Asking the tough questions about health care disparities
Four Vanier Scholars to join Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
This fall, four Vanier Scholars will join the department of community health sciences in the Max Rady College of Medicine, each with a unique approach to improving the physical, psychological, cultural, social and economic well-being of our communities.
Lindsey Mazur [BSc(HNS)/07, MSc/21], Darrien Morton [MSc/18], Jen Sebring [MSc/22], and Jared Star [BSW/16, MSc/21] are four of nine Vanier Scholars attending UM this year – the highest number in the university’s history. Vanier Scholars are considered Canada’s top graduate students and receive a scholarship of $150,000 over three years towards their PhD research.
UM Today caught up with Mazur – a Métis/Ukrainian settler dietitian who dabbles in poetry; Morton – an amateur chef and community organizer; Sebring – an avid writer and pet-lover; and Star, a professional DJ and globe trekker, to learn more about them and the research they’ll be doing at UM.
WHAT WILL YOU EACH BE WORKING ON IN THE RADY FACULTY OF HEALTH SCIENCES?
Mazur: My research looks at creating less barriers for women, in particular marginalized women, as they enter the health system so that they can get the best, most equitable, just, care that they deserve. When we think of women going into a healthcare appointment, they can face multiple barriers. Those barriers are not always physical. Sometimes they face sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism and sizeism. I will specifically be looking at policies that have been developed without attention to the specific needs of marginalized women in order for them to get the best care possible.
Morton: My research aims to look at how different placement types for First Nations and Métis children and youth in the care of child welfare (e.g. adoption, voluntary and permanent foster care, kinship care, places of safety, family reunification, and extended care) affect their mental health. I worked with urban Indigenous youth community organizers and community-based organizations in Winnipeg’s inner city for over eight years. As an immigrant and outsider to the Winnipeg community, it exposed me to and made it difficult to ignore the damage child welfare continues to impart on the lives of children and families.
Sebring: Broadly, my research looks at people’s experiences of living with chronic illnesses. Not only in terms of navigating health care but also how it – that is, the care they receive or don’t receive – impacts their everyday life and overall wellbeing. What kind of supports are available? Are they enough? How do people with chronic illnesses manage when they aren’t getting the care they need? What can we do to improve the supports available? I use arts-based research methods – meaning that research participants create art about their experiences and that serves as data.
Star: My research looks at complex health issues from a critical social sciences perspective – in other words, I study the social aspects of health problems. For my doctoral studies, I’ll investigate the links between social and sexual media, bodies, substance use, and the self, particularly within and among queer cis and trans men’s communities.
HOW WILL THIS IMPACT THE BROADER COMMUNITY?
Mazur: I hope that marginalized people feel safer and more respected and more taken care of in healthcare. This is a big vision, but I hope I never hear a negative experience again of someone feeling that they were treated less than human, while trying to get the health care that they absolutely deserve.
Morton: I will share lessons with Indigenous community groups and people working in child welfare and health care. My findings will provide the latest evidence to improve health and child welfare services for First Nations and Métis children and youth in care with better protections to promote mental health. I hope to support and co-develop research capacity and infrastructure for community organizations to self-determine and conduct their own research, and advocate for change within universities to redistribute the enormous amount of power they currently hold over research.
Sebring: I hope that I can bring attention to some of the disparities people with chronic illnesses face in accessing care and help generate solutions. I also hope that people living with chronic illnesses can see themselves reflected in this work, and through the arts workshops, have space to make meaning of their experiences and connect with others going through similar experiences.
Star: My goal in life is to be useful and to create, sustain, promote and enhance social change. Because of the way I grew up and the way I think, I enjoy doing this at the structural level most of all. That means that I like to think about – and interrogate – the assumptions we take for granted in our world with the hope and aim to find a better way forward. I also like to support others to do the same through teaching, mentorship and volunteer work. At the end of the day, I like to think about whether what I put into the world made a difference or not, particularly for members of my community.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE TO 10 YEARS?
Mazur: I hope to be a part of educating healthcare professionals on how to do health care in a more inclusive way. Teaching, and leading research programs, towards these similar goals. I’d also like to develop a non-profit organization that encompasses advocacy, research and education for these same topics. I feel it would give a bit more freedom around addressing more broader societal human rights policies.
Morton: In the future, I see myself becoming a community-engaged university health researcher to support research that is academically rigorous but also accessible and applicable to communities that should directly benefit from it. I would also like to ensure that I can pass on the incredible amount of mentorship, training, and teachings I have been offered to the next generation of students pursuing graduate research training.
Sebring: I would love to have a faculty position so I can work toward developing an arts-based health research lab. With a lab, I’d have the resources to keep doing research, but also, to develop and maintain relationships with community partners, to mentor students, and so forth. I think it would be really exciting to be able to bring people together in that way to collaborate.
Star: I see myself leading a research lab or centre focused on critical approaches to solving public health problems. My vision for this is a multidisciplinary research and training hub for people with lived experience to engage in research and policy work in ways that honour their knowledge and wisdom and that supports them to succeed in life.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO RECEIVE A VANIER SCHOLARSHIP?
Mazur: When I got the email, I was shocked. I felt I had to triple check that I was reading it right. To have such a prestigious organization say that my research is worthy of this honour is everything to me. It means I can go forward with my passions without those practical worries that students can have.
Morton: To receive the Vanier scholarship is a great honour and something I doubted I would achieve because of its competitiveness and prestige. Preparing the application and celebrating my success was really a reflection of the past 12 years of my life in post-secondary education. It is almost a love letter to those people I have walked beside, the stories that have been shared with me to help me grow, and the memories I have created with others and hold closely to my heart. To be a recipient is to honour my family, friends, mentors, ancestors, and the different communities I belong to.
Sebring: With this award comes a lot of relief, in that I’ll be able to really just focus on my work, and have the space to give it my all and make this project the best it can be. It’s a huge privilege and I really hope I can do it justice! I think it shows that health research is warming up to arts-based methods, and also, social justice-oriented research more and more, and that is an exciting shift.
Star: It is an incredible honor to have received a Vanier Scholarship. Like many queer-identified folks, I grew up seeking and needing a lot of support to cope with the effects of homophobia and heterosexism. People who grew up like me are often convinced they will never amount to anything and face countless barriers to achieving any amount of success. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be in this position and while I know it also took a lot of hard work, I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the many people who supported me along the way.