Dr. stef shuster: Uniting STEM and social science for the LGBTQ+ community

June 25, 2020 - Liz Schondelmayer


Social science research requires innovation and critical thinking. This is why, despite only being at Michigan State University for two years, sociologist Dr. stef shuster (pictured left) has emerged as a campus leader studying the intersection of sexual and gender minority experiences and health. 

With a joint appointment in Lyman Briggs College, a residential college which places STEM fields such as natural sciences, engineering and mathematics within a greater societal context, Dr. shuster teaches how STEM and social sciences rely on each other to advance. 



Integrating STEM and social science 

As a joint appointee, Dr. shuster offers social perspectives on science and medicine to teach the next generations of STEM professionals how to positively impact the people they interact with through their work. “Lyman Briggs students often go on to be doctors, scientists and engineers. It’s important to me to relay the human element of these fields.”

On point with this mission, Dr. shuster is working on a book analyzing the concept of “evidence,” and how tenuous "evidence" used by health providers might have negative impacts on trans and non-binary communities.

“Studies surrounding transgender people and transgender medicine took off in the 1950s,” Dr. shuster explains. “However, the evidence that was gathered from this time was based on doctors’ best guesses and cases of individuals with co-occuring conditions.”

As a result of health professionals relying on unsubstantiated evidencewhen treating transgender and gender diverse individuals, many in this community are mistreated, misdiagnosed and denied proper healthcare.” 

Advancing social sciences

In the College of Social Science, Dr. shuster is an avid researcher. Their research often focuses on the role sexual orientation and gender identity play in a person’s overall health. For example, Dr. shuster completed research just this Spring demonstrating how toxic masculinity can actually harm men’s physical and mental health as they age.

Often, toxic masculinity is a term that we use to describe how masculinity affects other people, especially women,” shuster says. “But our study shows it also has detrimental consequences for men, too. Being autonomous and not showing a lot of emotion makes it hard to develop friendships throughout life.”

Currently, Dr. shuster is also completing work with fellow sociologist Dr. Ning Hseih on the impact COVID-19 is having on LGBTQ+ people of color in Lansing. This study is a part of a larger research project addressing barriers faced by LGBTQ+ people of color within the healthcare system. 

Relatedly, Dr. shuster is also a member of the Sexual and Gender Minority Health Consortium,a research center that unites faculty from across the college, university and midwest to study how to improve health and wellbeing for the LGBTQ+ community. 

“At the end of the day, everyone deserves to be their authentic selves, and live a healthy life while doing so,” says Dr. shuster. “I hope that, through my work, the LGBTQ+ community and other people facing marginalization can live healthier, happier lives, and have better experiences receiving the care they need to do so.”

Learn more about how MSU social scientists are working to make a difference in the LGBTQ community.