Spotlight on Diversity

Daniel Rodriguez Ramirez

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Daniel Rodriguez, a 5th-year Ph.D. candidate in Social Psychology, mentored by Professor Regina Langhout. As part of my earlier Counseling Psychology graduate program, I learned that many of my clients’ presenting problems were connected to systemic issues (e.g., gendered domestic violence, low-wage work and housing insecurity). The latter issue resonated with my past low-wage work experiences of housekeeping in the U.S. I saw the importance of working in the therapy room with each client and understood that systems would keep impacting my clients’ mental health if those systems remained unchanged. I felt drawn to collaborate with students through research and teaching to start addressing some of the systemic causes of my former clients’ presenting issues. Through my Ph.D. program in Social Psychology at UC Santa Cruz, I learned how people both created systems of harm and can transform those very systems. I research how people come together to co-create social transformation, in their communities first. 

Can you tell us about how your work contributes to DEI efforts, whether it be in your community, research, service, or teaching?

My research aims to serve minoritized communities, often with community-engaged and participatory approaches. In the last few years in my teaching and research, I have encouraged my students and research assistants to embrace their expertise in navigating systems that are not designed to serve them, aiming to promote change in their communities and overall society. In collaboration with Professors Steve McKay (sociology) and Regina Langhout, and a team of undergraduate and graduate researchers, we conducted and analyzed 30+ interviews with immigrant people about their sense of belonging, to inform service-providers’ programming. Our research team comprised undergraduate and high school first-generation students from immigrant backgrounds. Research results were disseminated, including but going beyond publications. Our research team created a zine to share our results with the overall immigrant community in the county. 

I enjoy serving the university community and beyond to encourage hopeful visions of change. I’m passionate about learning from people’s efforts to enact change to pursue ideal conditions of co-existence, with a special emphasis on equity and justice. For my dissertation research, I’m currently interviewing transformative change activists to learn from their experiences. I will analyze those interviews with a team of student-activists. We aim to act out the transformative change processes we learn from our participants. 

Minoritized people have much expertise to share in navigating and changing systems that do not serve them. So far, I have been able to be the instructor of record during two summer sessions. In these classes, I encourage students to collaborate with others to propose actions to address social problems. 

I believe collaboration can be effective in working toward solutions. I have served in various Academic Senate campus committees, where I have collaborated with other graduate student representatives, faculty, and staff to survey graduate students and academic student employees, prompting committees to make recommendations to campus leadership to better support graduate students’ needs. I have learned that amplifying the knowledge and expertise of minoritized members of our campus community navigating systems can inform how to improve those systems to better serve minoritized people’s needs. 

What experiences as a member of the UCSC psychology department have helped shape you as a person?

Our Social Psychology Ph.D. program here is so unique; we’re trained and encouraged to do mixed-methods research with a social justice focus. I learned that research (quantitative and qualitative alike) is evidence-based storytelling, and there’s power in how we tell those stories. By amplifying the experiences of minoritized participants, we as researchers can highlight their expertise to inform policy-making, at the community and campus-level. Collaboration is at the heart of my experiences here. I’ve learned so much from collaborating with faculty and graduate students in training undergraduate students to organize campus/community-engaged research projects. I’ve felt inspired by working with undergraduate students in research analysis and results dissemination. I’ve felt a sense of community by co-creating writing spaces with other graduate students to encourage each other in writing and doing research on issues that matter to us and the communities we aimed to serve. 

What can the department/campus do to help sustain the work that you do?

Funding is a consistent concern for graduate students. Social Psychology students’ average time of completion takes longer than the 5-year ASE/GSR contract. Social psychology graduate students often act out a commitment to social justice by taking service positions across campus, in union organizing, academic senate committees, and community-engaged and participatory research projects. Some of us participate in community-engaged research projects that take time. Yet, our on and off-campus service is often unaccounted-for labor (i.e., lacking work-releases similar to course-releases, or compensation). Many graduate students have several jobs to make ends meet in a highly expensive area, such as Santa Cruz. 

It would be great to find creative ways to fund psych grad students past their fifth year to honor the service and research social justice work, involving graduate students and psychology staff in problem-solving these problems. Involving graduate students like parent-graduate students in meetings related to improving decision-making processes to better support graduate students might prove effective. I have learned that evidence-based shared governance and decision-making involving the most minoritized members of a community can help a great deal to address issues that affect those same minoritized groups in our campus community. One of the best lessons I’ve learned from doing participatory and community-engaged research with minoritized groups such as youth and immigrant people was to involve them in the questions we ask and the way we want those questions to be addressed. One of the most common and insightful questions I have consistently heard in those research collaborations is, “why don’t we ask them?” Minoritized people often know what needs to be done, and people with power could amplify their expertise in addressing issues. 

What action do you recommend to others in relation to DEI? What kind of advice would you give to others who want to get more involved in DEI related work?

Our social positions, privileges, and minoritized identities shape our DEI work. I share the following as a Brown Latinx immigrant student. Perhaps people from other social positions might find it helpful to collaborate with others with humility to find ways to be in support/solidarity. I appreciate how much I have learned from solidarity work at UCSC. 

  • There are tight and more flexible spaces open to DEI work and change. In some places, it might be harder to speak up, and that’s ok. I have found it helpful to adjust my expectations to the space in which we are working. 
  • Find your people/collaborators. I find one-on-one relational meetings super important, to learn what inspires other people to do DEI work. I have found alignment in particular issues doing this, which helped the effectiveness and sustainability of the work. This also helps to build a community to hold our actions accountable to our shared values. 
  • I find an important DEI goal is to decrease labor and increase power to minoritized members in the group. This might mean amplifying minoritized perspectives in addressing issues, while also compensating for minoritized people’s time and efforts. 

In general, co-creating more processes of shared governance that include graduate students and staff in decisions affecting graduate education might prove effective in finding creative solutions to address issues. This might also help to brainstorm accountability processes to share information and improve graduate students’ well-being.