Dixon Awarded Emerging Scholars Fellowship

Health Promotion and Policy doctoral candidate Saharra Dixon

Saharra Dixon

February 25, 2022

Health promotion and policy doctoral student Saharra Dixon has been named an Active Minds Emerging Scholars Fellowship recipient. She joins a cohort of 12 fellows in the 2022 cycle.

The Emerging Scholars Fellowship program provides an opportunity for students to complete funded, independent mental health projects and to be connected with a network of young scholars and national experts in the field of behavioral health. It also aims to expand the body of literature, creative expression, and discourse devoted to mental health with a particular emphasis on health equity and antiracism related to young adult mental health.

Dixon, a first-year doctoral student working under the supervision of Professor Aline Gubrium, is an arts in health practitioner and health educator who uses theatre and storytelling for health promotion and health research. She believes the arts can be used as a powerful tool to promote healing and facilitate behavioral and social change, as well as further community development and catalyze public engagement and critical dialogue.

“I am thrilled that this fellowship focuses on health equity and antiracism, as I am devoted to ‘decolonizing’ mental health access and care,” says Dixon. “I’m so happy to use my arts in health expertise to highlight the importance of understanding how race, sex/gender, and culture shape how we experience larger systems. I am eager to use this opportunity to continue practicing a pedagogy of healing while advocating for intentionally excluded populations.”

From January to June 2022, the emerging scholars will complete their projects, build a peer network, connect professionally with a national mentor and gain experience distributing their content to college audiences.

Dixon will use digital storytelling as a critical narrative intervention to explore the experiences of Black women with body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) like hair-pulling and skin picking to investigate how the intersection of racism, sexism, and socio-cultural expectations may shape their individual and collective experiences. The digital stories will be shared during a community screening to open dialogue around shifting stigmatizing conversations focused on Black women’s mental health.

“BFRBs are fairly common, but are often underdiagnosed, especially among Black populations,” says Dixon. “The underdiagnosis and treatment of BFRBs in Black populations raises questions around health disparities, access to care, and the harmful aspects of culture. This project will not only give Black women and femmes an opportunity to experience the power of storytelling, but also provide social connection while centering them as experts of their own lives. I hope this project will educate more people about BFRBs, inform how we discuss and advocate for minority mental health, and inspire others to tell their own health stories.”

“This award will allow me to continue honing my skills as an artist, storyteller, and researcher,” she continues. “I want people to see that storytelling and artmaking can save lives and effect change. Being able to showcase this work on a larger platform like Active Minds will help move the field of arts in health forward, legitimizing its use in public health.”

Active Minds is the nation's premier nonprofit organization promoting mental health for young adults. Learn more about the full 2022 Emerging Scholars Fellowship cohort here.