When, as a child, Dr. Sandra Dixon emigrated from Jamaica to Canada she felt alienated. “I struggled immensely with cultural dislocation,” she says. “I needed to reconstruct my identity in order to adapt and accept who I was despite being seen as different.” Dixon’s experiences inspired her to want to help others in similar circumstances. Today, as a multicultural counsellor, provisional psychologist, and University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education professor, she helps counsellors-in-training meet the needs of refugee and immigrants in culturally sensitive ways.
“I’m passionate about ensuring people are able to tap into whatever is going to sustain them and help them become resilient, whether it’s family, nature, or practices like mindfulness and meditation,” she says, adding that a lot of coping mechanisms are grounded in culture.
Dixon’s research focusses on the role of spirituality and faith practices in helping immigrants and refugees reconstruct their identities and adjust to new life post-migration. She defines spirituality as “any higher force you believe in. It’s a subjective conceptualization, and that’s what I appreciate about it, because you’re not then able to impose your view of spirituality on someone else.”
Her work with students reflects a similar philosophy. “I create space for different realities to co-exist.” Each person has a unique story based on experiences and background. Sharing and listening to those stories builds trust and leads to rich, engaging interaction. “We co-create knowledge together,” says Dixon. “I invite counsellors in training to think critically about their roles, not just as counsellors but also as advocates and social justice activists.”
Through her work and research Dixon strives to pass on what she has learned from many mentors, teachers, and role models. She is grateful for the opportunity to give back to her community and to serve the world. As she expands her research into spirituality and the mental health profession, she looks forward to collaborating with old and new colleagues, confident that by accepting one another in an inclusive environment and by working together we can make global impacts.
Dr. Sandra Dixon is the recipient of the 2018 Professor Cecille DePass Centennial Research Award presented by the Farquharson Institute of Public Affairs (FIPA). The purpose of the FIPA Awards is to celebrate extraordinary critical thinkers and leaders who use the written word to promote one or more of our three areas of focus, namely: education and culture, industry and commerce and science & technology.