community, academia, non-profit, and corporate. 

What projects are you working on through your research fellowship with PIPPS?

As a Research Fellow with PIPPS, I work closely with Dr. Julia Smith on several projects with a particular focus on health and social inequities associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. We have examined how the Canadian government integrated the gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) into the country’s response to COVID by triangulating an analysis of COVID-19 policies with interview data. With a focus on pandemic experiences and recovery of frontline workers, I have contributed to research with recent immigrant workers in the accommodation and food services sector, health care providers, and educators among others.

Most recently, I conducted research on experiences of women hotel workers in British Columbia in partnership with Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and UNITE HERE Local 40. I am currently working on a community research project in partnership with the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Center Society examining barriers and lived experiences of social workers supporting survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) in Metro Vancouver. Other research I am involved in include examining equity effects of travel and border measures between US and Canada during the pandemic and Long-COVID experiences and associated systemic challenges to accessing care.

I am also in the working group of the Understanding Precarity in BC Project where I am working in collaboration with other researchers in BC on systemic challenges and experiences of migrant care workers who come into Canada through the Caregiver immigration programs. (Study poster)

My work mostly entails qualitative research and policy and context analysis. Context analysis includes an interrogation of historical and current social, economic, and political systems, and often entails an examination of processed data by agencies such as Statistics Canada and WorkSafe BC. My work is not only aimed at contributing to a greater understanding of health and social equity issues, but also advocating for progressive systemic changes to addressing these inequities.