Spotlight on Diversity


Kathy Montano

Tell us about yourself.

I have been a staff member at UCSC and the Psychology Department for eight years and began in my position as Psychology Graduate Program Coordinator in 2018. My professional journey has been anchored in an interest in psychology, particularly in areas such as mental health and well-being, cultural competence, and the psychological welfare of students. I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology at UCSC and during my undergraduate education I served as a peer advisor within the psychology department. This experience significantly influenced my decision to pursue a career in higher education. Outside of my professional pursuits, I maintain an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being. I also find enjoyment in outdoor activities, exploring diverse musical genres and going to see live music, and cherishing moments with loved ones and family.

How do you work to foster a sense of inclusion and community in your role, either on campus or in the community?

I work to foster a sense of inclusion and community by recognizing and honoring the multitude of identities that individuals hold, many of which may not be immediately visible. I strive to approach all interactions and tasks with a DEI perspective, understanding that each person brings their unique background and experiences to the program, workplace, etc. This means actively seeking to understand and uplift the needs and perspectives of underrecognized groups, whether it's in planning events, developing policies, or simply engaging in everyday conversations. By creating spaces where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued, I hope to cultivate an environment where individuals can thrive and contribute to the community authentically. I find it important to examine the current policies and procedures currently in place in higher education and challenge what, or whom, these policies are meant to serve. As UCSC begins to hold titles such as an HSI serving institution, it’s important to ensure that the policies and programming are serving students in these identities. Additionally, I hold value in being a perpetual student. I appreciate and take advantage of opportunities where I can continue learning and deepening my understanding of diversity perspectives and practices. This could be by attending diversity trainings and certifications and ultimately being open to feedback and opportunities to grow in this area as well.

What do you value about working at UC Santa Cruz and in particular, the psychology department?

I really value the content that is being taught and focused on in psychology courses, and especially the research being conducted in the department. I recall being an undergraduate student and taking UCSC psychology courses, and for the first time, seeing my identity and experiences being discussed and valued in educational spaces. As a Hispanic and first-generation woman, much of my adolescent experiences in education ignored these identities. At UCSC, and specifically the psychology department, I quickly recognized that the inclusion of marginalized communities was the focus of many psychology courses and the research being done in the department. I find so much value being in a community that fosters these ideas and is committed to social issues and culturally sensitive approaches to teaching and research. I greatly value supporting graduate students and faculty who are dedicating their time and efforts to advancing cultural understanding and addressing social issues through their research.

Additionally, my experience as a staff member within the department has been enriched by a culture of flexibility and understanding. There's a genuine recognition that many staff hold multiple responsibilities outside of work. This understanding fosters a healthy work-life balance, crucial for avoiding burnout, staying motivated, and feeling valued as a staff member. I appreciate the department's commitment to ensuring that staff needs are heard and addressed, demonstrating a true investment in our well-being and success.

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

Sustaining DEI-related work requires ongoing commitment and collaboration from all levels of the department and campus. One way to support this effort is by providing resources and support for DEI initiatives, such as funding for diversity programming and training opportunities for staff. The campus has not offered the Diversity & Inclusion certification programming available to staff since before the onset of the pandemic. This is one of the few educational opportunities where staff were able to commit their time to learning and strengthening their approaches to topics related to DEI. It’s helpful when the campus and the department recognizes these resources as vital for the development of staff which in turn, benefits student success. It's also crucial to work in a department where participation in DEI training is valued, ensuring that staff can fully engage in DEI efforts without having to manage additional responsibilities on top of their full workload. This ultimately contributes to the sustainability of our DEI-related work. Additionally, it would be beneficial for our department to demonstrate a commitment to examining our programmatic practices to better support the current needs of all students, particularly addressing the calls for more support around sharing resources, milestones, and mentoring for graduate students.

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?

I recommend taking a proactive approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by educating oneself on relevant issues and actively supporting marginalized communities. This can involve attending workshops, participating in diversity-focused events, and advocating for inclusive policies. Additionally, remaining open to ideas and feedback is crucial. DEI work requires ongoing commitment and perseverance, both individually and as a community. Start by connecting with individuals involved in DEI work, learn from their experience and how they got involved, and gradually getting involved in initiatives aligned with your goals.

Prior Spotlights

photo of Professor Danny Rahal

Danny Rahal

Tell us about yourself.

I'm an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department and an affiliate of the interdisciplinary Global Public Health Program. I studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in psychology and biochemistry for my undergraduate degree. I was interested in medicine until I learned about public health as a field and the potential for conducting research that can effect change at the structural level rather than at the individual level. When I interned with a community development nonprofit, I realized that I was primarily interested in the ways that social identities and social interactions in daily life can get under the skin to impact people's health. I became interested in these processes during adolescence, a period when youth are especially sensitive to social experiences and developing their social identities. I volunteered in a lab with Vanessa Volpe, who encouraged me to pursue a PhD, and then I pursued training in development and health psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles under the mentorship of Drs. Andrew Fuligni and Theodore Robles. I completed my postdoctoral training at The Pennsylvania State University to gain experience studying substance use and prevention science. My lab is now focused on using psychobiological measures to characterize how differences in stress and stress responses can contribute to health disparities during adolescence and young adulthood, as well as the ways to protect against poorer health. I'm interested in characterizing varied types of daily stressors and cultural assets, with a growing interest in how civic engagement can serve as both a stressor and a protective factor for varied individuals.

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

At UCLA I led a popular psychology blog called Psychology in Action, for which the graduate students wrote blogs that were intended to be jargon-free so that they could be understood by a wide audience. I've been able to use some of these blogs as a resource for understanding material in my courses. I also led outreach events to teach students at local high schools about psychology, explaining my own experiences with financial aid so that students are not discouraged about financial barriers. In my research, I strive to recruit diverse samples in order to promote generalizability of findings regarding stress and health and to address research questions that may be most relevant to these groups. My research program centers on the impact of social status on stress responses and daily experiences among diverse populations, accounting for stressors unique to each population. I consider it a responsibility for faculty across all areas of their work to reduce barriers to science and higher education, as these efforts will create greater representation and diversity in psychologicalscience and thereby promote a more equitable society.

What made you choose UC Santa Cruz and in particular, the UCSC psychology department?

This position was particularly compelling to me because of the affiliation with Global Community Health. Public health (with the understanding that local and global health are inevitably intertwined) enabled me to discover psychology, and I am excited to be able to bring these two fields together for undergraduate students. I also appreciate the developmental area's commitment to social issues and culturally sensitive approaches to research. Several faculty share a common interest in the lived experiences of youth, which I consider central to my research. I think developmental psychology as a field is reckoning with how to thoughtfully address racial and ethnic differences, and I felt that my research and consideration of diversity would be appreciated here. In addition to this department, California more generally provides a place where I can feel safe in both my research and my personal life. It's important to acknowledge that more recently we are seeing increasing limitations on the types of research that people can safely conduct in specific parts of the country, with people often unable to safely conduct research in the areas that are most in need.

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

Psychobiological work can be challenging because it often involves procedures that are intimidating for youth, large specialized teams for collection and analysis of data, and large infrastructure for storing samples. On-site facilities for storing and handling samples can ease this process, as can resources that allow us to reach out to distant communities for whom this research might be most relevant. People often view psychobiology and subjective or qualitative assessments as incongruent because of narratives that psychobiology can assess more objective or concrete aspects of health or lived experience. I think that this false dichotomy ignores the advantages and limitations to each approach and causes people to silo themselves and limit their own capacity for collaboration and research. Being open-minded about learning diverse approaches beyond their field's norms and challenging false conventions can promote a more unified and enriching research environment.

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?

I entered research because I felt that findings that I was learning in class didn't represent my lived experience, and I noticed that immigrant and Arab populations were often excluded from research. I encourage trainees to question whether they might expect study findings to generalize to other populations and to think deeply about how mechanisms could shift due to cultural and societal differences in how groups are treated. I'm often asked how people can appropriately include sociodemographic variables in their analysis, with people citing guidelines about how these variables should always be treated (e.g., effect vs dummy coding). People should thoughtfully consider these variables with the care they consider any other variables in their analysis, rather than looking for a one-size-fits-all approach for addressing these constructs in their research. There is a long debate about whether having a diverse sample necessitates examining differences across groups, and I challenge individuals when they are designing their own studies or reviewing other work to carefully consider why these differences might emerge. Finally, people should deeply consider whether a variable they are studying is tapping into the pathway that they intend--that is, if interested in cultural differences, measuring specific facets of cultural values so that the rich heterogeneity of levels within an ethnic group can be properly assessed. 


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.