Emerging Scholars Fellowship

Meet the Scholar

This post was written by Natalie Oman, one of our 2017 Emerging Scholars. Over the course of the next few months, Natalie is focusing her research on the mental health needs of sexual assault victims on college campuses and the mental health services provided by college campus first responders. You can read more about her project here

Hi everyone!

I’m Natalie, a second year Masters student at UC Berkeley in the School of Public Health. In my free time when I’m not watching public health documentaries, I live for farmers markets and vegetarian cooking, concerts, traveling, and anything with movement, yoga, biking, hiking, and snowboarding are among my favorites!

For undergrad I went to James Madison University in Virginia, near the Active Minds Headquarters! I graduated with B.A. degrees in International Affairs and Psychology and then spent an amazing year in Madrid teaching English before relocating to Seattle, WA. Seattle is where I started my journey of performing public mental health work with children and families at a nonprofit called Childhaven, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and the University of Washington. I also volunteered weekly at the Refugee Women’s Alliance.

At the moment, my main focus of study is maternal and child health, however I’m also interested in underserved populations, immigrant and refugee health, and of course, mental health and trauma.

I also care deeply about global health and over the summer I was fortunate enough to able to combine three of my passions, by working with a large adolescent and caregiver HIV/ARV treatment adherence and mental health study at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. I am continuing to work with the study’s data for my capstone thesis project!

So how did I get involved in my research for the Active Minds project? This past fall I attended a presentation about a new Signature Project by the University of California’s Center of Expertise on Women’s Health, Gender, and Empowerment on Campus Sexual Violence. Naturally, I wondered if there would be a mental health component and I met with one of the director’s Dr. Ndola Prata, to discuss a collaboration project that could contribute a mental health component to the UC CEWHGE signature project.

The topic of campus sexual assault has been getting a lot of media attention lately through documentaries, widely publicized sexual assault trials, and support from public figures. Additionally, in late 2014 President Obama launched the nationwide “It’s On Us” initiative, a campaign aimed at creating awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. Shortly after, a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was also created to support college campuses with addressing sexual assault.

The UC Campus system took note of this and in 2014, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) convened a Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault. The Task Force recommended the creation of the  Campus Advocacy Resources and Education (CARE) program. Starting in 2015, CARE advocates were appointed at all 10 UC campuses to provide confidential emotional support and assistance to survivors of sexual violence.

There are many implications of sexual assault, one of these is mental health. Research has shown that sexual assault can result in serious short term and long term mental health problems; including fear, helplessness, rage, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.

My research project is focused on the mental health response to sexual assault on campus through the exploration of: mental health policies and procedures, mental health services and resources, and training provided for first responders including campus medical professionals, campus counselors, and campus police departments.

This research will culminate into the following final deliverables: (1) a research informed interview guide to conduct first responder interviews; (2) identification of 25-30 first responders from the UC campus system, (these materials that will be used to support a team member from the UC Center of Expertise WHGE); (3) a research paper draft of findings from the national level and within the UC Berkeley system; and (4) fact sheets for early dissemination of project findings and notification of future goals.

So far, my research has provided a few initial lessons. First off, information about sexual assault on campus at the national level consists mostly of broad sexual assault policies and some training tool kits. Secondly, it has been difficult to find information/data on who is being trained in sexual assault care and even more specifically, who is receiving mental health training. Furthermore, current scientific literature on campus sexual assault focuses on prevention and reporting versus services and training. Lastly, it is encouraging to see that mental health needs are being widely discussed, however there is not a lot of information in the public domain on what is being done.

Despite these difficulties, I believe this is important work and I am up for the challenge! I look forward to sharing my accomplishments in June!