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Latinx Heritage Month feature: Q&A with Psychology Professor Rosalie Corona, Ph.D.

Latinx Heritage Month is a celebration of the cultures, communities and contributions of all Latinx Americans that lasts between September 15 and October 15.
rosalie corona

This festivity started under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and begins mid-September in homage to the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In observation of Latinx Heritage Month at VCU, we caught up with Rosalie Corona, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychology, to share her story about her impressive career in clinical psychology and the power of community.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? What are you passionate about?

I was born and raised in the Central Valley of California where César Chávez fought for farmworkers’ rights! My parents immigrated from Mexico and both of their families settled in the Central Valley, which is where they met. I grew up surrounded by the love, guidance and support of a large familia that included my parents, two younger brothers, my grandparents and many, many tías, tíos and primos. I am who I am because of the values that my family instilled in me—values that focus on family, personal relationships and advocacy—and their unconditional and unwavering support and love. They also helped shape my advocacy by what they modeled but also what they shared about their own opinions/perceptions. We did not (and still do not) always agree, but we respect one another and know that regardless of our disagreements, we will always be there for one another. Family was and will always be important to me, which is probably why wherever I go, I try to create a family for myself.

How did you get started with clinical psychology?

I was a first-generation college student. My academic path was not easy. First, I had to convince my parents to let me leave home to attend college. They were not too keen on the idea of their only daughter leaving home. My parents will now proudly tell you that I was stubborn (I call it passionate) and that I eventually wore them down. At the age of 18, I moved into the dorms at the University of California, Irvine. That was where I faced my second challenge. I thought I was ready to be away from mi familia but I learned quickly how wrong I was. I had no idea how to navigate college and I was extremely lonely. It was hard to find people who looked like me and/or who shared similar life experiences. I was blessed when I got to know my college counselor who was also an advocate and mentor for Latinx students.

rosalie corona and members of her student lab
Corona with members of her lab at a 2016 community engagement project

In college, I was focused on making sure I graduated. I wanted to make it through! Ramon (my counselor) kept his eye on a bigger picture (i.e., getting more Latinx into the education pipeline towards advanced degrees). Ramon checked in with me frequently, and challenged me to take classes that would help me get into a graduate program. His mentoring did not solely focus on my academic life; instead, he focused on me as a whole person. We had discussions about how I was adjusting to being away from my family, finances, my family and how they were adjusting to me being away from home, and pretty much everything else going on in my life at the time. Ramon helped me graduate college and also be admitted to a graduate program in clinical psychology. When I would share with him the messages I often received from my peers (e.g., that I would be admitted into any program because I was Latinx), he helped me not internalize those messages and the resulting imposter syndrome. Ramon is an important person in my academic family—after each milestone I accomplished (e.g., receiving my Ph.D., earning tenure, being promoted to professor) I sent him an email thanking him for everything he did for me and how I was trying to pay it all forward through my own mentoring, research, teaching and service. So, that's how I got started more generally in my academic pursuits. What drew me to psychology and eventually clinical psychology was the desire to help and give back to my community and that psychology seemed to focus on many of my values—family, personal relationships, diversity and inclusion, and advocacy.

If you could give advice to a student in your discipline, what would it be?

Don't give up, create an academic familia, find a mentor advocate and trust in yourself. Sí se puede! I remind myself of this all the time.

What are the two grant-funded projects you're working on?

Currently, I'm working on a project to evaluate a culturally-based substance use prevention program for Latinx adolescents and their caregivers. We linguistically translated an evidence-based intervention and made other adaptations to make it more personable and relevant to Latinx families. Our team includes Drs. Oswaldo Moreno (VCU), Daniel Gutierrez (William & Mary), Latinx graduate and undergraduate students in the Semilla and La Esperanza labs, and our community partner, Sacred Heart Center.

What does Latinx Heritage Month mean to you?

book covers for 100 years of solitude by gabriel garcia marquez, how the garcia girls lost their accents, by julio alvarez, and the poet x by elizabeth acevedo

To me, Latinx Heritage Month is incredibly special because it is a time to celebrate our accomplishments, our culture and our history. I also like to reflect on the people who came before me in psychology and how they're work has influenced my own trajectory. Most people who know me, know I like to read in my spare time so I'll share with you some of my favorite books by Latinx authors:

  • "Bless Me, Ultima" by Rudolfo Anaya
  • "100 Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez
  • "Rain of Gold" by Victor Villaseñor
  • "The House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende
  • "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents" by Julia Alvarez
  • "The Devil's Highway and the House of Broken Angels" by Luis Alberto Urrea
  • "The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz
  • "I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter" by Erika L. Sanchez
  • "The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe" by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  • "In the Dream House" by Carmen Maria Machado

I could go on but I'll end by sharing that my next book will be Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

What does it mean to be a part of the Latinx community at VCU?

For me, being part of the Latinx community at VCU means being part of a family. I am thankful to the Latinx faculty, staff and students who are here to help celebrate, advocate for and support our community. The last few years have been incredibly special for me as I have watched the Latinx community at VCU grow. It has been amazing to see more programming focused on the Latinx community, more Latinx graduate and undergraduate students on campus, and more Latinx faculty. Belonging to this community is what helps me in everything I do. I love hearing Spanish spoken around me, I love seeing people who look like me, I love having people to talk to about what is happening to our community within VCU, the local community, and nationally. I look forward to our charlas, lunches and all the other gatherings—especially when they include food :-)

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