Doctoral Student Disrupts the Narrative

Posted on February 02, 2023

UNCG doctoral student, Youselene Beauplan shaking hands with Dr. Smith Lee.

“I have always had a heart for underserved people,” says Youselene Beauplan ’22. “I started volunteering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County the summer after eighth grade, and I’ve been invested in working with youth ever since. They tug at my heart. It feels like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

A course on Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) and a graduate school bootcamp afforded by the McNair Scholars Program as part of her undergraduate work at the University of Florida set Beauplan on a path to a UNCG doctorate degree in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). 

“A PhD will provide me the flexibility to serve in different capacities,” Beauplan says. “I want to work directly with youth, their families, and communities. I want to conduct research and do program evaluation and policy work. I see myself finding a place at the intersection of scholar, practitioner, and advocate because having a social justice lens is important.”

Enrolled in UNCG’s five-year combined program, Beauplan earned her master’s degree in May 2022 and is working toward her PhD, which she anticipates completing in 2025. 

Focusing on Youth Trauma

Selected as a Minerva Scholar, Beauplan values the unique experiences that come with this top distinction for doctoral students. She dived into workshops focusing on navigating academia and applying for funding, professional development, and social events outside the university. 

“I’ve met people with various backgrounds from all over the world,” she says. “Not everyone is studying the same things, so I get to learn about their research as much as I get to share my own.”

Beauplan’s research interests evolved over time. Initially studying ACEs, she has since expanded her focus to youth trauma, including racial trauma and discrimination. Her qualifying thesis investigated homicidal bereavement for young black men and its impact on the trajectory of their lives. Her doctoral dissertation will address the emotion socialization of black adolescents by focusing on how youth implicitly and explicitly learn about their emotions and how emotions can help youth cope in traumatic environments. 

“I want to study how black adolescents and emerging adults can be empowered to experience a full range of emotions by giving them the proper tools. Our mental and emotional health impact how we perceive things and how we act,” says Beauplan. “We have the potential to help youth navigate trauma and chronic stress, not just to survive it, but to thrive.”

Collaborating with Dr. Smith Lee

Her passion for studying the emotion socialization of black youth connected her with Dr. Jocelyn Smith Lee, assistant professor of HDFS, whose own work investigates issues of trauma, violence, loss, and healing among Black boys, men, and families.

“This work is bigger than all of us, and we’re committed to it because it reflects our lives,” says Dr. Smith Lee. “Youselene brings unique passion to the work because of her own lived experiences and her commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of Black boys, men, and families, including the ones she’s a part of.” 

Beauplan was invited to collaborate on Dr. Smith Lee’s In All Ways Human project, funded by the Gates Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This narrative change campaign relies on various mediums of storytelling to transform the ways in which Black boys and men are seen by disrupting dehumanizing narratives and reclaiming their humanity. 

The project included life-sized portraits of 50 intergenerational Black boys and men mounted side-by-side to form a living mural. The mural is currently installed on the Former Elmer A. Henderson Elementary School wall, opposite a redeveloped neighborhood adjacent to the campus of Johns Hopkins Medical Center, in Baltimore, Maryland. A pop-up exhibit was added to a Starbucks just one block away. 

“Youselene is creative and committed to policy change,” Dr. Smith Lee says. “She knows the stakes of the work, and that drives her passion and engagement.”

“It was truly an honor to work on this program,” says Beauplan. “I wore many hats, from communicating with community liaisons, serving as social media coordinator, and representing In All Ways Human at conferences. The most rewarding piece was engaging with the participants. It was beautiful to see their reactions to the portraits.”

Paving the Way for the Next Generation    

Beauplan describes her journey to UNCG as unique and non-linear. As a first-generation student, some of her experiences have been novel, at times a culture shock, but she views them all as both a blessing and a responsibility.

“I’m standing on the shoulders of giants,” she says. “I’m able to walk this path because my parents and grandparents worked hard to pave the way. At the same time, what I’m doing holds a lot of weight, to be a resource for those to come. I get to set the tone, open doors, and reach back to pull others through.”

Photo of Beauplan shaking hands with Dr. Smith Lee outside of UNCG building.

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Story by Amanda Saber, AMBCopy, LLC
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications


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