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Student learns how survivors overcome life's mountains

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Research,   Service and Community

Haiti's history of overcoming adversity is a source of inspiration for doctoral student Elizabeth Louis.

Pursuing a PhD in counseling psychology with a focus on disaster mental health, Louis plans to work in the field of disaster relief work. "I'm Haitian-American, and our island has been plagued with disasters of some sort," Louis says. "It's inspirational to learn how people cope with natural disasters."

She is working with associate professor Alan Stewart in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services to analyze data from her research project on the perceptions of victims and survivors of natural disasters, based on gender and race. Louis is also a recipient of a scholarship from the UGA Graduate School in honor of alumna Mary Frances Early and the Diversity Award given by the Athens Area Psychological Association and the Georgia Psychological Association. She will be volunteering at the organizations' upcoming disaster mental health workshop.

"I am interested in learning more about how perceptions may influence how people approach helping those in need," she says, "and how victims or survivors' gender and race can influence how someone can categorize them as victims or survivors."

But her research experience also extends into other campuses and specialties within ethnic minority mental health. She is working with professor Rosemary Phelps in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services on research projects related to the perceptions black college students have of black faculty at predominantly white institutions. Her research with Gargi Roysircar-Sodowsky at Antioch University New England has her doing in-person translations from Haitian Creole to English during focus groups in Haiti, with themes including how parents support their children in Haiti, how Haitians develop a sense of hope and resiliency, and the general concerns they have for their country. And earlier this year, Louis was part of a mental health training program for teachers in Haiti, working with Marie Guerda Nicolas of the University of Miami.

She is also involved with research with the U.S. Department of State's USAID organization, focusing on mental health services for victims and survivors of human trafficking.

"I think resiliency is within our culture," she says of Haiti. "Being the first black nation in the Western hemisphere to gain independence, we've always had that spirit of resiliency to overcome the mountains of life."

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