Letha Chadiha

ISR and beyond: Letha Chadiha’s odyssey in social research

August 2, 2023

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — Letha Chadiha has come a long way.

A bachelor’s degree. Two master’s degrees. A Ph.D. and a tenured faculty position to go with it. Professional accomplishments too numerous to count. She has been a trailblazer at every step, lighting the way for Black researchers in the social sciences, and even she is amazed at the journey behind her.

“I sometimes wonder how I got to where I arrived,” she said. “Having come from parents who were sharecroppers, never having achieved a high school education…”

But the journey unfolded as every journey does — one step at a time. And the Institute for Social Research was both a springboard and support system along the way.

Chadiha arrived at ISR in 1968 after completing course requirements for a master’s degree in Anthropology at Washington State University.  She got a job as a secretary working for Monica Blumenthal, a psychiatrist preparing to conduct the National Survey on Violence, a national survey of American men’s attitudes toward violence.

Blumenthal was looking for an assistant. Chadiha had already done a great deal of work toward a master’s degree in anthropology with a minor in sociology. Having a background in the social sciences, she was a natural fit. 

“It turned out to have been a stroke of luck for me,” said Chadiha. “Monica was affiliated with the Institute for Social Research, and that became my entry into the Institute.”

Chadiha was eventually promoted to research assistant. Bob Kahn and Frank Andrews, study directors on the National Survey on Violence, mentored Chadiha in survey research methodology. Following Andrews’ recommendations, she enrolled in ICPSR Summer Program courses where she learned interviewing, data management, and data analysis skills. Utilizing those skills, Chadiha co-authored her first scientific publication, an ISR monograph, with Blumenthal and colleagues (More About Justifying Violence: Methodological Studies of Attitudes and Behavior: Blumenthal, Chadiha, Cole & Jayaratne). She was able to move on to a new project at the Institute of Gerontology after Blumenthal’s study came to an end. While there, Chadiha made another important connection.

“James Jackson came over while I was working there and told me about this very innovative national survey of Black Americans that he was planning to do. He had heard about my work on the National Survey of Violence and asked me to come in and head up the interviewing on the National Survey of Black Americans.”

She joined the  National Survey of Black Americans (NSBA) in the late 1970s, an ISR project directed by Jackson, Gurin and Tucker. Chadiha’s involvement in training NSBA doctoral students in analyzing data piqued her interest in pursuing a doctorate in social work and anthropology at U-M, which she completed in 1989. The connection with Jackson, the quintessential mentor, had long lasting effects — remaining intact over the entire course of Chadiha’s academic career. 

Chadiha’s experience with Jackson et al’s NSBA project facilitated the segue to a graduate research assistantship on Joe Veroff’s Early Years of Marriage Study, a position she held throughout her doctoral career. Veroff, another key ISR mentor, permitted Chadiha to use married couples’ narrative data for her dissertation project, served as a member of her dissertation committee, and mentored her along with other GSRAs in writing scientific articles as well as delivering conference presentations. 

But, as with all doctoral students, Chadiha then faced the question of what she’d do next. For an answer, she drew on the community of like-minded scholars she’d developed after two decades at ISR and the University of Michigan. Her connections to Rosemary Sarri, another long-time member of ISR, helped answer that question.

“When I was finishing my degree at the University of Michigan, Rosemary was a visiting professor at Washington University in St. Louis. She told the dean about me. He reached out to me and he invited me to apply for a position. I didn’t, at that time, I had not gotten close enough to feel confident that I would be graduating. I didn’t even apply. But thanks to Rosemary, the dean followed up again a year later when I was graduating and invited me down for an interview, and that was the only interview that I did.”

Chadiha was ultimately offered a faculty position at Washington University in the School of Social Work, where she was eventually granted tenure — the first African American woman to do so at the school. She credits the ISR community with her success. Besides the training and mentoring Chadiha received from ISR researchers, the Institute’s Sampling Unit under Steve Heeringa’s directorship designed and provided consultation for recruiting a probability sample in a regional study of African American women caregivers of African American elders. The Institute’s support enabled Chadiha and her Washington University colleagues, Nancy Morrow-Howell and Enola Proctor, to conduct this first-of-a-kind study using a probability sample of rural and urban caregivers. The National Institute on Aging funded the study.

“Had I not had my experience at the University of Michigan and ISR, I would not have been able to do what I did. Those ties, those close ties, were paying big dividends for me”

Chadiha has indeed come a long way, and it’s fitting that some of the last chapters of her long career in social research were written at ISR and the University of Michigan. After a successful stay at Washington University, Chadiha returned to U-M in 2002, joining the School of Social Work Faculty and the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research at ISR with Jackson and colleagues until her retirement in 2016. It was a homecoming of sorts, one with deep roots and old memories.

“My children tell stories about ISR,” she said. “They remember the days when I would take them there to stay [with me] while I worked. ISR gave so much to me.”

Scroll to Top