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Meet Shannon Guillot-Wright of University of Texas Medical Branch

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shannon Guillot-Wright.

Shannon, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was taught to leave something better than I found it, whether it was a house, a garden, or a social condition. This idea has translated into my current advocacy and research. After I completed my undergraduate degree in Urban Studies, I moved to Baltimore to volunteer through AmeriCorps at Boys Hope Girls Hope. My experience in Baltimore led me to New York City, where I completed a degree in Human Rights at Columbia University.

I studied the historical and political practices that led to more detention centers being built for immigrants and moved back to Texas (after being gone for nearly 10 years) to continue advocating for migrant workers. I am currently the Community Health Research Fellow at the Center for Community and Global Health Innovation, Health Policy and Legislative Affairs at the University of Texas Medical Branch and will soon graduate with my Ph.D. in the Medical Humanities. My research and advocacy use photography and digital stories to think through issues, create action, and change policy.

My dissertation is a photo-ethnography that seeks to understand how 20th-century labor movements contribute to precarious employment as a social determinant of health for migrant seafarers (people who live and work at sea). I was a selected artist for the National Academy of Medicine’s “Visualize Health Equity” pop-up gallery in Washington, D.C. for a digital story describing a migrant’s experience trying to obtain health care in Texas and am the co-founder (along with my husband, Will Wright) of TWELVE, a community photo project that uses photography to highlight the diversity of people, scenery, architecture, and viewpoints.

TWELVE is a non-profit initiative fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and has been in operation since 2011. All of these activities, from research to advocacy to photography, are examples of how I contribute to my world and am working to leave it better than I found it.

Has it been a smooth road?
There are so many struggles that it’s hard to think of only one or two, but I think a continuous struggle is how to be an attentive person at home when work is stressful. I had my son my first year of my Ph.D. program (no maternity leave for graduate students) and then began working full-time as a Fellow during my third year of the program. It has not been easy being a full-time employee, student, mom, and spouse, but it’s much easier with a strong network of friends and family.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I work at the University of Texas Medical Branch and study how adverse experiences such as abuse, neglect, interpersonal violence, poverty, incarceration, detention, community violence, un/underemployment, migration, and structural violence affects people’s health and well-being. The type of research I do is qualitative, which means I interview people one-on-one and in focus groups as well as work with them long-term by following their lives (ethnography and participant observation).

One of my favorite research methods is called photo-voice. I give participants a camera, they take photos that are important to them, and then we discuss why the photos are important to them. It’s much more visual than most research, which also means that the photos can become advocacy tools to try and change or enforce policies. My non-profit, TWELVE, is an example of how this kind of project (photovoice) can be used to highlight different ways that people advocate for their community.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Galveston Island is an amazing place to live and work. It’s a very supportive community for the arts, sciences, and humanities.

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