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News & Events

Grad Student Vigna: The Power of Self-Compassion

Abra Vigna, PhD
Human Development & Family Studies

As a researcher of LGBTQ+ youth with both her Master’s and Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from the School of Human Ecology, Abra Vigna has a firm understanding of the ways in which our identities comprise the very core of our own human ecological systems. Her research lies at intersection of identity and healthy human development, exploring the tools and skills LGBT youth can harness to nurture their well-being.

Studies & Research

Abra studies health disparities in gender and sexual minority youth in comparison to gender and sexual majority youth, specifically examining the role that self-compassion plays in the engagement reducing engaging in health-risk behaviors at the heart of health disparities, including substance abuse, depression, suicidality, anxiety, or risky sexual behaviors. And given these research interests and goals, SoHE was a fitting match for her.

Why SoHE?

SoHE has long been a hub for the exploration of well-being, mindfulness and contemplative practices, and Abra’s emphasis on self-compassion is heavily intertwined with these components. Because self-compassion may seem like a broad concept, she went into more detail to define it, explaining that its roots date back to eastern practices like meditation, but now is a promising area of academic interest. “Researcher Kristen Neff defines it as having three components including mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness,” Abra stated.

The program’s involvement with contemplative practices wasn’t the only element that appealed to her; the academic emphasis on context within its coursework offered substantial appeal. When looking at programs, she expressed that she was “drawn by the diversity of courses that focus on applied research to the benefit of children and families and that entailed a critical analysis of context.”

Taking this idea a step further, Abra examines self-compassion as a coping mechanism for guilt, shame, or negative thoughts as a result of belonging to a gender or sexual minority, utilizing SoHE’s unique opportunities and resources. While she was the only researcher at SoHE with a specific concentration on LGBT youth, she explains that the school’s biggest asset to her research and practice has been the development of her “skillset as a thoughtful, critical and self-aware researcher.” She also cited the ways in which SoHE’s, and particularly Dean Shim’s, emphasis on researching and applying contemplative practices have allowed her to interact with scholars in the field.

Aided by SoHE’s support though travel scholarships, Abra was able to present the preliminary findings of her dissertation research at NCFR’s LGBT research symposium at the University of Illinois. Along with chance to share her research, it allowed her to meet and engage with fellow researchers who share a focus and interest in LGBT youth. This opportunity, she explained, was rare and valuable, as there are relatively few researchers currently focused on that population.

What’s Next?

After receiving her PhD, Abra says she hopes to continue “researching, teaching and translating research into usable information for practitioners that has a clear and substantive impact on increasing well-being and reducing health inequities.” She also expressed an interest in helping alleviate health disparities across other identities that may intersect with LGBT identities, such as racial disparities. With all of her research, experience and education under her belt, coupled with her obvious drive and love of finding ways to promote well-being in the lives of others, it’s clear that Abra will move forward as a thriving human ecologist in whichever role she takes on next.


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