James S. Jackson, a leading researcher into the life and health of African Americans, has been named the inaugural recipient of the University of Michigan’s Distinguished Diversity Scholar Career Award.

The new, annual faculty honor recognizes and supports the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion — including the complexity of this work in the classroom, through research, and in the public domain.

It is presented to a senior faculty member who has made significant contributions to understanding diversity, equity and inclusion while addressing disparities in contemporary society.

Recipients, whose research, teaching, mentoring and public engagement focus on diversity, will also have the opportunity to present a public lecture or performance addressing an aspect of diversity.

Jackson, the Daniel Katz Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and a research professor in the Research Center for Group Dynamics, will receive the award Oct. 9 at the U-M Faculty Awards dinner. A lecture by Jackson and a symposium honoring his lifetime achievements will occur on Oct. 30.

Recognized for his innovative research on the influence of race on the health of African Americans, including the National Survey of Black Americans and National Survey of American Life, Jackson’s work is considered the most extensive social, mental and physical health survey of the U.S. black population.

“James Jackson is probably the most important researcher on the life experiences of African Americans in the past 100 years,” says Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer.

“His work transcends the traditional fields of psychology, sociology, political science and public health to provide a rich picture of the strengths, challenges, and functioning that characterizes the breadth of experiences of the African American community. In doing so, James’ work has been foundational to our understanding of the social determinants of health and well-being in our country. There could be no more deserving person for this distinguished honor.”

A symposium honoring Jackson, titled “Bridging the Past, Present and Future: Forty Years of Research on Black Americans by James S. Jackson,” will focus on four areas:

  • Aging and physical health research.
  • Research on discrimination and social identity.
  • The mental health of black Americans.
  • Research from the ground-breaking Program on Research on Black Americans — data sets with a focus on politics, religion, Caribbean blacks and adolescent well-being.

The symposium will include panelists that have been professionally influenced by the career of Jackson.

Following the symposium, Jackson will present a lecture titled “From Affirmative Action to Diversity in Higher Education,” from 3:30-5 p.m. The lecture will focus on the long-overdue celebration of diversity in higher education and the many reasons for this complex path.

The lecture will also focus on U-M as a leader in this journey, and also the missteps in the larger context of racialized social and political beliefs — including the actions of the larger culture of the United States.

The Distinguished Diversity Scholar Career Award is administered by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the National Center for Institutional Diversity.

Jackson, earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State University, a Master of Arts degree from the University of Toledo, and a Ph.D. from Wayne State University.

He joined U-M in 1971 as a faculty member, and established the Program for Research on Black Americans in 1976. Jackson is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

At U-M Jackson has been director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (currently known as the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies); faculty associate at the Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health; director of the Institute for Social Research; director of the Research Center for Group Dynamics; director of the Program for Research on Black Americans; and most recently as professor of Afroamerican and African studies.

Through the development of the National Survey of Black Americans, he made the bold statement that the life experiences of African Americans were worthy of study in and of themselves.

Previously, the overwhelming majority of research took a comparative approach in which African-American experiences were studied in comparison with whites. Jackson’s approach to study within-group variation in African Americans presaged the within-group examination of other traditionally underrepresented groups in society.

Throughout his career of teaching and mentoring, Jackson has increased the number of scholars and researchers from diverse backgrounds in political science, psychology, public health and sociology. Many of his former students and postdoctoral fellows are currently leading scholars in their respective fields.

Jackson is a founding member of the MacArthur Foundation Aging Society Research Network and is widely recognized for his research on minority aging. He is also a member of the National Science Board and a past-president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and the Consortium of Social Science Associations. Additionally, he has been designated to serve on the National Institutes of Health National Advisory Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Jackson has chaired the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on the Methodological Research Program for Longitudinal Studies on Aging, and has served on numerous editorial boards and U-M search advisory committees.

Among his additional honors, he received the American Psychiatric Association Solomon Carter Fuller Award, the New York Academy of Medicine Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Biomedical Sciences, the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science, and U-M’s Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award and Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award.


Originally published in The University Record.