PhD Student Moiyattu Banya Awarded NYU Urban Doctoral Fellowship
Second year PhD student Moiyattu Banya was selected as a fellow in the 2022-23 class of NYU’s Urban Doctoral Fellowship Program, a highly competitive fellowship that fosters collaboration and scholarly discourse among a diverse group of faculty and students engaged in urban research. Her research interests focus on the mental health of girls, young women and communities in African countries, as well as the mental health of refugee and immigrant African youth in the United States.
Open to current and prospective doctoral-level students from across the University and limited to up to 15 fellows per cohort, the fellowship includes up to $3,000 in research funds, a cross-NYU Urban Research Seminar featuring leading scholars from different areas who are researching urban issues, networking lunches or dinners following the seminars, and opportunities for fellows to present their work for feedback in front of their peers and NYU faculty. Fellows continue in the program throughout the remainder of their doctoral studies.
“It’s really an honor and a blessing to be chosen for this fellowship,” said Moiyattu. “I feel privileged to be part of this beautiful, multidisciplinary community of scholars across NYU. Everyone has distinct ways of looking at their research and I think it’s only going to enrich the way I think about my own work.”
Moiyattu’s research interests include using mixed-methodology and community-based participatory research methods to support communities that have a history of trauma and gender-based violence. They also involve the implementation of community- and individual-level girl/young women-centered and culturally relevant interventions that foster and nurture mental health and wellbeing in African countries. Her secondary research interests include improving mental health outcomes of refugee and first-generation, immigrant African adolescents and youth in the United States.
Originally from Sierra Leone, Moiyattu fled as a refugee at age twelve, and has lived in the U.S. for over two decades. About ten years ago, she founded a not-for-profit organization in Sierra Leone called Girls Empowerment Sierra Leone. “My organization primarily works in urban areas in Freetown, the capital city, which has about 1.2 million inhabitants and a population growth rate of one to two percent annually,” Moiyattu explained. “Sierra Leone, with its approximately 8 million inhabitants, has only one mental health hospital in the country. Girls in Freetown generally have limited access to proper education. [There is a] high prevalence of female genital mutilation, which is a form of gender-based violence that is prevalent in Sierra Leone as a whole; and very high rates of teenage pregnancy. Our organization provides year-round programs to support girls’ mental health and well-being, self-development, leadership and civic participation in addressing these adversities for themselves, as well as their peers in their communities.”
On her cohort’s first day in the Urban Doctoral Fellowship, Moiyattu said, “we delved into a conversation about ‘what is urban, what does urban even mean? And what does that look like when it comes to our research?’ For Moiyattu, the term “urban” evokes Freetown and New York City, where she has lived for quite some time. She noted that she worked for the New York City Department of Education for several years with pregnant and parenting students, many of whom were children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. “I really saw a lot of connection between the adolescent girls and young women I worked with in New York City and those in Freetown. So when I think of ‘urban,’ I think of this duality of experiences in the global mental health world when it comes to the place and the location of girls in urban cities and what that means for their mental health outcomes and their mental health well-being.”
One of the projects Moiyattu hopes to work on as part of the fellowship is understanding different ways that traumatic experiences impact the mental health of girls and young women in Sierra Leone and how to improve mental health and well being so that they can become leaders and social change agents.
She also hopes to share and receive feedback on work she is doing as a member of NYU Silver’s Youth and Young Adult Mental Health Group (YYAMH-G), which is led by one of her PhD Program mentors, Professor Michelle R. Munson. Those efforts include work on “Just Do You,” a brief intervention designed to improve mental health treatment engagement among young adults from historically-marginalized communities who are experiencing one of their first-contacts with the adult mental health system. They also include an abstract she co-authored on young adults’ mental health and suicidality that was accepted for presentation at the American Public Health Association’s 2022 annual meeting.
Moiyattu applied for the fellowship with the support and encouragement of Dr. Munson, her other PhD Program mentor, Assistant Professor Ifrah Magan, and PhD Program Director Victoria Stanhope. “In my journey, I’ve seen the importance of having mentors who are truly invested in your learning and in your growth,” said Moiyattu. “Dr. Munson has been training me around mixed methods research and mental health outcomes and Dr. Magan has been instrumental in helping me to think about qualitative research and diverse issues around immigrant and refugee mental health. I am grateful to have these two mentors with distinct styles and different lenses who are both really supporting me in my research journey, as well as the support of Dr. Stanhope and the program as a whole.”
Looking ahead, Moiyattu said, “I hope to lead global mental health research focused on Black, adolescent girls and young women on the African continent, as well as first- and second-generation, immigrant Black girls here in U.S. cities like New York City and Philadelphia. Ultimately, l would love to have a lab at a university that focuses on that work.” She is excited to have the support of the NYU Urban Doctoral Fellowship Program and its network of fellows as she works towards that goal.