Featured Scholar: Abigail Sewell

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Featured Scholar: Abigail Sewell
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
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Source Institution:
University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Featured Scholar:
Mbigail Se..'ell

2004 - 2005 University Scholar
Mentor: Kendal Broad
Honors Program

Abigail Sewell has always wanted to obtain her doctoral degree and the sociology senior
has already been admitted into nine of the country's best sociology graduate programs.
But, the young researcher has looked up the death rates of black female professors and
found they are extremely high in her demographic. For her USP project, Abigail examined
anger suppression in the workplace among black Americans and the ramifications it has
on mental and physical health.

"Among blacks there are consequences and boundaries to expressing anger and getting
type-cast as the 'angry black man' or 'angry black woman'," she says. "There is no
benefit to expressing your anger, but in the meantime, the anger suppressed is having
an effect on the body that is detrimental over a long period of time."

Under the guidance of mentor Kendal Broad, an assistant professor of sociology and
women's studies, Abigail developed an IRB-approved questionnaire and interviewed 24
subjects of lower and middle classes in various cities around the south, including
Gainesville, Florida; Atlanta, Augusta and Rome, Georgia; and Greensboro, South
Carolina. Participants worked in a variety of fields-ranging from custodians to lawyers-
and they were asked a series of 45 questions about their work experiences.

"I started with professors and administrators, but I decided to branch out and look at
persons of lower classes, since the black middle class has already been heavily studied,"
she says. Abigail also talked to teachers, business owners and waiters. No matter their
job status, participants reported workplace isolation, disproportionate amounts of
occupational stress due to being under-valued and overworked, and anxiety resulting
from negative stereotypes of black Americans.

"Anger is a result of unjustified and unavoidable injustices," Abigail says. "It is not just
the blatant discrimination based on race, but also being asked to do the work of lower
status workers or not getting leave time that can be perceived as discrimination, even if
it is not necessarily what is happening." Abigail adds that black employees often don't
talk to their co-workers outside of work or come from the same background and this lack
of kinship and collegiality causes stress and prevents them from asking for workplace
advancement or expressing frustrations. "There are segmentations in the workplace,
where everyone kind of stays in their own groups and, in some ways, it is self-inflicted.
You are going to feel a kinship and be more friendly to people who are similar to you."

Abigail has a lot of personal experience in the job market, working in a variety of jobs
including serving as a cashier at Burger King, a waitress at Ruby Tuesdays and a sales
and stock associate at The Gap. "The anger, for me personally, wasn't about
discrimination. But if I didn't get enough hours, didn't get paid, or there was an issue
with job responsibilities, others thought I should say something and I wouldn't. I
suppressed it."

Graduating in April, Abigail has expanded her USP research and written an honors thesis
on the project. In addition to being a University Scholar, she is also a McNair Scholar and
National Achievement Scholar. She is a Minority Ambassador, Outreach Ambassador, and
a member of the Children's Health Self-Empowerment Research Team in the psychology
department. For fun, she enjoys playing intramural flag football and her team was the UF
Intramural Flag Football Champions in 2002 and 2003.

"I applied to the USP because I enjoy doing research and I came to UF because it was
one of the few places that I could pursue research even as a freshman," Abigail says.
"Upon completing graduate school, I plan to become a professor at a research-based


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