March 24, 2003

Sterk to give March 27 lecture

By Stephanie Sonnenfeld

Claire Sterk, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, will deliver the eighth annual Distinguished Faculty Lecture, Thursday, March 27, at 4 p.m. in the Dobbs Center’s Winship Ballroom.

Her lecture, titled “The ‘Substances’ in Addiction: Socially Constructed or Scientifically Determined?” will go beyond the traditional ideas of addiction research and examine the issue across many disciplines, reflecting the work she and a number of Emory researchers in are doing in studying the biological and social roots of substance abuse. Additionally, Sterk said she particularly wants to emphasize society’s longstanding history of ambivalence regarding substances, be they legal or illegal.

“Frequently, there is the notion that addiction requires the use of a substance, but there are many addictions that do not include the use of a substance but rather focus on obsessive behaviors,” said Sterk, who added some current aspects of her research arose from her 1999 book, Fast Lives: Women Who Use Crack Cocaine. Through this work, Sterk said she began to examine various new ideas about addiction, including societal distinctions made between “good” and “bad” drugs and how being an addict tends to be one of many social roles in a person’s life.

However, Sterk said her upcoming lecture will be much “broader” in its scope than the materials covered in her books and articles.

In many ways, Sterk’s current research is a natural evolvement in her far-reaching and multidimensional career. She first came to national attention in the late 1980s when she discovered that crack cocaine users were at high risk for HIV infection due to unsafe sex that often occurred during their drug use. In the late 1990s, she became known in a completely different circle of researchers as a member of the team that investigated the syphilis outbreak among a group of upper-middle-class teenagers in Conyers. Her work was profiled in the PBS Frontline episode, “The Lost Children of Rockdale County.”

Known for her ethnographic skills and work in various areas of women’s health, Sterk also is the author of Tricking and Tripping: Prostitution in the Era of AIDS and has published more than 50 journal articles. Sterk holds a Ph.D. degree in anthropology from the University of Utrecht and a doctorate in sociology from Erasmus University, in collaboration with the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. In 2000, she was named chair of the behavioral science and health education in the Rollins School of Public Health.

Sterk also is an active leader figure in the Emory community. She is a past president of the University Senate and former Faculty Council chair, as well as cochair of the Research@Emory Commission.

Distinguished Faculty lecturers are selected by the Faculty Council from a submitted list of nominees. A committee of previous speakers and a chair gathers nominations, evaluates them and makes a recommendation to the full council, which then votes to forward the recommendation to the president.

“This is an honor, and that has motivated me to want to present the topic from a multidisciplinary perspective,” Sterk said. “I hope it will trigger continued discussion.”

The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, call 404-712-8765.