Renee Johnson

Renee Johnson




Assistant Professor
Boston University School of Public Health, Department of Community Health Sciences 

Professional Bio

Renee M. Johnson is an Assistant Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. Dr. Johnson received her Ph.D. (2004) and MPH (1998) in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her research focuses on violence and substance use among adolescents; suicide prevention; and firearm injury. Dr. Johnson is an investigator with the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center, which comprises the “Boston Youth Survey (BYS),” a biennial survey of a random sample of high school students in Boston Public Schools. Although the BYS examines a host of factors relevant to adolescent well-being, including school performance, involvement in extracurricular activities, and health behaviors, the main emphasis is on violence. The Survey asks youth about experienced or perpetrated assault and/or witnessed violence, gun availability, weapon-carrying, and gang activity. Dr. Johnson was recently awarded a 2-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to use BYS data to examine bullying and physical victimization among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents. Recent publications include: (1) Emotional distress among sexual minority youth: the mediating role of maltreatment from peers. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, (2) Lethal means reduction: What have we learned? Current Opinion in Pediatrics, (3) Association between neighborhood safety and overweight status among urban adolescents. BMC Public Health, and (4) Creating a youth violence data system for Boston, Massachusetts. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Criminology (In Press).

Project Description

Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth are more likely than their peers to be bullied or assaulted at school. After passage of a 1993 state law, Massachusetts’ public schools were encouraged to ensure that LGB youth were safe and supported at school through anti-harassment policies, diversity training for faculty and staff and founding of student groups. Boston is the setting for this cross-sectional study. Objectives are to examine whether public high schools have adopted the aforementioned recommendations and to assess the association between adoption of those recommendations with risk of victimization and with emotional distress among LGB youth. We expect to see that LGB students in schools with supportive policies and programs will be less likely to be victimized and will exhibit lower levels of emotional distress. Individual-level data come from the Boston Youth Survey 2008 (N = 1,878), which was completed by students in randomly-sampled classrooms within city high schools. The instrument included: a validated item assessing sexual orientation; four indicators of emotional distress (i.e., a five-item measure of depressive symptoms, and individual items on suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and deliberate self-harm); a five-item index of having been bullied in the past month; and several items on having been assaulted. Data about violence prevention programs and policies will come from semi-structured telephone interviews with headmasters and other key informants. Additional school information will be abstracted from public records. All data will be linked into one dataset. Analyses will involve multi-level logistic regression models examining the association between the presence of policies and programs with risk of victimization and emotional distress among LGB youth. Prevalence ratios with 95 percent confidence intervals will be presented. Individual- and school-level covariates (e.g, race, sex, school size) will be included in models, as appropriate.

My New Connections Experience

I applied to New Connections because I was enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with RWJF, as well as to conduct research on the health of LGB youth. I have appreciated the opportunity to liaise with Foundation staff, seek mentorship from senior scientists, and collaborate with fellow grantees.

Research Interests

Youth violence, adolescent risk behaviors, marijuana use, LGBT health

The Details
  • New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
  • Award Year: 2009
  • RWJF Team/Portfolio: Vulnerable Populations
  • Project Name:  Effect of School Policies and Programs on Victimization and Emotional Distress Among LGB Youth

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