Nursing faculty garners Fulbright for work in Brazil, Romania

A School of Nursing faculty member has garnered a Fulbright award to explore the cultural implications of gender-based violence across three countries.

Saint Arnault

Denise Saint Arnault, Associate Professor of Nursing, earned a 2017-18 Fulbright Global Scholar Award to work with colleagues in Brazil and Romania. Their research will focus on the cultural dynamics that influence help-seeking behaviors among women victims of gender-based violence. Specifically, they want to better understand what drives many women to seek help (or opt not to) and how those reasons differ across cultures.

“Providers need to better understand that help-seeking journeys are cultural so they can provide services appropriate to the culture group,” said Saint Arnault, PhD, RN, FAAN. “From an anthropological perspective, things are often illuminated only after they are compared to something else.”

Saint Arnault will spend six weeks each working alongside colleagues at the respective partner institutions: the School of Nursing at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the School of Psychology and Psychotherapy in Sibiu, Romania. After helping to train her collaborators and their respective teams in ethnographic, mixed-methods research, Saint Arnault plans to oversee individual and group-session interviews with about a dozen women at each site. Gathering such multinational data using the same methods will enable the researchers to make cultural comparisons and could ultimately improve real-world interventions at the local and policy levels, Saint Arnault said.

“Making assumptions that American approaches will automatically work in Romania is a mistake,” she said. “If you oversee a shelter and you’re creating flyers to advertise services, you need to understand the belief systems and motivators that apply to the community you serve.”

The heart of the research is an assessment tool Saint Arnault has previously developed – an interview approach that seeks both to gather data for collective analysis, and at the same time support the individual interview subjects during the often painful process of self-disclosure.

“We were very deliberate about crafting a process that is beneficial in some way – that the women would walk away feeling better and having gained some insight,” Saint Arnault said. “They should come away feeling empowered with self-knowledge even as we come away with useful data for the broader study.”

Sponsored by the federal government, the Fulbright Scholarship Program is intended to connect U.S. scholars with counterparts overseas to collaborate on global challenges. Saint Arnault is the second School of Nursing faculty member to earn Fulbright this year; Clinical Associate Professor of Nursing and Psychiatry Stephen Strobbe earned a 2017-18 Fulbright award to teach clinicians early intervention tactics aimed at reducing substance use among adolescents in Brazil.

Current plans call for Saint Arnault to travel to the University of Sao Paulo in June 2018. The institution has longstanding collaborations with the University of Michigan and the U-M Medical School. She plans to visit Romania in the fall of next year. While she has longstanding collaborations with many international colleagues, for Saint Arnault, who holds a PhD in Medical Anthropology, the Fulbright represents a unique opportunity because it affords time to build deeper partnerships.

“International collaborative infrastructure is something we don’t talk about enough,” she said. “As an anthropologist, I’m excited to be able to bring my background to bear to create a platform for dialogue across cultures and languages with some amazing colleagues from all over the world. I feel like the most fortunate researcher on the planet.”