Dr. Kami Kosenko works in the area of interpersonal health communication and strives to conduct theoretically and methodologically sophisticated research that has practical relevance and import. In particular, she is interested in the communicative challenges and coping strategies of individuals with stigmatized conditions or identities. The goal of her work is to identify common challenges and coping strategies within and across groups of stigmatized individuals, such as transgender community members, victims of violent crime, and people affected by HIV/AIDS, cancer, or HPV.
For example, her dissertation project, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, entailed interviews with transgender individuals about the meanings and dilemmas of sexual safety and communication. Disturbingly high HIV prevalence rates in the transgender community have been tied to a number of transgender-specific risk factors, including work in the sex trade, needle sharing for hormone injections, and problems negotiating safer sexual practices for fear of drawing attention to one’s genitalia; however, most HIV prevention programs are not designed with the unique needs of the transgender community in mind.
To lay the groundwork for more culturally relevant and specific HIV prevention programs, Dr. Kosenko’s dissertation explored the transgender experience with sex, sexual safety, and sexual communication. Articles from this project have since been published in major journals in the field of communication including Health Communication, the Journal of Sex Research, and the Journal of Communication. More recently, Dr. Kosenko and her research team completed a project on the transgender experience with stigma in health care contexts. Findings from this study offered insight into transgender patients’ perceptions of and sensitivity to mistreatment in health care contexts—information that could be used to increase health care providers’ cultural competency and inform their interactions with transgender patients. An article based on this project can be found in this month’s issue of Medical Care.
Dr. Kosenko has published 18 articles on the communicative experiences of members of stigmatized groups. For example, her work on HIV/AIDS stigma, disclosure, and social support has been featured in top biomedical journals, such as AIDS Patient Care and STDS, and premier communication journals, such as Human Communication Research. These studies have received national news coverage, and study findings have been incorporated into Walgreens’s pharmacist training programs. Based on her research on the communicative challenges and coping strategies of women living with HPV, Dr. Kosenko developed a web resource for those affected by the virus and in need of further information and/or social support.
In her most recent project, Dr. Kosenko turned her attention to another stigmatized group—victims of violent crime. In this project, Dr. Kosenko and Johanne Laboy, a doctoral student in the Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media Program, explored the ways in which narratives and attributions for survival impacted survivors’ coping efforts. Articles from this project have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Loss and Trauma and Communication Studies.
Dr. Kosenko also is known for teaching an undergraduate course on Sexual Communication. In the course, students work in groups to develop materials for presentation at the Sexual Communication Fair, an event that’s open for anyone to attend. The class will be offered in Spring 2014, and the Sexual Communication Fair will be held in April.