Emerging Scholars Fellowship: A (Heroic) Journey of Struggle, Strength and Human Flourishing (Pt. I)

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Alfred is a researcher in the 2016 class of the Emerging Scholars Fellowship. Read blog updates from Alfred and his fellow scholars here.

Hey everyone, I hope all is well. It’s been a while and a lot has happened since my last post. Currently, I am wrapping up this project!

Yeah, I know. It’s exciting but also very overwhelming. Next week, I submit this project, which is also m undergraduate honors thesis for the Education department and the week following, I defend my thesis. Thus, in the midst of all this craziness, this post will be split up into several parts, all of which will be looking at the findings, importance, implications, and conclusions of this research.

In reflecting back on the entire journey and also, in thinking about how to present this research, I am reminded of this question: What is the goal of this research? It was and still is, in essence, to highlight a different story of mental health.

In 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General defined mental health as:

“A state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity.”

However, after doing this research, I have gained a strong sense that we, as a society, have a dominant story of mental health as illness, and not mental health as flourishing.

mental health word art

It’s what Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of a single story.”

In her TED talk, Adichie discusses how reading only British and American books influenced her to create characters that reflected the people in those books. She never imagined a person like her could exist in those stories. It wasn’t until she came across books written by African writers that her perception of who can be represented in stories changed. She has this to say:

“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story… The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

While Adichie emphasizes the power that a single story can have on our perceptions about communities, cultures, countries, and continents, she makes it clear that this “danger” can exist anywhere.

The interesting thing about this revelation that I, too, had a single story about my own life. One that I didn’t fully acknowledge until I came to university. In a nutshell, I viewed my life through a negative lens. In my mind, I thought I was coming to university at a disadvantaged and didn’t see the strength nor the beauty in the experiences that I had within me.

And that narrative is extremely toxic. The heroes of this research are breaking that dominant story of disadvantage and paving way on doing and being. Stay tuned.

In reflecting on this journey, (as seen in my last post), this has not been the easiest. In fact, I equate this to what Joseph Campbell called “the Hero’s Journey”.