Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

A woman looking at her smartphone with concern

While there is a reluctance to incorporate positive COVID-19 messaging because of potentially creating perceptions of false security, new research suggests that by not providing positive outlooks, there is a risk of alienating and disengaging people aged 18 to 40 years.

COVID-19 has become a story of numbers. How many people fell ill, how many have died, the rates of infection, and the percentage of vaccinated—and unvaccinated—people.

But a new study published in the Public Library of Science journal says public health messages about COVID-19 don’t resonate with a large segment of the population. The study was conducted by UBC Okanagan’s Dr. Lesley Lutes and Simon Fraser University’s Dr. Scott Lear.

Dr. Lutes, who teaches psychology in UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, says their study looks at the disconnect between public health messaging and adults aged 18 to 40. The research determined that young adults feel highly responsible for protecting themselves and others against the spread of COVID-19. But they also face confusion when trying to comply with public health orders due to what Lutes calls inconsistent messaging and ineffective outreach strategies.

Why do you think people aged 18 to 40 years old are particularly worried about COVID-19?

Contrary to mass media coverage, participants in our study were highly concerned about the spread of COVID-19. They perceive it as their responsibility to protect themselves and their loved ones. Similarly, recent research found younger adults have a higher perception of risk vulnerability with respect to COVID-19, as many of them faced unique challenges due to working in high-risk, low-paying essential service occupations, as well as having higher levels of financial insecurity, unpaid sick days and mental burden. Many simply didn’t have the option of working from home and they have been out working in our communities this entire pandemic.

Study participants say public health messaging has missed its mark with this group of adults. How so?

Our participants expressed concerns and confusion around current public health messaging. Most existing public health messaging focuses on the collective good using inclusive language, providing ideas for social safety or emphasizing the risk of contracting COVID-19, which may elicit fear.

There is a reluctance to incorporate positive messaging because of potentially creating perceptions of false security, though available evidence does not support this concern and suggests compensation is not discernible at a population level. Our research suggests by not providing positive outlooks, there is a risk of alienating and disengaging this age group, especially when we’re looking at a long-term pandemic response success.

You talk about hope and positive words when discussing public health messaging. Why?

We strongly believe hopeful ideas, besides mathematical modelling, should acknowledge what the public has sacrificed. This was especially true at the start of the pandemic when the goal was to flatten the curve. The participants in our study said they were looking for active and ongoing exposure to positive messaging in order to generate positive attitudes and emotions.

While our participants agree it is often difficult to change behaviours of those who hold on tightly to their beliefs, positively framed messaging may bring people together to facilitate collective change.

Your study talks about how the public health information outreach methods for their group were ineffective, confusing and often negative. What would you suggest?

Our findings suggest messages for young adults should not only be positively framed, but also reflect the lived experiences of this demographic. As well, they should be delivered on an accessible platform—a platform we know this demographic uses. Respectfully, we urge stakeholders including government officials and media outlets to report and create messaging that answers young adults’ concerns. Tailored messaging is needed, desperately.

Does your team have a plan on how to support young adults dealing with vaccine hesitancy?

Many people believe that implementing vaccine passports and mandates would solve the problem of hesitancy, concerns and misinformation. But it does not. We are not living in the 1970s when seatbelt laws came into place and indoor smoking was banned in commercial areas. There was no internet back then. There was no social media that gave everyone a voice to communicate–for better and worse.

The concerns of young adults are real. Women being worried about whether they could have children if they take this vaccine is real. We need to meet them where they are at, talk about their worries, clarify the science and the data, then help them reach a decision based on the information provided.

We need to have these conversations right where they are getting their information—online—and then use science, compassion and engagement to help support everyone in the decision-making process.

Lives depend on us helping everyone feel heard, valued and empowered to make informed decisions.

Sustainability students in the field

UBCO’s new bachelor of sustainability degree will equip students with the breadth and compassion to find solutions to sustainability issues such as climate change, land and water use, energy transition, and social and economic inequality.

UBC Okanagan will soon be home to Canada’s first undergraduate degree dedicated exclusively to sustainability.

The Bachelor of Sustainability (BSust) is a four-year direct-entry program dedicated to inspiring students to address complex environmental challenges by integrating knowledge from different academic subjects, with hands-on and community-based learning.

The program combines a broad, interdisciplinary approach, with focused concentrations that develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes of students who want to become good citizens of the Earth.

“This is the type of learning opportunity that prepares students to become the innovators and leaders needed to meet the environmental challenges that we face now, and in the future,” says the program’s inaugural director and associate professor of earth sciences Dr. Kevin Hanna.

“Heat waves, record-breaking wildfire seasons, drought—these are major threats to life as we know it, and though a lot of people define sustainability in ways that seem clear, obvious and needed, it can be tough to put sustainability into action. The BSust is about building the skills to go from hopeful to operational.”

Students will choose from one of four concentrations: environmental analytics, environmental conservation and management, environmental humanities or green chemistry.

Program graduates will be well-positioned to seek employment in numerous sectors including natural resources management, environmental impact assessment, project management and education, or to continue their studies in a graduate-level program.

Dr. Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal of UBC Okanagan, is proud UBCO is leading the way in sustainability education.

“UBC has a long track record of innovative practices and programs, and I’m thrilled that we’re adding to this record by establishing the BSust program,” says Dr. Cormack.

“The creation of this program is a bold step towards realizing UBC’s vision of inspiring people, ideas and actions for a better world and fulfilling its commitment to advance sustainability across teaching, learning and research.”

The program also aligns with UBC’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

All students are required to take an Indigenous Studies course that introduces concepts of Indigenous knowledge, which will contribute to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

The new credential will strengthen UBC Okanagan’s leadership in sustainability and promote a greener future for British Columbia and the planet.

“Sustainability education enlarges our understanding of the world we inhabit and seeks solutions to put us on a path towards a cleaner, brighter future,” says Anne Kang, BC’s Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training.

“Training students with the necessary tools to actively contribute towards initiatives like our CleanBC plan creates opportunities to reduce pollution and protect our climate for future generations.”

The new program will accept its first intake of students in September 2022.

For more information about the BSust, visit: sustainability.ok.ubc.ca

Picture of Michael Friedland cycling

UBCO student Michael Friedland cycles along the dirt-covered Dempster Highway as he journeys to Tuktoyaktuk.

If you ask UBC Okanagan student Mikey Friedland what he did this summer, make sure you have lots of time. He has a long story. But it’s worth every minute.

Friedland, a fourth-year international relations student, cycled from the 49th parallel (the Canada-US border at Osoyoos) to Tuktoyaktuk (the Inuvialuit town nestled on the Arctic Ocean) by himself.

His goal was to raise awareness and money for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Ride Don’t Hide initiative. So far, he has raised more than $27,000, more than twice doubling his fundraising goal.

Friedland, who has dreams of being a documentary filmmaker, left Osoyoos on May 21 with a secondhand touring bike, panniers stuffed to the limit, his camera, a drone and absolutely no long-distance cycling experience.

“When I started, I took a photo of myself at the Welcome to BC sign in Osoyoos. When I saw the same sign from the opposite side, crossing into the Yukon, it was absolutely the coolest thing in my entire life.”

Before the pandemic hit, Friedland was scheduled to go on an educational exchange with UBCO’s Go Global program. When that was cancelled, he took a year off school and moved to Revelstoke to spend the winter skiing. This spring, even though surrounded by friends, he found himself feeling lonely and perhaps dealing with a bout of seasonal depression. He was at a loss. Unhappy for no apparent reason and with little motivation.

“Having a goal is very important to me,” he says. “When I’m working toward something, that’s when I’m at my happiest and best. So, I found a goal, riding my bike as far north as I physically can before going back to school.”

Friedland grew up in Toronto and entered university with an undeclared major four years ago, but the more he learned during his time in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the more his eyes opened to the vast opportunities his education could provide.

“I took a ton of different courses — philosophy, political science, psychology, gender and women’s studies. The interdisciplinary nature of the international relations program drew me in. I love learning about the world, and this program really gives you the opportunity to keep learning.”

Friedland used the summer to hone his documentary-making skills, creating a film series chronicling his journey. So far, three episodes are available to watch on his YouTube channel. Two more episodes — showing his travels through northern BC, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories — will be released in September. All told, his route surpassed 4,000 kilometres, including nearly 25,000 metres of vertical climbs.

“This hasn’t been an easy journey, but it has certainly been an amazing experience,” he says, describing riding sometimes until midnight and then setting up camp. “Every day I’m in a new area, and every few hours, a new ecosystem.”

During his journey, Friedland was invited to a barbeque dinner by a Tlingit elder, eating alongside Indigenous people taking part in the Warriors Walk from Whitehorse to Kamloops. He was invited to the community fish camp in Fort McPherson, and shown the process of cleaning and drying Koni and Whitefish. He’s been offered places to sleep, showers, food, water, friendships and of course money.

But what he’s really realized, at the age of 23 and through daily mental health checks, is that he’s ok. He’s alone. And he’s doing just fine.

“I’m realizing more and more that mental health is a part of my life and something I need to personally think about every day,” he says. “I am committed to making more of a conscious effort to check in with myself and be honest. Because everybody has times when they are doing well and times when they are not.”

There is a lot of time to think while cycling long distances on a bike that weighs, when fully loaded, about 90 pounds. Time that Friedland has used to commit to continuing the conversations about mental health while raising funds for the CMHA.

All contributions will be divided between three CMHA branches: Shuswap/Revelstoke, Northern BC, and the Yukon. This local approach allows the funds to be allocated to the programs that are most needed in each community.

“I’m really hoping my ride helps bring mental health out in the open. It’s been important to me because mental health has been tucked away for so long — and that has real consequences. Since I started this journey, the number of messages and feedback from people has been inspiring and heartwarming. It has let me know I’m on the right path.”

According to the CHMA, one in five Canadians will have a mental health crisis this year. But Friedland reminds everyone that five out of five Canadians have mental health. The CMHA’s mission is to make sure every Canadian has access to mental health care.

“Mental health is something to protect, something we can strengthen. When people receive the right services and support, mental illness doesn’t take hold. But every year, 1.6 million Canadians don’t get the mental health care they need. If I can change that one little bit, then I’ll consider every mile, every flat tire, bear scare or moment of isolation totally worth it.”

Contributions to his campaign can be made at: cmha.donordrive.com/participant/mikeyfriedland

Michael Friedland in front of an Arctic Ocean sign

Michael Friedland chose the journey of Osoyoos to the arctic circle and raised more than $25,000 for mental health awareness.

photo of a hand stubbing out a cigarette

New research determines medical cannabis use can help people quit smoking.

As many current and former tobacco users can attest kicking the habit is easier said than done.

However, a recent study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment has identified an unintended benefit of medical cannabis use for some who also use tobacco — they’re reaching for nicotine less often.

A research team led by Dr. Philippe Lucas, CEO of I2E Research, alongside Dr. Zach Walsh, a psychology professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, analyzed self-report survey data from 2,100 medical cannabis users, with 650 identified as current or former tobacco consumers.

According to Drs. Lucas and Walsh, the results were impressive.

“We found that 49 per cent of current and former tobacco users report their tobacco consumption has decreased since they started using cannabis therapeutically,” says Dr. Lucas. “Additionally, 24 per cent reported zero tobacco use in the 30 days preceding the survey — these are significant reductions in the context of smoking cessation.”

Though the use of cannabis instead of more dangerous substances, like opioids, is actively being studied, Dr. Walsh says this paper is one of the first focusing on cannabis as a tobacco substitution.

“It’s all about looking at these things through a public health lens, and similar to opioids, tobacco is much more dangerous than cannabis, at least from a lung health perspective,” he says. “We’ve been so focused on understanding the risks of cannabis legalization that we sometimes forget to look at the benefits, too. We know legalization makes cannabis use more mainstream but we don’t know how that might impact how people are using it. If they’re stacking it on top of other drugs, there may not be a health benefit, but if they’re using it in lieu of more harmful substances, you start to understand why legalization makes sense from a harm-reduction perspective.”

While the study results have proved promising, Dr. Walsh points out that the idea of using cannabis as a smoking cessation tool is very much in its infancy.

“There’s a lot more research to be done here, but if further studies confirm what we’ve found, I think cannabis could work for some as a transitionary smoking cessation tool in the future.”

Dr. Walsh acknowledges that while the concept may seem far-fetched to some, he’s hoping these study results serve as a jumping-off point to start conversations and increase research in the area.

“I think we need to work on reconceptualizing the role cannabis can play in our lives,” says Dr. Walsh.  “Quitting tobacco is hard, and the consequences of not quitting are dire so I think the more options we can provide for folks, the better.”

a picture of a Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever Doogle (above), and his people Geri and John Eakins, are one of many volunteer handler-dog teams in UBCO’s Building Academic Retention Through K-9s program. New research confirms that canine cuddles can significantly enhance student wellbeing. Photo by Adam Lauzé.

If you find watching funny dog videos puts a smile on your face, try indulging in canine cuddles.

New research from UBC Okanagan confirms physical contact with a therapy dog can significantly enhance student wellbeing.

The research was led by Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, associate professor in the School of Education and director of the Building Academic Retention Through K-9s (BARK) program. Co-authors include BARK coordinator Freya Green and Zakary Draper, a doctoral student in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences psychology department. Together, the team assessed the impact of client-canine contact on wellbeing outcomes in 284 undergraduate students.

“There have been a number of studies that have found canine-assisted interventions significantly improve participants’ wellbeing, but there has been little research into what interactions provide the greatest benefits,” says Dr. Binfet. “We know that spending time with therapy dogs is beneficial but we didn’t know why.”

Students volunteered to participate and were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions — touch or no touch canine interaction, or to spend time with a dog handler but with no therapy dog present.

Prior to the sessions, participants provided self-reports of wellbeing; specifically measuring their self-perceptions of flourishing, positive and negative affect, social connectedness, happiness, integration into the campus community, stress, homesickness and loneliness.

Participants across all conditions experienced increased wellbeing on several of the measures, with more benefit when a dog was present, with the most benefit coming from physical contact with the dog. Notably, the touch contact with a therapy dog group was the only one that saw a significant enhancement across all measures.

“As students potentially return to in-person class on their college campuses this fall and seek ways to keep their stress in check, I’d encourage them to take advantage of the therapy dog visitation program offered. And once there — be sure to make time for a canine cuddle,” says Dr. Binfet. “That’s a surefire way to reduce stress.”

With many students feeling anxious about the return to in-person learning, the results stand to influence post-secondary mental health and wellness programs along with the organization and delivery of canine-assisted intervention programs.

“When therapy dogs are brought to campus, program organizers must be mindful of the dog-to-student ratio. Our research tells us that interacting through touch is key to reducing student stress so program administrators must be mindful to offer programs that make this possible,” says Dr. Binfet.

The study was published in Anthrozoös, an international journal showcasing multidisciplinary research on interactions and relationships with animals.

A group of residents watching the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire rages out of control

Residents watch at 2 a.m. as the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park rages out of control. Photo by Fern Helfand.

Dr. Mary Ann Murphy has peered into the lives of families who have lost everything in a wildfire. She knows what haunts them, and what they would do differently if they had to evacuate again. She also knows how they took those first steps to recovery.

Dr. Murphy is an associate professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Development’s School of Social Work, and also teaches in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ history and sociology department. Dr. Murphy has been examining the psychological and sociological impacts of wildfires on those who have lost their homes.

As the province grapples with the latest aggressive wildfire season and with the tragic loss of life and property for the people of Lytton, she searches for lessons from those who have survived wildfires in the past.

What kind of past experience from wildfires can we draw upon to learn about those coping with loss today?

Seventeen years ago, I led a UBC interdisciplinary study (Social Work, Photography, Nursing, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Science) with families who had lost their homes in the unprecedented Okanagan Mountain wildfire in 2003. That research led to a year-long exhibit at the Kelowna Museum and an article printed in the Hazmat journal in 2018.

This was one of the largest wildland-urban interface fires in Canadian history. This fire forever changed our landscape and our psyche, and deeply affected our communal sense of safety and security. We were interested in talking with families one year after the fire to find out how they were doing and to learn more about the depth and significance of the loss of cherished objects and their homes, as well as their experiences with evacuation and adjustment.

Why is it essential to understand these experiences?

While our museum exhibition has long been packed away, we vividly remember the families, stories and the trauma of those who — if they even had the opportunity — rushed to gather up belongings and protect their children and pets.

We still often think of these families, and have worked to impart their lessons to others, including a sense of what was really important. For us, the “new normal” refers to their fortitude in grappling with adjustment and recovery — lessons of particular significance as the frequency and severity of fires only increases. We hope everyone will take time to empathize with the trauma they experienced, as well as what the Lytton and other evacuees are currently going through — which is nothing short of a monumental disruption to their lives.

You talked about the sense of guilt. People desperately grabbed items as they were forced to evacuate their homes, but were saddened by what they had left behind.

There were important items that family members had forgotten as the ‘acute stress’ of the moment trumped logical thinking. Later, they berated themselves for not taking computers, hard drives, the oldest objects in their homes, photographs, Christmas decorations, favourite clothing out of the laundry bin, collections and souvenirs, art work and important papers.

We also recall the profound guilt felt by those who left behind simple but irreplaceable mementos that represented deeply embedded memories — children’s trophies and stuffed animals, family heirlooms and old, inexpensive keepsakes that most represented what they cherished about their home and history.

Those items were forgotten in haste, while items like tennis racquets and food were saved.

Any tips on what people should do to be prepared. And the items they simply shouldn’t leave behind?

The families we spoke with mourned irreplaceable photos and the Christmas decorations no one thinks about in the heat. Their advice was to prepare for fire season by making a list; taking a full video of every room in your house and pre-packing easy-to-grab bins with important objects and documents like passports and insurance papers, including the most treasured things in your home. Think about whether things like jewelry or art work are insured, and whether or not these are things you would want to take with you. Also, think about neighbours who may need assistance. Remember that you may have only a few minutes to leave.

Can you explain why the grief for wildfire victims is so profound?

The victims we spoke with talked about living with the incredible loss of what was more than a structure — as every comfort, every family routine and ritual, everything familiar was turned upside down. They struggled with the loss of something that many people work, sacrifice, tend to and care about — not a house, but a home — a place that reflects yourself, a welcoming safe harbour, a site of shared history, comfort, celebrations and traditions.

But, as we have seen over the past few days, hope and help will come from the most unexpected places. While Lytton homes and the townsite have been burned, we are reminded of the reassuring words of those who left messages for the families we talked with. “The most wonderful thing was hearing how your community came together. It can be both your darkest and finest hour.”

Residents watch at 2 a.m. as the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park rages out of control. Photo by Fern Helfand.

The sense of communal safety and security can be lost in mere minutes

Dr. Mary Ann Murphy has peered into the lives of families who have lost everything in a wildfire. She knows what haunts them, and what they would do differently if they had to evacuate again. She also knows how they took those first steps to recovery.

Dr. Murphy is an associate professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Development’s School of Social Work, and also teaches in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ history and sociology department. Dr. Murphy has been examining the psychological and sociological impacts of wildfires on those who have lost their homes.

As the province grapples with the latest aggressive wildfire season and with the tragic loss of life and property for the people of Lytton, she searches for lessons from those who have survived wildfires in the past.

What kind of past experience from wildfires can we draw upon to learn about those coping with loss today?

Seventeen years ago, I led a UBC interdisciplinary study (Social Work, Photography, Nursing, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Science) with families who had lost their homes in the unprecedented Okanagan Mountain wildfire in 2003. That research led to a year-long exhibit at the Kelowna Museum and an article printed in the Hazmat journal in 2018.

This was one of the largest wildland-urban interface fires in Canadian history. This fire forever changed our landscape and our psyche, and deeply affected our communal sense of safety and security. We were interested in talking with families one year after the fire to find out how they were doing and to learn more about the depth and significance of the loss of cherished objects and their homes, as well as their experiences with evacuation and adjustment.

Why is it essential to understand these experiences?

While our museum exhibition has long been packed away, we vividly remember the families, stories and the trauma of those who — if they even had the opportunity — rushed to gather up belongings and protect their children and pets.

We still often think of these families, and have worked to impart their lessons to others, including a sense of what was really important. For us, the “new normal” refers to their fortitude in grappling with adjustment and recovery — lessons of particular significance as the frequency and severity of fires only increases. We hope everyone will take time to empathize with the trauma they experienced, as well as what the Lytton and other evacuees are currently going through — which is nothing short of a monumental disruption to their lives.

You talked about the sense of guilt. People desperately grabbed items as they were forced to evacuate their homes, but were saddened by what they had left behind.

There were important items that family members had forgotten as the ‘acute stress’ of the moment trumped logical thinking. Later, they berated themselves for not taking computers, hard drives, the oldest objects in their homes, photographs, Christmas decorations, favourite clothing out of the laundry bin, collections and souvenirs, art work and important papers.

We also recall the profound guilt felt by those who left behind simple but irreplaceable mementos that represented deeply embedded memories — children’s trophies and stuffed animals, family heirlooms and old, inexpensive keepsakes that most represented what they cherished about their home and history.

Those items were forgotten in haste, while items like tennis racquets and food were saved.

Any tips on what people should do to be prepared. And the items they simply shouldn’t leave behind?

The families we spoke with mourned irreplaceable photos and the Christmas decorations no one thinks about in the heat. Their advice was to prepare for fire season by making a list; taking a full video of every room in your house and pre-packing easy-to-grab bins with important objects and documents like passports and insurance papers, including the most treasured things in your home. Think about whether things like jewelry or art work are insured, and whether or not these are things you would want to take with you. Also, think about neighbours who may need assistance. Remember that you may have only a few minutes to leave.

Can you explain why the grief for wildfire victims is so profound?

The victims we spoke with talked about living with the incredible loss of what was more than a structure — as every comfort, every family routine and ritual, everything familiar was turned upside down. They struggled with the loss of something that many people work, sacrifice, tend to and care about — not a house, but a home — a place that reflects yourself, a welcoming safe harbour, a site of shared history, comfort, celebrations and traditions.

But, as we have seen over the past few days, hope and help will come from the most unexpected places. While Lytton homes and the townsite have been burned, we are reminded of the reassuring words of those who left messages for the families we talked with. “The most wonderful thing was hearing how your community came together. It can be both your darkest and finest hour.”

R.M. Middleton Student Prize awarded to recent arts graduate

The old adage ‘there is no I in team’ rings true for a recent UBC Okanagan graduate who has won a major financial award.

Earlier this month, Shao Yuan Chong graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, double-majoring in honours history and honours psychology. He also took home the R.M. Middleton Student Prize, a $10,500 merit-based award endowed by the estate of Robert Morrice Middleton, a former Canadian ambassador and UBC graduate.

Originally from Singapore, Chong relocated to Kelowna in 2017 after being accepted into UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. He describes his time at the university as nothing less than a true privilege, and while he is both thrilled and appreciative to be this year’s prize recipient, he doesn’t want his achievements to deceive.

“I think there’s sometimes an assumption that things must come easy to someone who receives an award like this,” says Chong. “Maybe they’re naturally smart, or had someone supporting them financially so they could focus solely on school. That wasn’t really the case for me. I don’t come from a wealthy family and everyone worked hard so I could be here.”

Chong says moving to the Okanagan for his education was a family affair.

His parents saved for years to fund his overseas education and even his siblings chipped in. While here and studying full-time, he also held down two jobs to make ends meet.

“I acknowledge that in many areas of my social identity, I’m incredibly privileged compared to others, who are burdened because of their intersectional marginalization, or marginalization due to a multitude of reasons such as ethnicity, sexuality, gender or class,” says Chong. “Nonetheless, I don’t want to perpetuate the model minority myth of being this international student with perfect grades and money either. With the support of many around me, my family and I worked hard to make my education and achievements possible.”

While Chong’s original plans were to specialize in forensic psychology and East and Southeast Asian history, he shifted his focus in the later years of his studies.

“I decided to redirect my research to minoritized communities’ health and those struggling with intersectional marginalization,” he says.

In addition to his roles as a student and undergraduate researcher, Chong took up various jobs at UBCO — including working at the writing centre and as a teaching assistant — while still finding time to volunteer on faculty council and the UBC Okanagan Senate.

As an elected student representative on senate, Chong advocated for increased representation and scholarships for international students and persons of colour. His goal was to level the playing field, ensuring there were equal representation and scholarship opportunities for all UBC students, especially those of minoritized backgrounds.

“I understand that local funders want to support local students, but I feel there’s a real opportunity to recruit talented and hard-working students who don’t come from wealth locally and internationally,” says Chong. “As someone who has experienced these struggles firsthand, it’s a topic I’m passionate about and plan on continue advocating for as I hopefully move into graduate school at UBC.”

Chong has plans to apply to UBC Vancouver’s Master of Clinical Psychology program for September 2022.

“I’m fully committed to making it happen,” he says. “I do wish to return to BC as I’ve formed a strong social network there. Also, I’m really encouraged by the work UBC is doing on equity, diversity and inclusion, although there is a lot more to be done for marginalized community members to be truly supported. I would like to return to be a part of moving more initiatives forward.”

Chong expresses his gratitude to both the Middleton family and UBC for the acknowledgement of his hard work and financial support that comes with receiving the award.

“This award will go a long way in funding my graduate studies, so I am feeling very thankful,” he says, adding that he wouldn’t be receiving this award if it wasn’t for the support of his professors. “There are far too many to list, but Drs. Catherine Higgs, Brigitte Le Normand and Jessica Stites Mor have been there for me since first year and I can’t thank them enough for their unwavering support.

“And of course, my family, my friends and my loved ones. Completing university overseas wouldn’t have been possible without them. I’m the only person in my family that’s had this opportunity, so I feel grateful that my family has helped me realize my dreams.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO researchers study the relationship between perfectionism and eating disorders in young women.

UBCO researchers study the relationship between perfectionism and eating disorders in young women.

UBCO researchers look at predictors of body dissatisfaction

New research from UBC Okanagan finds young women who are perfectionistic are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction — a general unhappiness with, and negative attitude towards, their bodies.

In a recent study published in Current Psychology, the research team led by Dr. Maya Libben, associate professor of psychology, explored the complex relationship between perfectionism, body dissatisfaction and self-efficacy — the belief that one can accomplish what they put their mind to.

“As a part-time clinician with a private practice in the community, I’ve noticed an increase in the prevalence of eating disorders,” says Dr. Libben, who teaches in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “I’ve also seen an increase in clients who may not have eating disorders, but present with high levels of body dissatisfaction. One thing I’ve noticed about both of these groups is that many have strong perfectionistic tendencies.”

Dr. Libben and her team of student researchers looked at two types of perfectionism. Self-oriented — where one sets high standards for themselves — and socially prescribed — where a person feels others are setting unrealistic expectations for them.

Using a sample of 170 female undergraduate students at UBC Okanagan as study participants, the team examined how perfectionistic beliefs worked alongside self-efficacy and body dissatisfaction.

“Recent research shows the percentage of undergraduate females who express body dissatisfaction is hovering around 50 per cent. Furthermore, it’s a risk factor for developing an eating disorder, so understanding the relationships between these factors is incredibly important,” she says.

The study participants were asked to complete a set of self-report surveys to evaluate their levels of self-oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, body dissatisfaction and self-efficacy.

There were three major findings.

First, they found females experiencing socially prescribed perfectionism had higher body dissatisfaction, which also caused lower self-efficacy.

“This represents the group who may not be doing well psychologically because they feel that others, be it parents, professors or their peers, are setting unrealistic expectations for them. This may negatively impact body image and self-efficacy because they feel like they can’t get things done to the standard set by others and might feel judged. This group may be at higher risk for developing an eating disorder,” explains Dr. Libben.

Second, individuals with high body dissatisfaction had greater self-oriented perfectionism and greater self-efficacy.

“Our thoughts here are that people who set high expectations for themselves and believe they can get things done are more likely to think they’re able to maintain the idealized body type and may engage in unhealthy weight control strategies to do so. The unfortunate thing is that these beliefs and behaviours can actually leave you feeling more dissatisfied with your body.”

Finally, they found females who were low in self-oriented perfectionism had lower body dissatisfaction and higher self-efficacy.

“This may be the group that is feeling the best about themselves, they’re not too perfectionistic about their accomplishments,” she says. “They’re generally okay with their body shape and have maintained a pretty good ability to get things done and do so in a healthy manner.”

Dr. Libben says these findings give insight into an underexplored area of inquiry and stresses the need for more research as body dissatisfaction continues to increase in younger populations.

“We know quite a bit about the relationship between perfectionism and eating disorders. But body dissatisfaction is a newer interest area and these results advance our understanding of the complex interactions,” she says.

Dr. Libben says the prevalence of body dissatisfaction is alarming and notes her lab is working to provide interventions in schools for girls as young as 10 years old.

“For teachers and parents, perfectionism is a good thing to look out for. We do tend to praise perfectionistic traits since they are associated with high achievement and good grades. That’s fantastic, and of course not everyone who has perfectionistic tendencies will be dissatisfied with their body. However, being aware that there can be a relationship between perfectionism and body dissatisfaction can help catch any red flags or even just start conversations.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO research has shown that when perpetrators are familiar, someone they trust, children who have experienced sexual abuse will often delay telling another adult.

UBCO research has shown that when perpetrators are familiar, someone they trust, children who have experienced sexual abuse will often delay telling another adult.

Non-offending caregivers have a vital role to play

It’s all about trust and a safe place.

New research from UBC Okanagan has determined if a child knows they have safe support from a trusted adult, it significantly increases the chances of that child disclosing they have been sexually assaulted. This likelihood is especially true when the offender is a family member or trusted caregiver.

Cassidy Wallis, a psychology doctoral student in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, recently published research that shows what conditions would support a child if they have been sexually abused by someone close to them.

For her research, Wallis was allowed access to more than 200 RCMP archival sexual abuse files involving victims aged 0 to 18 years. In 92 per cent of these cases, the offender had a previous relationship with the child, with only eight per cent of cases being conducted by a stranger. Of these cases, 29 per cent resulted in a conviction and 71 per cent did not. These low rates, she says, can be explained by what is on average a delay of well over three years in reporting abuse.

“Research has shown that when perpetrators are familiar, someone they trust, children who have experienced sexual abuse will often delay telling another adult,” says Wallis. “For several reasons intrafamilial abuse has been found to result in longer delays of disclosure compared to stranger offences.”

Wallis says those reasons are compounded, often by fears of the consequences for their disclosure — such as leaving the family with no financial support or having siblings removed from the home.

But without disclosure, the abuse may continue for years.

That’s why opening a window for discussion is extremely important but also very difficult. More importantly, once that window is open, it’s vital that child is believed. If not, that opportunity for open discussion may be closed permanently.

“When a child discloses, often there is active disbelief. It is quite difficult for parents to reconcile that not only is the accused perpetrator a loved one but is also an abuser. There are also strong feelings of guilt. But it’s up to that non-offending caregiver to accept what’s been said and take responsibility for the care and treatment of the child.”

When a formal disclosure is made to the police there is the opportunity for positive outcomes including an end to the abuse, access to resources and supports, and protection against abuse for future victims, says Wallis.

“One of the most encouraging and important findings of the current study is when a non-offending caregiver provides full support. This expedited the speed with which formal disclosures were made,” says Wallis. “Increasing the speed with which a formal disclosure is made is essential so evidence is not lost and reports can be easily corroborated. Once a formal disclosure is made, resources can be obtained for the child and the abuser can be held accountable.”

Wallis stresses that in the case of child sexual abuse, there is support for all families from the RCMP and in the Okanagan from the newly-established Child Advocacy Centre of Kelowna.

“Formal disclosure is so important in so many ways. It’s not easy. Even in our study parents expressed that they were too embarrassed or just didn’t know how to approach such sensitive topics with their child,” adds Wallis. “But if parents can take one thing from my research it is my hope that they have open communication with their children around healthy and appropriate sexual behaviour. If you start those conversations early, children may feel more comfortable coming forward if something does happen to them.”

Dr. Michael Woodworth, Wallis’ supervisor and co-author of the paper, points out that the Child Advocacy Centre is a good example of the link between the university and its community partners. He also notes the organization is intended as a resource for all residents of the area and the centre provides support for all types of child abuse.

For those in need, or to find more information on the Child Advocacy Centre of Kelowna, visit: cackelowna.com

The research paper was published recently in Child Abuse and Neglect.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca