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Dissertation Defense for Laura Noëlle Opsahl

  • Date: December 11, 2017
  • Time: 12:00 PM
  • Location: College Hall, Room 215

To:      Students, Faculty and Staff

From:  Gaurav Mathur, Ph.D., Dean of the Graduate School

Re:       Dissertation Defense for Laura Noëlle Opsahl

It is my pleasure to announce that Laura Noëlle Opsahl, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology, will defend her dissertation, "Have you talked about it? A descriptive phenomenological analysis of Deaf women’s experiences of sexual assault disclosure." The first forty minutes of the dissertation defense are open to the Gallaudet community.

Deaf women experience sexual assault at a significantly higher rate than the general hearing population. Yet, within the Deaf community, there is a lack of research investigating experiences of disclosure – the act of telling someone about a personal experience of sexual assault.  Ms. Opsahl’s descriptive phenomenological study explored the disclosure experiences of three adult Deaf female survivors. Participants were asked to describe their experiences including thoughts, feelings, or behaviors before, during, and after disclosures. Participants provided detailed descriptions of disclosure recipient reactions, with a specific focus on if and/or how these reactions influenced them. Results revealed seven essential components, which influenced disclosure: cultural influences, expectations and desires of disclosure, reflection of feelings as a critical component, engagements of support providers, personal connection as a facilitator, revictimization of initial disclosures, and a social justice lens. This study highlights the complexity of the psychological dimension of sexual assault disclosure and the various factors that contribute to the process. 

The members of Ms. Opsahl’s dissertation committee are Dr. Lawrence Pick, Department of Psychology, chair of the dissertation committee; Dr. Patrick Brice, Department of Psychology; Dr. Caroline Kobek-Pezzarossi, Department of Psychology; Dr. Teresa Crowe, Department of Social Work; and Dr. Melissa Anderson, Department of Psychiatry, UMass Medical School.

Ms. Opsahl is a fifth-year clinical psychology graduate student at Gallaudet University and a predoctoral intern at the Washington DC VA Medical Center. She received her master’s degree in psychology from Gallaudet University in 2016.  Previously, she completed her master’s degree in deaf education in 2006 from Smith College. Ms. Opsahl taught early childhood deaf education for seven years, which included teaching experiences in various locations: Framingham, MA, Washington, DC, Boulder, CO, and Luanda, Kenya. Her teaching experience drew Ms. Opsahl back to the field of psychology with a specific interest in working with deaf individuals. Currently, her main area of research and clinical work is in trauma. Her predissertation, “Sexual assault disclosure: Experiences of Deaf women,” served as the foundation for her dissertation study. The Gallaudet University GRI Small Research Grants Program supported both studies. During her graduate career, she held externship positions at Gallaudet University Counseling And Psychological Services, Multicultural Clinical Center, Capital Region Children’s Center, and the Washington DC VA Medical Center. She also presented at multiple conferences, including Breaking Silences, Demanding Crip Justice: Sex, Sexuality, and Disability in Dayton, Ohio; American Psychological Association, Toronto, Canada; and International Congress of Psychology, Yokohama, Japan.

Please join me in extending best wishes to Ms. Opsahl for her dissertation defense

Posted by Elizabeth Gibbons | Posted November 29, 2017 at 10:09 AM


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