Ari Gzesh

Ari S. Gzesh, MSW

  • Student, PhD in Social Welfare
  • Research Interests


    Adolescents & young adults


    Moral distress

    Identity-based support & chosen family

    Harm reduction

    Sexual exploitation/work

    Substance use

    Clinical care

    Queer/trans theory

    System dynamics

    Critical mixed methods

    Ari S. Gzesh, MSW is pursuing a PhD in Social Welfare at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice and is a Fellow in Leadership Education and Adolescent Health at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Gzesh is concurrently pursuing a certificate in Implementation Science through Penn Perelman School of Medicine and a certificate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies through the Center for Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies, so as to promote integration between social sciences and humanities, particularly in the use of critical theory for conceptualizing research design.

    Prior to their doctoral studies, Gzesh engaged in direct practice with marginalized young people for over a decade, as both an educator and therapist. A Teach for America alumni, Gzesh spent eight years in traditional and alternative classrooms, spanning from secondary schools to San Quentin Prison to domestic violence shelters. After earning a Master of Social Work from Columbia University, they worked as a community-based clinician in the Bay Area of California, supporting system-involved youth experiencing sexual exploitation, substance use, and housing instability.

    Gzesh is passionate about improving psychosocial and health outcomes for sexual/gender minority youth, by exploring the transformational impact of chosen family, queer elders, and identity-concordant healthcare providers. Their current research leverages system dynamics to conceptualize moral distress of gender-affirming care providers, and employs critical mixed methods to explore the relationship between history of victimization, future orientation, and risk-related behaviors, with an emphasis on healing-centered harm reduction. Their goal is to expand conceptualization of family systems to encompass non-biological kinship, thereby harnessing cultural wealth embedded in queer communities for research-informed practice and practice-informed research.

    Gzesh has been awarded the Penn Marymount Fellowship, as well as funding through the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics, and the Eidos LGBTQ+ Health Research Initiative. Most recently, Gzesh garnered $30k in funding from the Penn Center for Mental Health and AIDS Research for their collaborative study “Understanding Psychosocial and Behavioral Constructs Related to PrEP Interest Among Trans-Masculine People Assigned Female at Birth.”









    Dr. Amy Hillier


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