African-American women are four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women, in part due to racial inequalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

That is the focus of senior psychology major Emily France’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience. France, along with her mentor and faculty advisor, is looking at the levels and effects of racism, anxiety and trauma on pregnant and postpartum African-American women.

France was inspired to research this topic because of the diversity and trauma she saw growing up in Toledo, Ohio.

“We are seeing if trauma is a predictor of negative thinking and if people who experience trauma are more likely to have negative thoughts than someone who has never experienced trauma,” France said. 

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The SURE program gives undergraduate students an opportunity to work hands-on with a faculty advisor on a research topic of their choice, and to receive a $2,800 stipend for eight-weeks of research. 

Keaton Somerville, a graduate student in clinical psychology and France’s lab mentor, described their research as examining traumatic experiences and frequency of negative self-talk in a sample of “low income expectant and postpartum black women”.

“[This research] gives voices to disadvantaged individuals to tell their stories … beyond their community,” Somerville said. 

Questions such as ‘What does stress mean to you?’ are asked during sessions with a sample of women to determine daily life stressors and activities they may want to have implemented for future sessions. One example France gave was the implementation of yoga, to see if it might work as stress therapy.

As France enters her senior year, she plans to continue to research this topic for her honors thesis so that she may  get more in-depth results.

“I already know I want to do work with trauma, and this summer is giving me the experience to learn more and ask questions I could have never asked,” France said. 

Isabel Illig covers research and hiring. Contact her at iillig@kent.edu.

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