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Doctoral candidate wins prestigious fellowship from advocacy group

Oyenike Balogun-Mwangi, a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at Northeastern University, has been selected to receive a $20,000 fellowship from the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit aimed at achieving gender equity through advocacy, education, and research.

Balogun-Mwangi, a Nigeria native, received one of AAUW’s International Fellowships, which have been awarded to some 3,300 women from more than 130 nations since the program’s inception in 1917.

The fellowship will cover Balogun-Mwangi’s living expenses while she works on her dissertation during the 2015-16 academic year. The subject of her study is African women and body image, with a particular focus on how colonial history, rapid globalization, and sociocultural dynamics have influenced the African woman’s perception of her hair texture, skin tone, body size, and facial features.

“I want to examine aspects of body image that are particularly salient to African women yet traditionally overlooked in heterogeneous analyses,” said Balogun-Mwangi, whose scholarship will be supervised by counseling and applied educational psychology professor Tracy Robinson-Wood. “I want to come at this issue from an ecological perspective and look at the systems in Africa that are unique to the region.”

Balogun-Mwangi will gather data through a comprehensive online survey of 300 African women living in Africa. Two Africa-based research assistants will help her recruit survey participants in Kenya and Nigeria, soliciting requests in malls and beauty salons.

The ultimate scope of the project, she noted, will depend on her findings. If her data differs from the typical conclusions drawn in the extant research—that women of color are less likely than their white counterparts to feel ashamed of their bodies—then she’ll look to apply her findings to develop an intervention program in behalf of African women facing body image issues.

“My hope,” she said, “is to aid in expanding the lens through which body image is understood to focus more specifically on African women whose experiences may offer important findings that inform the body of work that currently exists.”

Balogun-Mwangi, MEd’12, PhD’16, is scheduled to receive her terminal degree next spring, after which she plans to pursue a full-time postdoctoral position. She wants to focus on global mental health, with a particular emphasis on understanding how mental illness manifests itself among the African population. “My goal,” she noted, “is to work through policy and practice to tailor efficacious interventions and systems of care.”

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