“I have absolutely fallen in love with teaching.”
And she’s good at it, too. One of ten Outstanding Graduate Student Instructors in 2015, Veronica excels at engaging students in the classroom. She credits her undergraduate women’s studies class with pulling her into that field – and into the classroom. “Often we have 26 people in class, and that’s a small U-M class. I want to help students have that true small classroom feel.”
A Ph.D. candidate in the joint Psychology and Women’s Studies program, Veronica has taught personality psychology, organizational psychology and intro to women’s studies and says all of them have been amazing. “Students are developing political viewpoints, and you witness them developing their thought processes and building their own political consciousness. That’s what I love about women’s studies: the goal is to learn content as well as develop a new lens though which to view the world. Women’s studies classes are a starting point and empower students to adopt an intersectional, feminist critique of the world. This really allows for more exiting assignments where students can take the course content into their lives.” she explains.
Veronica says she was always drawn towards academia, and that feeling is exacerbated now that she’s had significant teaching experience of her own. She describes, “Teaching feels like a treat. I’ve been invited to give guest lectures in big classrooms, and I work with a lot of undergraduate research assistants on campus, many who come from my classroom. The students always continue to wow me and help me develop my own research.”
Majoring in psychology at a small liberal arts college, Veronica valued interdisciplinary study but had to put those experiences together herself. She focused on Latina, Africana, and women’s studies, social justice, and diversity issues, but they were offered outside of a psychology framework. She was looking for a graduate program that pursued activism and critical conversations in those arenas but through psychological lens. She said, “Michigan was the only school that had what I wanted. I wasn’t going to apply to U-M, but I had a roommate in college who lived in Ann Arbor one summer and he said it was the best place he’d lived in his whole life. That helped convince me to apply.”
She’s impressed with the program. It is rare to find a comprehensive, institutionalized program that combines psychology and women’s studies, particularly one whose faculty has appointments in both departments. “Here, the whole department was built for that.” The interdisciplinary nature of her program was just the beginning. She describes, “I took classes in law, business, and American culture. It almost feels like a continuation of my liberal arts undergrad. This gives me so many perspectives. This approach to research makes sense to me: to focus on a single phenomenon and examine it through multiple disciplinary lenses. My advisors, Ram Mahalingam and Lilia Cortina, are very encouraging of this kind of interdisciplinary scholarship. I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
Veronica’s research focuses on the effect that harassment and discrimination in the workplace has on stress and health. She describes, “Stress and wellness are often construed as medical or neurochemical issues, but I’m concerned with how social structures of workplaces have an impact on well-being and health. I’m working with custodians on campus to identify sources of stress and how aspects of their jobs contribute to stress at work and at home. What I’m interested in is the concept of invisibility at work, which makes custodians a unique occupation to study.” She’s found a gap in the literature: “Most organizational research features managers in high-prestige occupations, but most jobs in our country are service jobs. Many of these service jobs – janitors, dishwashers, taxi drivers – have been overlooked in both research and society more broadly. I’m interested in what is it like to be chronically overlooked, ignored, and unappreciated, and how that might relate to well-being.”
Using mixed research methods, Veronica has data from 200 custodians on campus and is currently writing results to submit for publication. “Working with custodians on campus was interesting in part because there are custodial shifts every hour of the day. Different types of stress are associated with different working shifts. Further, I’m finding that there are additional sources of stress that are particular to occupations which are low in prestige and pay. You see more or less levels of disrespect for different jobs and I want to examine how people internalize those beliefs that others view their work as devalued.” she explains. “When society systematically devalues certain occupations – such as custodians – how does this disrespect affect employees within these occupations, psychologically, professionally, and financially?”
She hopes to connect activism to this issue and essentially give back to and work with stigmatized populations in the future. She says, “Students on campus don’t think of custodians; we don’t think of everything they are doing because they’re not around. Some custodians like this level of invisibility in their work, and that surprised me. I expected invisibility to be negative, but some custodians self-select overnight shifts, and they often do so for different reasons. Parents, for example, often work night shifts to balance the needs of working families. However, this points to the need for better policies to support the needs of diverse families and caretakers who work outside the home.”
A steadfast practitioner of yoga and meditation, Veronica gravitates toward mindfulness activities. She describes, “My secondary research interests include mindfulness and compassion. To understand the mind and human behavior, you have to understand the social context surrounding the mind.”
There are only around 30 students in her program, a fact that she thinks gives it a small college feel. “We have a weekly brown bag series where a different student presents their research. This is a great opportunity to keep up with my colleagues’ work, provide insight into current research trends, and get a chance to share and present my research as well.”
“I’m so beyond words here. The funding here has been the number one privilege. I’ve gotten lots of support through Rackham, IRWG, CEW, Ross, my department, and opportunities for small outside grants. When designing a research study, I was able to start with an idea and vision, and the money for the project was available. I know others at different universities don’t have that privilege, and this has actually opened up opportunities to network and conduct research with people at other universities, since I am able to offer resources to assist with data collection and analysis. All of this makes my research progress faster and allows me to work on more projects.”
In her first year as a graduate student, Veronica participated in a student group in the Program for Intergroup Relations (IGR), in an intergroup dialogue on addressing the challenges faced by queer people of color. This turned into an amazing and ongoing experience, one that resulted in a student Coalition for Queer People of Color with a few hundred active participants. Veronica lent her leadership skills to help establish the group and is proud to see the important conversations still engaged through the Coalition.
Veronica has a colorful life, literally. For fun, she hosts coloring parties. “I have a ridiculous collection of coloring books. There is a lot of research showing the therapeutic benefits of coloring. It is a really mindful activity.”