Ligon-Hollinger ’13: Stress in Women of Color

Breonna Ligon-Hollinger ’13

By Charlotte Kugler ’14

This past summer, psychology and gender studies major Breonna Ligon-Hollinger ’13 set out for communities in the Pioneer Valley, as well as her home region of northern New Jersey, to conduct research on how women of color cope with stress and racial discrimination.

Ligon-Hollinger’s idea for the study came from her interest in the relationship between one’s cultural identity and the process of coping with stress. In addition to potential traumatic experiences in their personal lives, people of color often encounter daily stressors due to racist attitudes in society, so she examined both of these causes of stress in her research.

“I was particularly curious about how women of color understand their coping responses,” she says. “I was interested in how they conceive of personal resources and sources of support in their community to deal with stressors.”

Awarded a Weed Research Fellowship by the College to fund the project, Ligon-Hollinger worked closely with psychology professor Amber Douglas as she undertook her study. To gain an understanding of the relevant factors, she conducted eight interviews with women of color from the Pioneer Valley and northern New Jersey.

She explains, “The questions that I asked the participants focused on learning about their personal definitions of stress, their experiences with racial discrimination, the ways in which they coped with stress, and the types of support they sought to help them manage stress.”

When she reviewed the interviews and began thinking about what she had discovered, Ligon-Hollinger noticed four major themes emerging from her fieldwork. These women of color, she found, had a strong sense of their cultural identity, had to deal with racism and discrimination on a frequent basis, often turned to religious communities for spiritual support, and also drew support from within the black community itself, where other women had experienced and could empathize with the struggles they faced.

“These themes represent the commonalities that emerged from the interviews,” Ligon-Hollinger says. “The relevant literature surrounding the coping process in women of color supported my findings, which suggests that the themes that emerged represent some of the main stressors that women of color face, as well as some of the primary means of coping they enlist.”

Ligon-Hollinger’s project provided her with an opportunity to investigate issues of both psychology and gender, a combination of the interests that led her to pursue a double major at Mount Holyoke. After graduating, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.