Teachers College doctoral student Brianna A. Baker was recently named a 2021 Health Policy Research Scholar by the Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Foundation. Baker, who will receive $30,000 per year for four years to support her research, joins a national cohort of interdisciplinary scholars committed to helping build a more equitable healthcare system in the United States.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholars Program encourages its scholars to think radically and holistically about health and society. As a program participant, I am eager to gain extensive, comprehensive training on leveraging my education to advocate for antiracist and trauma-informed policy change,” says Baker, who is in the College’s Counseling Psychology program. “I hope to build on my research to illuminate the importance of mental health dialogues and advocacy in creating cultures of health.”

Baker is the fourth TC student to earn this recognition from the foundation, which supports doctoral candidates from historically marginalized backgrounds who are underrepresented in specific disciplines. Taking an intersectional approach to health policy, scholars apply expertise from their chosen fields — ranging from economics and sociology to psychology, etc. — to research that will “enable everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives.”

For Baker, bringing her experience in counseling psychology to larger public health discussions aligns with the discipline’s unique, critical role in the larger landscape. “In psychology, especially counseling psychology, we dedicate our study and practice to improving the life quality and trajectories of individuals and communities by using evidence-based research on cognition and behavioral health,” Baker explains. “To me, it seems as though we should be at the forefront of political action, social policy, and social justice as we have a unique understanding of the human condition.”

Baker, who earned her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019, is a research assistant at TC’s Stigma, Identity, and Intersectionality Research Lab. She is also the co-founder of Black in Mental Health, an online community of Black psychology professionals dedicated to alleviating the stigma of mental health services and drawing attention to the mental health repercussions of racism and discrimination. Baker and colleagues established the initiative during the widespread Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020, when the pandemic and racial injustice coalesced in a long-overdue national reckoning on systemic racism and police brutality — “all of which,” Baker explains, “took a toll on Black Mental Health.”

“Co-founding Black in Mental Health is one of my proudest feats. It is a part of the larger “Black in X” movements that amplify Black voices in various academic disciplines,” Baker reflects. “I think the creation of Black In Mental Health speaks to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s goal of making a worldwide ‘culture of health.’

Baker’s professional interests include serving as an advocate for Black mental health in the public sphere, with hopes to help make these issues “part of everyday conversation in the average American household.”

“I envision myself making a positive difference in the hearts and minds of people,” Baker says.