Hayden Schill, elected president of the UCGPC, UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox, and Dr. Evelyn Vázquez
June 1, 2023

Vázquez Hosts Gallery Highlighting Mental Health Experiences of Underrepresented Graduate Students at Regents Meeting

Photovoice project allowed students to tell their stories through images

Author: UCR SOM Staff
June 1, 2023

A photovoice gallery and exhibit that sheds light on the unique mental experiences and needs of historically marginalized graduate and professional students (HMGPS) was presented at the UC Board of Regents meeting at UCLA from May 16-18, 2023. The exhibit, titled “The Trajectories of Underrepresented Graduate Students While in Graduate School," was created and hosted by Evelyn Vázquez, PhD, MS of the Department of Social Medicine, Population, & Public Health.

Evelyn Vázquez, PhD
Evelyn Vázquez, PhD, MS

Vázquez was invited to present her exhibit at the meeting by the UC Graduate and Professional Council (UCGPC).

Photovoice is a qualitative research method that empowers individuals to share their stories through photography. Participating students captured visual representations of their social connectedness, emotional well-being, and mental health during the challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Ten students, all self-identified as low-income first-generation college students, took part in the project, representing diverse academic disciplines and stages of their graduate programs. The full gallery can be seen here.

The findings describe the hostile and toxic social environments experienced by HMGPS within graduate school. Participants described the detrimental effects discrimination, anxiety, stress, and isolation have on their quality of life, mental health, and emotional well-being. The gallery aimed to raise awareness of these issues and the urgent need for community-based interventions to address the high prevalence of mental health conditions among HMGPS.

The gallery's message prompted a call to action for academic institutions and stakeholders. Recommendations included the normalization of seeking mental health services to reduce stigma, the creation of safe spaces that value and celebrate the voices and experiences of HMGPS, and the provision of adequate mental health resources and support.

The gallery was part of the Engaging the Academy project, a capacity development initiative funded through a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Award. The project aims to address the mental health needs of HMGPS by using participatory action research methodologies. The Engaging the Academy project aims to collaborate with diverse stakeholders affiliated with UC campuses recognized as Hispanic-serving Institutions, including UC Riverside, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz.

UC Regent Jose Hernandez and Evelyn Vázquez
UC Regent Jose Hernandez and Evelyn Vázquez

Guests who visited the gallery included UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox (pictured above with Hayden Schill, elected president of the UCGPC and Vázquez), UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and several members of the regents, including Jose Hernandez (right) and Sandra Timmons.

The Structural Vulnerability and Mental Health Disparities Model, developed by Vázquez and Ann Cheney, PhD, was also highlighted. This model emphasized the intersecting factors of disadvantage and oppression, such as inadequate income, hostile academic environments, and poor mentorship, which contribute to the risk of mental health conditions among HMGPS.

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