University News

Senior Scholars Cher Chen and Graziella McCarron Collaborate to Research Student Activists’ Well-Being

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Director

Two of our center’s new senior scholars, Cher Weixia Chen, Ph.D. and Graziella McCarron, Ph.D., are collaborating on a research project focused on well-being among student activists.

“We just concluded an interview study of student activists at 13 universities and colleges here in the greater metropolitan D.C. area, with funding from the Office of Student Scholarships, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) at Mason,” said Chen, an Associate Professor in the School of Integrative Studies and the founder of Mason’s Human Rights and Global Justice Initiative. “We would like to expand our study to include student activists from all over the nation and all over the world someday. We hope the results of our study could enlighten our colleagues, our student activists and the administrators in terms of their understanding of the well-being, activism and social movement and help them design informed, relevant policies.”

McCarron, an Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies in the School of Integrative Studies, said the project explores “the intersections between student activist work and individual well-being. The aim to is to translate robust research into practical supports for the student activist community at Mason and beyond.”

“Drs. Chen’s and McCarron’s research project aligns well with our center’s focus on holistic well-being that leads to positive change. We know from Dr. Chen’s previous work that social activists experience high levels of burnout, yet they are less likely to tend to their own well-being,” shared Nance Lucas, Ph.D., our center’s Executive Director and Chief Well-Being Officer.

The project is a continuation of work that Chen began with a seed grant from CWB to study social justice and human rights activists. “That has led to several publications and a number of funded, related projects. The work has also been featured by NPRThe Atlantic and some other outlets. So, I am grateful for the center and truly appreciate this opportunity to be able to continue working with the center,” said Chen.

Chen and McCarron’s study can contribute to progress at the intersection of well-being, diversity, and inclusion. “Theoretically, I hope my work on the well-being of activists (a large majority of them are underrepresented minorities, based on my study) could bridge the Social Justice and Human Rights (SJHR) scholarship with the evolving literature on well-being,” Chen said. “By importing the emerging concept of well-being into the SJHR community and exploring the issue of well-being that has long been overlooked, hopefully we could start a paradigm shift from a ‘culture of martyrdom’ to a ‘culture of health/well-being’ within the activist community. Practically speaking, if we could bring those well-being tools to the SJHR communities, using language and frameworks that make them relevant and accessible to them, we could better the lives of the SJHR activists who are the change agents of the world and help make social movements more sustainable. By extension, we will be supporting their work and creating bigger change for what we might call global well-being.”

“I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to work and learn with a phenomenal community focused on the whole person,” said McCarron. “CWB’s work is inspiring in that it centers the human experience and makes space for people to connect, question, and grow. The center’s programs are so special – the focus on elements such as resilience, understanding self, leadership, integrity, and positivity opens the door for important dialogue and social/organizational change.”