Micah Savin (Lakota, they/them) is a Two-Spirit National Science Foundation fellow at Fordham University and Mt. Sinai studying clinical neuropsychology, with a particular focus on the neurological effects of LGBT2Q minority stress among diverse elders with HIV.
(Links: Micah on Twitter)
How did you first get interested in science?
My path to science is definitely non-traditional. I danced professionally for almost 15 years. During this time, my primary responsibility as a dancer was to take the thoughts, emotions, and narratives of individuals and translate them into movement or behavior. While dancing I was always interested in understanding the neuronal substrate of these behaviors, in understanding how the wiring of our brain leads to complex behavior. And that innate curiosity is probably what put me on my path to eventually pursue clinical neuropsychology, which is the study of the brain and behavior.
What experiences led you to your current career path?
Perhaps the most profound experience that alerted me to the field of neuropsychology was the passing of my partner due to HIV. He was a young, gay, Black man who after a prolonged, unknown exposure to HIV developed an AIDS-related cancer. As I transitioned into a caretaking role for him, I noticed pronounced changes in his cognitive functioning. It was as if his spirit would leave his eyes for increasingly longer periods of time. He seemed dazed and confused, but my concerns were negated by his neurologist. I couldn’t get access to proper care for him, I couldn’t get him a neuropsychological evaluation, and subsequently, adequate resources or support as his caretaker. As a Queer BIPOC couple, this was not our first time experiencing this, and so after losing him I thought it was time that I changed the healthcare infrastructure from within.
What does your current research focus on?
Currently, I utilize a multidisciplinary approach to study biopsychosociocultural mechanisms of disparities in cognitive aging across diverse populations. Often times I find myself examining how aspects of culture (e.g., resilience, assimilation) and social inequity (e.g., intergenerational trauma, poverty) may exacerbate neuropathology. For example, how bilingualism or healthcare inaccessibility may influence the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease among Latinx populations. While I work across many minoritized populations, a great deal of my work focuses on the neurological effects of LGBT2Q minority stress among diverse elders with HIV. I often use HIV as a neurological model because of its saliency to Queer BIPOC populations, wherein about half of these individuals will be diagnosed with HIV.
Beyond research, you’re also involved with March for Science and co-founded Wisdom WINGS. Could you talk a bit about what these projects are, why they’re important to you, and what's currently in progress for them?
Well, both of them stem from my deep commitment to science advocacy and the diversification of the scientific community. I believe that all science is born from culture, in that science is born from the sharing of thoughts passed down through generations and thus is developed for and by the people. But over time this narrative—globally, as well as in America—has been white-washed and ownership of these ideas has been delegated to the elite across various social contexts.
In studying neuroscience, I’ve seen the appropriation of Indigenous Traditional Knowledge across various fields, and so I now spend a good portion of my time amending this misdoing. That's how I initially became the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for March for Science NYC, a youth-led grassroots organization dedicated to increasing accessibility of science. After this, I moved on to co-found Wisdom WINGS (Workgroup for Indigenous Neuropsychology Global Strategies), which is an international research collaboration started by and for Indigenous People to address disparities in brain health. It's a really fantastic and exciting opportunity wherein we work with and for Indigenous communities from Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Brazil, and Mexico to conduct research in accordance with each community’s needs. This approach provides us the strength to overcome federal barriers that have prevented us from providing these communities with robust science for many decades, while respecting the sovereignty of each community.
Why was it important to you to contribute your story to the 500 Queer Scientists project?
Often times I've felt that my intersectional identities clash in spaces. In science, diversity is rare, as we're aware. But even at diversity conferences, I'm often in largely white LGBT spaces or a largely cis-heterosexual multi-ethnoracial space. Regardless, I'm often the first person like me to walk those halls or speak in a position of power. Sometimes that makes me want to shout, "I AM HERE," and others I want to switch into incognito mode. But rarely do I feel safe and supported such that I genuinely present my internal state. After seeing 500 Queer Scientists launch, I realized that even though we all have different trajectories in life, we jointly carry the burden and gifts of innovating our field. I guess that by sharing my story, I hoped that others would realize that by exchanging our stories, we could integrate our families, tighten our bonds, lighten our loads, and march on stronger together.