Black History Month: An Interview with Monique Reboe Benjamin

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Black History Month graphic

To celebrate Black History Month, we would like to profile one of the talented Black researchers we’re grateful to have in our network.  

Read on to find out about Monique Reboe Benjamin (Research Coordinator at the University of Saskatchewan) and the important work she does in FASD research. 

Monique’s research background 

“My journey in research began in Jamaica, where I pursued my undergraduate and master’s degrees in pharmacology, focusing on cancer therapeutic and translational science. Motivated by a desire to enhance the quality of life for those undergoing healing, I realized early in my career the significant impact of societal factors on well-being beyond pharmacology alone. This realization sparked a deep interest in exploring the social determinants of health, particularly related to mental health. After much reflection and prayer with my family, I decided to embark on a new research path.  

“Saskatchewan stood out as an ideal destination, known for its year-round sunshine—a characteristic reminiscent of Jamaica’s climate that I cherish. This move reflects my willingness to embrace new environments and opportunities, driven by a steadfast commitment to advancing research in areas crucial for improving public health and well-being.  

“At the University of Saskatchewan, I pursued a Master’s in Population Health Sciences with a focus on improving healthcare for newly arrived refugees and helping them transition into mainstream care. I was also fortunate to collaborate on projects, such as examining the “mental health of physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic”. These experiences allowed me to engage directly with pressing public health issues and contribute insights to address healthcare disparities and support frontline healthcare workers.” 

Notable accomplishments 

“My collaboration with Dr. Mansfield Mela has provided me with a platform to amplify the voices and lived experiences of individuals with FASD, who may otherwise not have had the opportunity to share their stories. While grants and presentations are essential for advancing the field, it is the participation of these individuals in our research that makes it all possible.  

“Engaging with them allows us to understand their unique perspectives and challenges, which we can then use to inform policies, models of care, interventions, and other forms of support. This process is truly transformative, as it ensures that our work is not only academically rigorous but also grounded in the realities and needs of those directly affected by FASD.” 

Current research projects 

“My current research interests and the projects I am involved in align closely with my long-term aspirations. As part of Dr. Mela’s Psycholegal and FASD Research Lab, we are investigating the use of BioXas and Mid-IR techniques to examine differences in rat brains exposed to alcohol versus those not exposed. This research delves into understanding the neurological effects of alcohol exposure, which is pivotal for informing interventions and support strategies for individuals affected by FASD and other neurodivergent conditions.  

“Additionally, our collaborative efforts have recently secured funding through the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan Legacy grant. This grant enables us to explore access to justice for FASD and neurodivergent individuals. Specifically, we aim to investigate the knowledge and attitudes of legal and law enforcement professionals toward this demographic, with the ultimate goal of improving support systems and ensuring fair treatment within the legal system.  

“By combining neuroscience research with a focus on access to justice, my work not only contributes to advancing scientific understanding but also addresses real-world challenges faced by vulnerable populations. Ultimately, these endeavours align perfectly with my long-term goal of making meaningful contributions to both research and social justice initiatives.” 

Advice for aspiring Black researchers 

“First and foremost, I urge aspiring Black researchers to persist in their dedication to understanding and confronting challenging areas such as FASD, regardless of the hurdles they may face. Secondly, I encourage them to actively seek mentors and allies who can provide valuable support and guidance throughout their journey. Organizations like the CanFASD team (including the Family Advisory Committee, the Adult FASD Expert Collaboration Team, and the FASD Network of Saskatchewan) have proven to be invaluable sources of knowledge and resources in this field.  

“Personally, I’ve been privileged to connect with Dr. Mela, a fellow Black researcher whose insights and encouragement have been instrumental in my own growth. It’s crucial to recognize that representation matters; our unique perspectives and experiences as Black researchers contribute significantly to enriching the field and fostering more inclusive and culturally sensitive approaches to FASD research. Ultimately, I encourage you to believe in your capabilities, remain committed to your passion, and actively advocate for yourself and the communities you represent in your research endeavours.” 

Thank you to Monique for sharing her experiences with us. You can read more about Dr. Mansfield Mela, who is mentioned several times in the interview, in his interview on the University of Saskatchewan website. 

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