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  • You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup: A Phenomenological Study Exploring Experiences of Black Counselor Wellness Practices and Barriers to Wellness

    Spencer, Cha'Ke'Sha; College of Professional Advancement
    CHA’KE’SHA SPENCER YOU CAN’T POUR FROM AN EMPTY CUP: A PHENEMENOLOGICAL STUDY EXPLORING EXPERIENCES OF BLACK COUNSELOR WELLNESS PRACTICES AND BARRIERS TO WELLNESS Under the direction of MORGAN E. K. RIECHEL, PHD Myers et al., (2000) define wellness as “a way of life oriented toward optimal health and well- being in which body, mind, and spirit are integrated by the individual to live more fully within the human and natural community.” Occupational hazards such as burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and the COVID-19 pandemic may contribute to counselors’ vulnerability regarding a lack of wellness practices (Blount et al., 2016). Black counselors face these risks and unique barriers to wellness such as racial stressors, stigma associated with mental health, and cultural myths and misconceptions around emotional wellness and self-care. The literature is limited regarding wellness models for Black Americans and the theoretical framework for this study does not focus on one model, instead explores several traditional wellness models including those that center cultural relevance. The Strong Black Woman Schema and John Henryism concepts and their relationship to Black counselor wellness practices were also explored. This qualitative study utilized Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to interview 9 practicing master and doctoral level counselors, who practice independently and identify as Black. The purpose of this study was to understand the lived experiences of Black counselors’ wellness practices and possible barriers to wellness. Results indicate that Black counselors are able to define wellness as being holistic, balancing mind, body and spirit and self- care as activities that are enjoyable and promote optimal wellness. Results also indicate that participants acknowledged their history of prioritizing work and family and treating their self- care as an afterthought, which resulted in feelings of exhaustion, guilt, being overwhelmed. Participants admitted that history and cultural beliefs played a role in how they cared for themselves, and they recognized the need for community in their wellness journey.
  • Practicing Receptivity: Grassroots Ecumenical Dialogue for Building Relationality and Inspiring Missional Imagination Among Churches in Gastonia. NC

    Murphy, Robert Chris; McAfee School of Theology
    Though engaged in various missional and social outreach endeavors, churches continue to struggle to commit themselves to deep relationality with their Christian and non-Christian neighbors. The reasons for this are varied, often stemming from theological, socio-cultural, and psychological sources. I implemented this project to understand better how building relationality between individuals of diverse theological traditions could inspire a commitment to increasing relationality, particularly joint ecumenical witness and mission. Individual members from three churches serving the Brookwood and York-Chester neighborhoods in West Gastonia participated. Participants were interviewed before and after a series of five group sessions. In the pre-session interviews, participants introduced themselves, discussed the role they play within their faith communities, and described their respective church bodies’ relationship with the neighborhood and neighboring faith communities. The post-session interviews asked many of the same questions, allowing the researcher to compare any shifts that occurred because of the five group sessions. In session one, participants introduced themselves and their faith communities to the group. In session two, they participated in a bible study on Acts 10-11:18. In the third session, participants looked at the varying dimensions of common life present in the local neighborhood and how each respective congregation participates in it. The fourth session focused on the doubts members have in the pursuit of deep relationships with Christian and non-Christian neighbors. In the final session, participants reflected on future possibilities for joint missional witness. The project found that the act of coming together and committing to mutual respect increased the hopefulness of the participants in helping to build relational capacity. Further, fear was often reported as the most significant barrier to doing this kind of work. This effort requires intentionality as well as a commitment to grace, welcome, and forgiveness if it is to be effective.

    Steele, Leonor Esther; McAfee School of Theology
    LEONOR E. STEELE CHRISTOLOGY AS AN AFFIRMATION OF BICULTURAL IDENTITY: TOWARD EMBRACING THE IMAGO DEI IN BICULTURAL PERSONS IN THE UNITED STATES Under the direction of ROB N. NASH, JR., Ph.D. This thesis offers a theological analysis of the nature of Jesus, the profound symbolism of the Eucharist, and the intricate concept of Imago Dei in order to explore the nature of bicultural identity in the United States (U.S.). The thesis opens with an introduction to the topic of social identity and categorization in the U.S. The thesis also analyzes the Council of Chalcedon’s definition of Jesus, offering insights into our understanding of His nature, which is both divine and human. Then, it discusses the significance of the Eucharist or communion, highlighting its central role in Christian worship and its symbolic representation of the sacrifice of Jesus. The Eucharist highlights the dual role of the communion as a foundation of community as well as individual relations with God. Additionally, the study dives into various interpretations of the Imago Dei, a concept deeply embedded in Christian theology that posits that humans are created in the image and likeness of God. The culmination of the study brings together these diverse threads, providing a deeper understanding of bicultural identity through the lens of Christ.
  • A Constructive, Compassionate, Generous Understanding of God for the 21st Century

    Thomas, Khaaliq; McAfee School of Theology
    ABSTRACT KHAALIQ THOMAS A CONSTRUCTIVE, GENEROUS, AND COMAPSSIONATE UNDERSTANDING OF GOD FOR THE 21ST CENTURY Under the direction of ANGELA N. PARKER, Ph.D. Since God is not something that can be geographically located to determine if what which has been said about God is truthful, we are left with the project of conceptualizing who and what God is and what God can be. Therefore, since God is manifested from the human imagination it is a product of human weakness. With religious fundamentalists concepts of God that inspire hate, violence, division, asceticism, and oppressive group thinking, the theological imagination is too weak of a tool to accurately depict God in reality. The religious fundamentalists have constricted the concept of God making it difficult for God to function in our modern world and appeal to contemporary minds. The need to conceptualize a God that exists outside religion is essential to the functionality and relevance of a supreme being for today. Since it is the human mind, body, and spirit that encounters and conceptualizes God it is appropriate to theorize a God that is discovered through the activity of self-exploration and the exercise of human authenticity. A constructive, generous, and compassionate concept of God is one where the process of deconstruction takes place. It means eliminating the notion of ultimate truth and embracing ultimate wonder and uncertainty by taking God outside religion. It means knowing God empirically more than through scripture. It means allowing God to inform the believer of what it is and not the believer placing an identity upon God.

    Carter, Mariah J; Tift College of Education
    As colleges and universities seek to ensure accommodating academic experiences for all students, it is becoming increasingly clear that the concepts of diversity and disability extend beyond easily identifiable conditions but must also include invisible differences. The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experiences of college students with nonidentifiable diversities to determine the extent to which institutions are meeting the full spectrum of students’ needs. Further, the study sought to determine ways in which institutional practices enhance or hinder the academic progress and success of students with nonidentifiable diversities. The research question that guided the study was, “What are the lived experiences of students with nonidentifiable diversities in higher education?” The study was conducted using interpretive phenomenological analysis. The researcher created an informational video outlining the specifics of the study, including the criteria of being at least 18 years of age and having an invisible diversity. From that video, the participants were able to scan a QR code which led them to a prequestionnaire, which signified their interest in the study. Through semi-structured interviews, eight participants revealed memories, perceptions, and insights into their educational experiences in higher education. Following the steps of interpretive phenomenological analysis, the researcher discovered four emergent themes: (a) Managing Invisible Differences, (b) Extrinsic Rejection of Invisible Differences, (c) The Scars of Invisibility, and (d) Creating a Sense of Belonging, which provided insight into how the participants navigated their invisible differences during their higher education experiences. A key implication of this research was the importance of creating an institutional culture rooted in empathy through building relationships and developing positive service quality experiences for students with nonidentifiable diversities. Creating an institutional culture not only enhances the overall educational experience but fosters a sense of belonging and improves academic success measures for students. Additionally, there exist a few gaps in research from the findings that would benefit from further research, including a need for greater comprehension of self-advocacy for students with nonidentifiable diversities along with a need to understand more about campus services and how those services can help promote equity and self-advocacy for students.

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