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Clinical psychology doctoral student Henry Willis and sociology doctoral students Claire Chipman and Brionca Taylor have received summer grants to support their research on African-Americans or the broader African diaspora.

Henry Willis
Henry Willis

The Graduate Student Summer Research Grant is administered through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute of African American Research and is open to master’s, predoctoral and graduate students.

For his dissertation, Willis is developing a mobile mental health app for African-American young adults.

Research shows that racial discrimination produces negative emotions and reactions that can – but don’t always – lead to negative mental health symptoms, Willis said.

“There’s also this really large gap in accessibility of mental health services for African-American young adults,” he said. “One way that I believe we can address this disparity is by trying to develop more mobile means for accessing or receiving treatment.”

The grant enabled Willis to conduct focus groups on campus, which is very important to his dissertation, he said. The data from focus groups will help him create a prototype of the app.

Claire Chipman
Claire Chipman

Chipman is studying the growing population of churches that have significant diversity of racial and ethnic groups. Religious congregations are a segregated institution in the United States, she said, and this only started to change about two decades ago.

“When we see such persistent racial animosities and also divisions and divisive rhetoric today, I think it’s really important to understand how these particular multiracial congregations could be a site that’s working to overcome these barriers,” Chipman said.

Her research centers on a multiracial congregation in North Carolina. “This grant is really helping me to get this research project, which is the early stage of my dissertation, started,” she said.

Brionca Taylor
Brionca Taylor

Taylor seeks to understand the work experiences and perspectives of teachers in alternative schools. Teachers are generally trained to work within traditional classrooms, Taylor said, and she is interested in the strategies that teachers use and emotions teachers experience within the environment of alternative schools.

Students who attend alternative schools are overwhelmingly African-American and teachers in these schools are more likely to be black women or women of color compared to traditional middle and high schools, she said.

Her grant funding will support a summer of interviewing teachers who work or have worked at alternative schools. “This will set up my preliminary analysis so I can defend my dissertation proposal, so it’s very crucial,” she said. “I’m very thankful.”

In addition to receiving generous support from the Institute of African American Research, doctoral students Brionca Taylor and Henry Willis are both Initiative for Minority Excellence Scholars.

The Graduate School’s Initiative for Minority Excellence (IME) focuses on retention and the successful graduation of underrepresented minority graduate students through academic success, professional training and community development.

Here’s what they said about their IME support:

“I am in IME and that has really changed just all of my experiences in graduate school. I’ve been able to get funding for conferences, network with postdocs and scholars from across campus and scholars from other campuses, which has been amazing, and lead a workshop on how to develop course syllabi.” – Brionca Taylor

“They provided travel assistance for a conference … and they host a variety of different workshops and activities for graduate students of color here. Honestly, going into my fourth year now, I don’t know what my experience at UNC would be like without having IME as a resource.” – Henry Willis


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