Natali Valdez

Natali Valdez
Women's and Gender Studies
B.A., University of Florida; M.A., Ph.D., University of California (Irvine)

Natali Valdez

Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies

Explores issues of race and gender across broad scientific and biomedical fields including post-genomics/epigenetics, evidence-based medicine, chronic illness, reproduction, health disparities, global health, and human/nonhuman microbiome.

I am an anthropologist who specializes in feminist and ethnographic methodologies. My work lies at the intersections of feminist techno-science, reproduction, and biomedicine. I teach courses on gender, race, and science to bridge the gap between the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. My teaching and research attend to how histories of violence and racism are enveloped into scientific knowledge production. I draw from feminist science studies to explore the entanglements between nature-culture, science-society, and the human-nonhuman.

My current book project, Weighing the Future explores the clinical translation of epigenetics in randomized clinical trials that experiment on pregnant bodies. Epigenetic science is the study of gene-environment interaction and expression.  I ethnographically examined two clinical trials, one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. that target pregnant women for nutritional interventions. The trials draw from epigenetics to frame pregnant women as maternal or intrauterine environments that can impact fetal development. The book shows how pregnant bodies are material resources for epigenetic knowledge production, and that such knowledge is premised on selective framings of the maternal environment. I bring attention to the futuristic, speculative, and anticipatory ways in which the biological bits and matter harvested from pregnant women are used to imagine future forms of prenatal intervention and reproductive care. I argue that how the environment comes to matter in epigenetic science is both a political and scientific project that opens up questions of reproductive responsibility. Weighing the Future is one of the first ethnographic examinations of epigenetics in practice.

My other research interests include the constructions of “healthy” bodies in obesity and nutrition studies; the exploration of feminist materiality in environmental racism; and the creative ways in which feminist and ethnographic methods can be used to study scientific methods.

I have experience teaching across private and public institutions. Most recently, I completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice University. My research is funded by the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Brocher Foundation, and University of California. I am a proud and dedicated mentor to students. As a former pre-med undergraduate student, I know the challenges of making interdisciplinary career decisions. I have successfully guided students into careers in public health, medicine, and higher education.

As a child of Mexican immigrants with grandparents who do not know how to read and write, my teaching and research is shaped by values of equality, diversity, and compassion.

My passion is to make higher education accessible, inspiring, and a tool for social engagement for all students.