Trio of PhD candidates named Vanier Scholars

Three Western PhD candidates – all from the social sciences and humanities competition – have been named among 166 nationwide recipients of 2020-21 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships.

Each winner will receive $50,000 annually for up to three years.  Vanier Scholars are selected each year based on leadership skills, research potential, and a high standard of scholarly achievement in research that spans all disciplines.

Vanessa Ambtman-Smith
PhD Candidate, Geography
Engaging Indigenous community to improve healthcare environments: Is reconciliation within hospital spaces possible?

Vanessa Ambtman-Smith explores the role of relationships in healing by examining Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples’ relationships to traditional healing spaces within a hospital setting. Specifically, this research examines how these spaces are used; what these spaces mean; how people relate to, and with, these spaces; and, how these relationships impact health and healing.

The results of this work will provide a useful case from which hospitals and other institutions can draw from to support health and healing, enhance reconciliation efforts, guide future space transformations and identify culturally safe practice to foster improved relationships with Indigenous patients and the land.

This research will be framed by an in-depth case study approach that will focus on three traditional healing spaces within one mental-health hospital, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in Toronto.

Florence Wullo Anfaara
PhD, Women’s Studies and Transitional Justice
Promoting Community Health and Wellbeing in Liberia: The role of Peace Huts

Liberian women who work in peace huts were instrumental in ending the 2014 Ebola epidemic. Yet, little is known about the strategies they used to contain the outbreak.

In addition to international responses, women in peace huts were active in mobilizing Ebola-affected communities to create local interventions that helped end the outbreak.

Established about 17 years ago, peace huts are spaces where women meet to resolve disputes and domestic violence through mediation and conflict resolution and promote community health and well-being. Liberian women viewed the end of Ebola as vital to sustainable peace.

Florence Wullo Anfaara uses a mixed-methods approach to address three objectives: First, to identify, document, and disseminate the strategies used by women to support Ebola-containment efforts and how in the context of limited resources these strategies can be replicated to prevent future outbreaks. Second, to assess how women view these strategies as connected to their peace work; and third, to examine how peace huts contribute to community health and well-being.

Findings from this study will inform the design of robust health policy on infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, and in Liberia in particular, as it strives to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 3.3 on ending infectious diseases by 2030.

Jessica du Toit
PhD in Philosophy
Human Vulnerability and Medical Ethics: Towards Proper Protections For All Vulnerable Research Participants

The protection of vulnerable research participants is a central tenet of human research ethics. Despite this fact, we lack a thorough understanding of what makes certain human participants vulnerable.

This has serious practical implications. Without this understanding, we are unable to identify all of those needing special protections. Thus, we run the risk of exploiting many vulnerable research participants.

Terrible in and of itself, this could also lead to an erosion of public trust in the research enterprise, and the ultimate demise of human participants research.

To avoid these prospects, Jessica du Toit will focus on the concept of vulnerability. She will consider three questions: What does vulnerability mean for human participants research? Who is deemed vulnerable? What special protections are owed to vulnerable research participants?

She will develop, test and refine conceptual conclusions, as well as develop knowledge translation materials so her work can be used to better protect vulnerable research participants.