Social work faculty member awarded grant to study effect of media on Hurricane Maria trauma

Amy L. Ai, a professor in the FSU College of Social Work.

A Florida State University researcher has received a fellowship grant from the Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation to support her study on the impact of media on trauma recovery.

Professor of Social Work Amy Ai, named a 2019 Fahs-Beck Fellow, will use the $20,000 grant for her project, “Traumatization and Resilience among Puerto Rican Americans Following Hurricane Maria.”

“This project seeks to understand the resilience of victims and families in the aftermath of a hurricane and the influence of positive media on their recovery in Florida,” Ai said.

In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, killing more than 2,900 and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Many Puerto Rican citizens fled to the United States mainland.

“No one has yet explored the crucial role that media can play for people recovering from the trauma of Hurricane Maria,” Ai said. “Frequently, media outlets were the only means of contacting people on the island after the storm. Media also remains a primary tool for escape and reflection after the traumatic event. The ultimate goal is to inform better in times of disaster relief.”

Ai co-designed the project with Professor Art Raney of the FSU College of Communication and Information, which combined Ai’s expertise on massive disasters and Raney’s research on positive media.

Professor Art Raney of the FSU College of Communication and Information.

The project will launch this month. Preliminary data will be collected among evacuees and their extended family members currently living in Florida, the largest post-disaster resettlement site. This will include a digital survey of Puerto Rican Americans in Florida as well as Puerto Rican students at Florida public universities.

Hurricane Michael made landfall on Mexico Beach, Florida, and affected some Puerto Rican evacuees in that area. Ai also will survey people impacted by that storm for her study.

Ai hopes that her research will provide some important insight into the impact of Hurricane Maria, as well as Michael, on participants’ mental health, their potential growth and positive gains. She also plans to explore how personal, social and informational media were used during the disaster, as well as the role media might play in promoting positive emotions and character strength along with mobilizing social resources as a part of a mental health and resilience response to a disaster.

The Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation was established by Dorothy Fahs-Beck to support research that contributes to a greater understanding of and solutions for problems affecting individuals, families and communities.

The fellowship provides research support to faculty members and postdoctoral researchers affiliated with nonprofit human service organizations in the United States and Canada. It targets projects offering innovative interventions designed to prevent or ameliorate major social, psychological, behavioral or public health problems affecting children, adults, families and communities.