Lopez wins ‘best overall poster’ by APA

Acacia Lopez

Acacia Lopez

A doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Mississippi State University won best overall poster and a presentation slot at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, the largest conference in the psychology field, for her research highlighting racial disparity in trauma-related events.

Acacia Lopez, a first year doctoral student in MSU’s clinical psychology program, submitted her poster for consideration in the APA Child and Adolescent Psychology division. Her poster award includes a presentation invitation to the APA convention, to be held virtually this August.

A native of Boulder, Colorado, Lopez works in the Grandfamilies Lab at MSU, advised by Danielle Nadorff, an assistant professor in the psychology department.

“In the Grandfamilies Lab, we examine the social, mental, emotional, behavioral and physical outcomes for ‘custodial grandchildren’—children raised by their grandparents,” Nadorff said. “Acacia’s project was a timely and impactful, as she sought to examine the influence of racial and ethnic identity on the relation between attachment in trauma in a population of those raised by their grandparents versus those raised by their parents.”

Research from MSU’s Grandfamilies Lab indicates more one-third of children raised by grandparents identify as black, a person of color, or indigenous (BIPOC), and many are at risk for disrupted attachments because of traumatic circumstances surrounding their separations from parents.

Nadorff said Lopez’s project provides “key insights” into the predictors of outcomes for those who experience racial discrimination and are from vulnerable populations.

“She came to MSU with a passion for exploring the implications of racial trauma and how this might apply to vulnerable populations, and this project was one that she initiated, designed, wrote the protocol, collected the data, and analyzed and articulated the results, all with minimal assistance needed,” Nadorff said. “She has accomplished much in her first year at Mississippi State, and I have every confidence that she will continue to make an impact for these children and families in the future.”

Lopez said, “I’m absolutely honored to not only have my poster be accepted for presentation, but also to win this award.”

Lopez said the death of George Floyd last year “stirred a response in the nation” and heightened her awareness of racial disparities in the U.S.

“Committed to becoming a better ally, I had a unique opportunity as a research assistant to explore how racial disparities and trauma-related stress associated with discrimination impact individuals who identify as BIPOC,” Lopez said. “Oftentimes, children are raised by their grandparents as a result of trauma, making these children an at-risk population. I hypothesized that change in attachment may make children more susceptible to the anxiety-related racial trauma due to discrimination. I hope to continue research for this population, using it as a platform to advocate for social change.”

Lopez discovered the levels of trauma symptoms because of discrimination, attachment and ethnic identity were more elevated in children raised by their grandparents, highlighting the need for mental health screening and outreach for this population.

The psychology department’s Grandfamilies Lab hosts a monthly online support group for grandparents with custodial care of their grandchildren. For more information, visit www.grandfamilieslab.com/support.html.

Lopez received her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas in psychology in 2019. She intends to graduate from MSU with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 2025.

Part of MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Psychology is available at www.psychology.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

Sarah Nicholas | College of Arts and Sciences

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