Val Leiter teaches courses on medical sociology, research methods, and sociology of childhood and youth—these topics dovetail with her research on children and youth with disabilities, medicalization, and gender and health. She received the Irving K. Zola award for Emerging Scholars in Disability Studies in 2004 for her work on "Parental Activism, Professional Dominance, and Early Childhood Disability." Her first book, Their Time Has Come: Youth with Disabilities on the Cusp of Adulthood, was published in 2012, a result of her William T. Grant Foundation Scholars project on the “Transition to Adulthood Among Youth with Disabilities.” The Sociology of Health & Illness: Critical Perspectives (9th edition), co-edited with Peter Conrad, was also published in 2012.
She is active in the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the American Sociological Association, where she has multiple leadership positions, including membership on ASA’s Committee on Professional Ethics and the Editorial Advisory Board of Social Problems. On campus, Val is the Co-Chair of the Institutional Review Board, Co-Director of the Public Health program, and a member of the steering committee for the Master in Public Policy program.
Val mentors several students each year on their independent research projects. Right now, she is working with Sidney Jean (Public Health) on her senior thesis on women’s body images, Renata Bule (Public Health) on her senior thesis on health care for refugees and asylees, Mary Harrington (Public Health) on the role of faith and spirituality in medical care, Sarah Hewitt (Master in Public Policy) on calorie count menu policies, Youjin Kim (Sociology) on youth culture in Korea, and Danielle Funk (Master in Gender and Cultural Studies) on STDs among women who have sex with women.
Val is also a dedicated student of Iyengar yoga, learning from multiple teachers in the Boston area.
FYS 103 Eat, Prey, Love: Humans with Other Animals
MPP 504 Quantitative Analysis
SOCI 231 Sociology of Childhood and Youth
SOCI 239 Introduction to Social Research
SOCI 241 Health, Illness and Society
SOCI 321 Sociology of Food
Recently, Val completed an accessibility survey of the sidewalks surrounding Boston Housing Authority public housing developments that are designated for elders and people with disabilities. She authored a book chapter on this topic, “A Bricolage of Sidewalks,” which is forthcoming. (The American Sociological Association’s Spivack Program in Community Action Research Initiative and the Simmons College President’s Fund for Faculty Excellence supported that project.) Val also has an article forthcoming in Sociological Spectrum that she co-authored with a Simmons student, Sarah Herman (Sociology, ’13), “Guinea Pig Kids: Myths or Modern Tuskegees?” that addresses ethical issues in multiple medical studies from the 1990s that included African American children.
Val’s newest project examine women’s experiences of urinary incontinence, and the vaginal mesh medical devices that surgeons use to address incontinence. She is interviewing women about their incontinence experiences, to better understand this prevalent but stigmatized and hidden issue. With Shelley White at Worcester State University, she is also working on a series of four papers that examine the regulation of the vaginal mesh devices that are implanted into women’s bodies. They have two papers under review, “Enmeshed in Controversy: Claims About the Risks of Vaginal Mesh Devices,” and “Regulatory Scripting: Embodied, Medical, and Scientific Knowledges on Vaginal Mesh” that analyze transcripts of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) meetings on vaginal mesh. Val and Shelley are currently collecting data from the FDA’s regulatory systems on both the FDA approvals of vaginal mesh products, and on the adverse events that women patients, their physicians, and their lawyers have reported to the FDA. Alysse Rourke, a Biostatistics major, and Sidney Jean, a Public Health major, are assisting Val with collecting and analyzing the adverse event data. (That work is funded by the Simmons Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program.)