November 21, 2011

Creativity Interview: Dr. Monica Rosas-Baines

I’ll begin by saying: I’m the proud aunt of one niece, thus my favorite niece, Dr. Monica Rosas-Baines. Welcome to Bookjoy Creativity Salon, dear Niki! I’ve been so impressed by your work with Latinas Juntas.

1. When and why did you decide to become a psychologist?
NR: I wish I had a romantic answer, like all my life I knew that I wanted to work in mental health but truthfully, it was somewhat by accident. I started off as a biology major, thinking maybe I’d be a vet. I took Abnormal Psychology as an elective and fell in love (well that’s romantic, I suppose). I was completely intrigued by the different disorders and theories of psychopathology. I began taking more courses in psychology and eventually changed my major. I decided to become a psychologist because I enjoy studying people and helping them understand the reasons they think, feel and behave as they do. It’s extremely rewarding to help people. I’m lucky that I can say I really love my job.

2. How did Latinas Juntas begin?
L: Dr. Denna Sanchez; R: Dr. Monica Rosas-Baines
NR: My dear friend and fellow campus psychologist, Dr. Denna Sanchez, and I observed that our Latina patients reported similar cultural pressures that often made their academic journey more challenging… issues like family and gender role conflicts, lack of role models, isolation on campus and personal insecurities. These clinical observations as well as our own identification with these issues inspired us to design a program to offer support and mentorship. We know that not every Latina is interested in personal counseling so we wanted to develop a forum where we could address these issues and help them create a supportive network.

3. What have been the key challenges? The rewards?
NR: Fortunately, our campus administrators, faculty and staff are very supportive of our efforts. However, the budget for these kinds of student support events is shrinking.

I can’t say enough about the rewards. Every year I get to help create a sense of community among our Latina students and staff. Evaluations from student participants invariably include comments about how they are inspired by the faculty, Dr. Sanchez, and me. However, I’m not sure that our students are aware of how much they inspire us. Their perseverance in spite of cultural pressures and personal challenges is remarkable and it is an honor to work with them. By the end of the day, there is a palpable sense of unity, empowerment and cultural pride in the room. It’s a very special day.

4. Do you think of yourself as creative? How has your creativity and that of your colleagues strengthened this initiative?
NR: I would say that I’m creative, and my creativity is enhanced by working with a partner who is enthusiastic and creative as well. Our event is annual, so we try to make it so that students can get a different experience each year. This event has really stretched my creative muscle because we’re always thinking of new and fun activities that will inspire dialogue and sharing. It really helps to work as a team because we can bounce ideas off of each other regarding large and small group activities, guest speakers, art projects, etc.

5. Do you know of any other campuses in your area or in CA who are following your good example?
NR: Yes, in fact it was our participation as small group facilitators at the Latina Connection Conference (offered through California State University, Long Beach) that inspired us to create a similar program on our campus. I am unaware if other college campuses provide similar programming although I have provided consultation to staff members at Washington and Texas campuses that are interested in creating programs for Latinas.

6. I know you’ve always been a reader. What kind of books do you enjoy?
NR: My husband always teases me that I only like tragedies. I will admit that I am drawn to novels, particularly memoirs, about people who have survived difficult challenges, whether it’s abuse, poverty, loss, etc.

Click here to read an article about Latinas Juntas.

Attendees at the Latina Juntas conference listen as a student reads "University Avenue," a favorite poem of Niki's, written by her aunt, Pat Mora.

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