Social Work professor wins Social Sciences Research Support Program Award for suicide research project

Athena Kheibari , assistant professor and Holistic Defense coordinator at Wayne State University’s School of Social Work (SSW), just got a significant funding boost toward her latest research project, “An Exploratory Study of Public Attitudes Toward Online Pro-Choice Suicide Forums.” Kheibari is one of seven WSU faculty to receive a Social Sciences Research Support Program Award this year.

Athena Kheibari
Social Work Assistant Professor Athena Kheibari, PhD

Each award includes $10,000 toward projects for research and scholarly projects that engage the social sciences in carrying out the university's research mission and lay the foundation for further work beyond the award end date.

“These are projects that advance basic knowledge in their respective social sciences, investigate issues of concern to the community, address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion and more,” said Timothy Stemmler, interim vice president for research. “All of the projects were carefully reviewed by external reviewers who are experts in the fields of our funded faculty, along with a team of internal reviewers comprised of deans, department chairs, and directors of the relevant departments for this internal funding competition. The projects will offer new perspectives in their fields, along with enhancing learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and paving the way for future external funding opportunities.”

 Hosanna Fukuzawa
Social Work Doctoral Student Hosanna Fukuzawa

Kheibari applied for the award jointly with Hosanna Fukuzawa, a second-year doctoral student in the SSW, to ensure they had the resources needed to execute the project.

“I am very grateful for this opportunity to work with Dr. Kheibari on this important project,” Fukuzawa said.

The purpose of the project is to understand stigma toward pro-choice suicide forums and its users and examine opinions regarding censorship of these online forums. The findings could inform new policies and intervention methods that reduce stigma and risk for suicide.

“Understanding suicide and its impact on the community has been a long-standing interest of mine. Pro-choice suicide forums are a unique (virtual) space where important conversations and interactions are happening; yet these online communities are not well-understood by people who do not participate in these forums. There is legislation being proposed right now that would take punitive action against certain individuals who use these forums and advocacy groups that are fighting to shut down these forums. We know people’s attitudes can have a significant impact on behavior – whether it be in their interactions with individuals who struggle with suicide or their support for or against legislation,” stated Kheibari. “So, Hosanna and I want to understand not only the extent of the public’s awareness of these online communities and their opinions about related legislation, but also how public attitudes toward the members of these forums may differ from attitudes toward individuals who struggle with suicide ideation but do not use these online forums.”

The project will commence toward later this summer.

When Kheibari read the email from Dean Sheryl Kubiak congratulating she and Fukuzawa on receiving the award, she was very grateful.

“I felt excitement and mostly a lot of pride for Hosanna because he worked very hard on this proposal. It was also rewarding to know that others recognized the value in our topic,” she said.

Author: Laura Hipshire; Editor: Betsy Vanderstelt

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