WSU psychology student focuses on mental health stigmas in minorities

  • Inneke Vargas is a senior studying psychology with a minor in criminal justice. As an adult learner, she wants to focus on breaking down mental health stigmas found in minority students.
  • On campus she is a member of the McNair Scholars Program, president of Psi Chi and recently presented research at the Gerontology Conference. 

She’s a dreamer, full of ambition and passionate with a goal to change the world. A lofty task, some might say, but for her, she understands if “not her, then who?”

Inneke Vargas, a senior studying psychology with a minor in criminal justice, returned to Wichita State University after working in various industries. During her time outside of school, she worked at Via Christi, Cox Communications and Koch Industries, just to name a few. Her experiences narrowed down her desire, eliminated career paths and opened the doors to return back to school. 

“I’ve always loved learning. It’s the easy part but, I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do,” said Inneke.

After making the decision to return to school, she began her focus on bringing awareness to the mental health stigma amongst minorities, particularly African Americans. Her life experiences, like being raised by a “single-parent black women,” made her realize that culturally, they aren’t taught to speak about how they feel. For her mom and others, it was only about working really hard.

“It’s the mentality of work hard so you can play harder,” Inneke said. “There was never time spent talking about stress and the dangers it can play on everyday life.”

Through work on her McNair project, senior capstone and research methods course, Inneke is conducting a comparative study exploring the satisfaction rates of on-campus mental health services among minority and non-minority students. 

Inneke’s research uncovered that it’s a mindset and a general experience amongst the same minority group. Growing up the way she and many others did only created stressors that arose later in life. Her interest in psychology developed from simply talking to others about their life, what the human experience was for minorities and realizing that psychological stress affects people across many different life spans.

“I want to break down the stigmas. I want to encourage others to get the help they need,” Inneke said.

I want to break down the stigmas. I want to encourage others to get the help they need.
Inneke Vargas

When graduation comes in fall 2020, graduate school and pursuing her Ph.D. are the next milestones to accomplish. Her plan is to work in industry for a while, and she hopes to teach. With psychology, there are many different career umbrellas she could pursue and not remain stagnate in the same field.

On campus, Inneke is president of Psi Chi, a national honor society in psychology with the purpose of encouraging and stimulating excellence in the science of psychology. The chapter is a large network and community of other psychology students on campus. The organization allows for students to know of different research opportunities and how to be involved in the psychology department.

Along with Psi Chi, she is active in the McNair Scholars Program, which is designed to assist students in preparation for graduate education, specifically doctoral studies. Currently, Inneke is a research assistant with Amy Chesser in Public Health. Recently, she presented at the Gerontology Conference and credits much of her college success from her time spent in Psi Chi and the McNair program.

“All the experiences, the research and the involvement have been from the support and encouragement provided by the McNair program,” Inneke said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of the enriching opportunities.”

Throughout her time in and out of school, Inneke has focused on her own mental health and self-care. For her, she loves snuggling with her puppies, reading and hanging out. Inneke understands that having a strong support system is vital to survive the everyday stress that life brings. During her schooling and research, she’s focused on speaking up about her mental health in hopes of helping others.

She’s strong, able and wants to see others succeed. Her goal of killing stigmas around mental health is only just beginning.

“At the end of the day, I just want to make the world a better place.”

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