Robin C. Stevens, PhD, MPH
With an early interest in health disparities and media and a PhD in health communication, Robin C. Stevens’ research focuses on public health communication, health equity, new media and technology, and sexual health and substance use among youth of color.
Using mixed methods including interviews, surveys, and content analysis, Dr. Stevens’ current studies highlight the “Digital Neighborhood.” The Digital Neighborhood or digital hood is defined as the online space where social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat converge and allow youth to interact and share information, create, and reinforce norms on their mobile phones, tablets, and computers.
“My research lies at the intersection of public health and communications. I focus on how media influences can be used to intervene on health risk behaviors.”
- PhD, University of Pennsylvania , 2009
- MPH, University of Michigan, 2003
- AB, Harvard College, 1999
Health Communication in the Digital Age
In a recent NIH-funded study on the Digital Hood, Dr. Stevens examined the role of social media in the lives of disadvantaged youth in predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. Dr. Stevens conducted in-depth interviews and surveys with youth about their social worlds, risk behaviors and neighborhoods, both online and offline. She reported an alarming connection between negative social interactions that youth experience in their neighborhoods and on social media. Negative interactions in relation to sex and violence in the geographic neighborhood are often reproduced and amplified in the online digital hood.
Impact of Social Media on Sexual Risk and Substance Use
In an ongoing study funded by NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Dr. Stevens and her colleagues at Penn Nursing’s Health Equity & Media Lab are studying more than 56,000 social media posts from youth aged 13 to 24 years old, who allowed researchers access to their social media profiles. The research team early on recognized that the youth created their own language and codes to capture experiences on social media. Dr. Stevens quickly turned to Penn computer scientists, youth advisory board members and unique crowd sourcing analysts to help interpret the data and code the social media posts to determine the relationship between social media and sexual risk and substance use behaviors.
Dr. Stevens estimates that more than 75 percent of all youth use some form of social media. Additional research is designed to explore social media’s effects on underage alcohol use and risk behavior. She will determine if social media users follow the same patterns as TV viewers, who are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior if they are exposed to it on TV. In other research, Dr. Stevens investigates the impact of media-informed HIV prevention interventions and the impact of community health centers on poor families from South Jersey.
Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing
While focused on health behavior and health communication, Dr. Stevens’ research into health equity found a collaborative and welcoming home at Penn Nursing, where she founded the Health Equity & Media Lab, collaborating with scholars across the university. She teaches “Human Sexuality” in the School of Nursing and “Health Communication in the Digital Age” in Penn’s Master of Public Health program. Based in the Perelman School of Medicine, the MPH program is a collaboration with the School of Nursing and six other schools. Dr. Stevens incorporates both graduate, undergraduate, and high school students in her community-engaged research studies.
Selected Career Highlights
- Visiting Professor Program, Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, University of California San Francisco
- Senior Fellow, Center for Public Health Initiatives
- Senior Fellow, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics
- Distinguished Research Fellow, Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania
- Early Career Reviewer, Center for Scientific Review, National Institutes of Health
- Facilitator, White House Civic Learning and National Service Summit
Stevens, R., Bleakly, A., Dunaev, J., Hennesey, M., & Gilliard-Matthews, S. (In Press) #digital hood: Engagement with risk content on social media among Black and Hispanic youth. Journal of Urban Health.
Lightfoot, M., Wu, N., Hughes, S., Desmond, K., Tevendale, H., & Stevens, R. (2018). Risk factors for substance use among youth experiencing homelessness. Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/1067828X.2018.1500964
Stevens, R., Icard, L., Jemmott, J.B., O’Leary, A., Rutledge, S., Hsu, J., & Stephens-Shields, A. (2017). Risky trade: Individual and neighborhood-level socio-demographics associated with transactional sex among urban African American MSM. Journal of Urban Health, Oct: 94(5):676-682. DOI: 10.1007/s11524-017-0187-5.
Stevens, R., Gilliard-Matthews, S, Dunaev*, J, Todhunter-Reid*, A., Brawner, B., Stewart, J. (2017). Social media use and sexual risk reduction behavior among minority youth: Seeking safe sex information. Nursing Research. Sep/Oct;66(5):368-377. DOI: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000237
- Stevens, R., Gilliard-Matthews, S., Dunaev, J., Woods, M., & Brawner, B. (2016). The digital hood: Social media use among youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods. New Media & Society, Published online before print, 42377.10.1177/1461444815625941
Stevens, R., Dunaev, J.*, Malven, E.*, Bleakley, A., & Hull, S. (2016). Social media in the sexual lives of African American and Latino youth: Challenges and opportunities. Media & Communication, 4(3), 60-70. DOI:10.17645/mac.v4i3.524
Gilliard-Matthews, S., Stevens, R., Nilsen, M., & Dunaev, J. (2015). You see it everywhere. It’s just natural. Contextualizing the role of peers, family and neighborhood in initial substance use. Deviant Behavior, 36(6), 492-509.10.1080/01639625.2014.944068
- Stevens, R., & Hornik, R. (2014). AIDS in black & white: The influence of newspaper coverage of HIV/AIDS on HIV/AIDS testing among African Americans and White Americans, 1993-2007. Journal of Health Communication, 19(8), 893-906.10.1080/10810730.2013.864730
O’Leary, A., Jemmott, J. Stevens, R., Rutledge, S., & Icard, L. (2014). Optimism and education buffer the effects of syndemic factors on HIV status among black men who have sex with men. AIDS and Behavior, 18(11), 2080-2088.10.1007/s10461-014-0708-0
- Stevens, R., Gillard-Matthews, S., Nilsen, M., Malven, E., & Dunaev, J. (2014). Socio-ecological factors in sexual decision making among urban female adolescents. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 43(5), 644-654.10.1111/1552-6909