News Center for Human Rights, Gender & Migration

Center supports research at the intersection of human rights, gender and migration

Through seed grants or funds needed to fill urgent needs in project work, the Center for Human Rights, Gender and Migration supports WashU faculty and students across both campuses, whose research surrounds center themes. Depending on available funds and expressed needs, up to four grants per academic year are awarded.

In the past two years, the center has awarded five grants totaling in $47,500, to four faculty and one graduate student across three WashU schools. Project topics include mental health resiliency for students in Afghanistan; assessing the feasibility of virtual therapy for Iranian refugees in Turkey; identifying barriers for migrants and women to access Dengue care in Thailand; and language accessibility to immigrants in legal and clinical settings here in St. Louis. Recipients receive funds for one year and will present their projects in the fall 2024. The five awarded projects include:

Awarded for 2022-23:

Child Resilience in Afghanistan Study
Primary Investigator: Jean-Francois Trani, PhD

Girls writing variables

Previous research has shown a clear and pressing need to address mental health challenges and distress among children in Afghan schools. These challenges already existed, but since the change of regime, which brought a lot of uncertainty, the challenges are now amplified. In particular, girls’ education is threatened and girls beyond grade six aren’t allowed to go to school. This action-research study focuses on mental health support in 80 primary rural schools in Badakhshan, Ghazni and Takhar provinces of Afghanistan. Through community-based system dynamics participatory workshops, the project team aims to develop shared mental health models for the good mental health and happiness of children. Professor Trani and his team work with teachers, parents and children to build a mental health and happiness model identifying influences and actions that could trigger community support for their proposed intervention.

This study also tests the relevance and impact of a culturally adapted education and psychosocial intervention to improve child happiness and resilience. Professor Trani and team adapted a toolkit to assess how teachers use psychosocial activities involving games and local resources. To improve family relationships and understanding, the research team uses another toolkit to conduct similar psychosocial activities with parents. Despite the economic crisis and political unrest affecting rural Afghanistan, the team hopes to achieve continued education for girls and teachers’ use of psychosocial activities and active learning techniques in the classrooms.

Awarded for 2023-24:

Investigating Language Access in BJC Emergency Departments
Primary Investigators: Julia López, PhD & Sean Wang  

Virtual interpretation carts plugged in at BJC emergency department

Regardless of a patients’ preferred language and English proficiency, health care providers have an ethical and legal responsibility to provide equal access to care. Despite this obligation, at all levels of the U.S. health care system, language disparities persist. Through interviews with Spanish–speaking patients at Barnes Jewish Hospital or St. Louis Children’s Hospital emergency departments (ED), this project team will examine the language barrier issue. Participants will be asked to describe the ease, quality, and depth of their communication with providers and staff at every stage of their ED visit. Researchers will also assess provided language services, identify common themes and translate illustrative quotes to produce a policy brief on improving language access for patients and families with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). Their findings will benefit the movement toward equal access to health care for St. Louis’ migrant communities. 

A Feasibility Study on Virtual Delivery of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Iranian Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Turkey
Primary Investigator: Mitra Naseh, PhD

First row left to right: Mitra Naseh (WashU), Nur Soylu Yalcinkaya (Boğaziçi University).
Second row: Yasemin Sohtorik İlkmen (Boğaziçi University), Ceren Acartürk (Koc University)

In light of recent political unrest in Iran, forcibly displaced refugees and asylum-seekers face the threat of significant mental health problems. This project team will assess the feasibility of virtually delivering a culturally adapted cognitive behavioral therapy with problem management to refugees residing in Turkey, a primary destination for this demographic. In the team’s methodological approach, they will conduct a comprehensive scoping review of current literature on virtual mental health interventions for immigrants and refugees. The team will engage in a phenomenological study (assessing what people experience) via in-depth interviews with Iranian refugees and service providers located in Instanbul. The study is part of a broader project to develop a protocol for a virtual transdiagnostic mental health intervention for both Iranian and Afghan refugees in Turkey.

WashULaw Immigration Law Clinic
Primary Investigators: Katie Meyer, JD & Jessie Strauser, JD

With the help of an interpreter, students counsel clients at the Immigration Law Clinic

The WashULaw Immigration Law Clinic (ILC) client base is growing and diversifying. Current ILC clients speak at least 14 different languages, including Spanish, French, Dari, Turkish, and Uyghur, so interpretation needs have increased. ILC tracking reports that during the fall 2022 and spring 2023 semesters, the clinic engaged in more than 70 hours of interpretation services. Interpreters translated documents, correspondence and ILC client meetings. Until the clinic received a seed grant from the Center for Human Rights, Gender and Migration, it had no budget for professional interpretation and translation services and relied on volunteers. The volunteer-only model was insufficient. Through the center’s seed grant, ILC now provides much-needed professional interpretation and translation services. The clinic has used seed funds to develop a language access program including professional services so that, regardless of language abilities or income, eligible clients are amply served.

Dengue Cases in Thailand
Primary Investigator: Hannah Kinzer, PhD candidate

Hannah Kinzer stands with the research team, including Chiang Mai University colleagues, MoBuzz professors, and research assistants from Nanyang Technological University

Dengue, a viral infection transmitted by mosquito bite, is a health threat in Thailand, with more than 33,000 cases reported in 2022; yet, many dengue cases, especially among marginalized populations, go unreported. Because digital infrastructure is broadly accessible in Thailand, and the Thai government is actively pursuing universal internet access, mobile platforms are a promising tool for promoting disease education, prevention, and response in these populations. The Mo-Buzz mobile application enables the public to report cases, view local risk maps, and access educational materials. Within eight months of its public launch in Sri Lanka, the app has positively received. Its adaptation into Thailand’s existing disease monitoring system will involve surveys of the public, health officials and community leaders. Primary investigator, Hannah Kinzer and her research team are particularly interested in identifying barriers and facilitators to using the app among marginalized groups like migrants and women. Inclusion of application developers, directors of Thailand’s disease prevention system, and the history of collaboration between research team members, will all help support Mo-Buzz adaptation.

Stay connected with the Center for Human Rights, Gender & Migration for more information about the 2024 seed grant application round, coming in April.