Tag Archives: Ethnicity

Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

Finding a Cultural Identity: An Intersectional Autobiography

Guest columnist: Christian Chan, George Washington University

Writing about my own personal lived experiences is a meaningful action to extract, understand, and interpret the complex experiences of culture across my journey as a graduate student. I entered a professional journey as a graduate student in a Master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and, later, a doctoral program in Counseling with a keen interest for developing more culturally competent interventions. What I realized most is the limitations of my own worldview, as I see through my own lived experiences and navigate my interpretation of privilege and oppression.

While I knew that multiculturalism and social justice were emphases of my journey and what I hope to contribute as an emerging scholar, leader, and educator, this interest evolved more than I had ever visualized at the beginning. I began my goal of starting a doctoral program with interests in multicultural counseling and supervision; ethnic identity development and socialization; intergenerational conflict; and acculturative stress. While those constructs still capture my interests and my view of multiculturalism, it was my own personal growth that grasped a largely missing component in the counseling profession’s research and practice. For far too long, I noted throughout my graduate training that there were still missing gaps in research and practice despite the major advances and emphasis to meet the needs of diverse populations.

My passion for intersectionality grew because I could no longer just view our treatment of clients within the limitations of cultural identities as distinct silos. What is the experience of a disabled lesbian Asian American cisgender woman? The intersections of these identities continue to grow in this discussion, but they are absolutely necessary if we are to grow as helping professions and enhance our paradigm of research. My own personal lived experiences rung through the curriculum. As a second-generation bisexual Asian American male of Filipino, Chinese, and Malaysian heritage, I also realized the intersections of my other identities as an able-bodied Catholic cisgender male who grew up in a middle-class family as the child of two immigrants. I sought for more questions and answers that moved beyond how privilege, oppression, and mental health are impacted by one identity.

Through these intersections, a pivotal moment in my doctoral program taught me so much about the negotiations of my own privilege and oppression. My initial driving force to enact multiculturalism and social justice into training, curriculum, and research was my own oppressed identities as an ethnic and sexual minority. However, my colleague confronted me about my perspectives of career development and social class. I stated that individuals could utilize their experiences from each position to hopefully move to another position. My assumption, however, is that not every individual has this choice, as they encounter several barriers in career development. I certainly have choices in my life due to my own social class, which prompted a negotiation of my own privileges. As I reflect upon those moments, I recognize that I must negotiate my privileges as lifelong learning with each step of my professional journey.

This column is part of a monthly series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS CSOGD (Julia Benjamin, jzbenjam@gmail.com) or CARED (James Garcia, jjg0136@gmail.com).

Vanessa Martinez-Morales_ASU Counseling Psychology

Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

Welcome to APAGS‘s new blog column on intersecting identities! Each of us has a complex combination of personal identities, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability status, and other life statuses like parenthood. We hope through this series to give voice to those complexities. Each month a student author will share reflections on their experiences at the intersection of their many identities. Join us each month to hear new stories and insights from students across the country!

Two Chairs, One Life

Vanessa Martinez-Morales_ASU Counseling PsychologyGuest columnist: Vanessa Martinez-Morales, Arizona State University

I invite you to join me in my counseling room where I have invited myself to engage in a two-chair exercise for two of my identities; one is for the proud Mexican-Cuban first generation American and another is for the burgeoning bisexual woman. Both these women share a parallel process: my denial and acceptance throughout the years. I brought these women here today to discuss their most recent endeavor in graduate school. I sought to explore their challenges and experiences in navigating this new environment. The two are in unchartered territory; they are both strangers and family; self and others; in synchronicity and in isolation. Today they focus on one conversation and one understanding.

Mexican/Cuban: Starting graduate school I felt pressure to perform and to prove that I, and others like me, deserve these kinds of opportunities. I wondered if I was accepted for my abilities or for the marketability of a program that accepts “students of color.” I felt a weight on my shoulders to be the best “Latina psychologist” I could be. I struggled with the absence of one image of what that would look like. And I began to search for that image.

Bisexual:  I was fearful that others would find me out and cast me off as “unprofessional, confused, unstable, attention seeking, and dishonorable.” I had no worries that my presence gained me admittance into the program, but rather fear of exclusion. I thought I could easily separate myself from the graduate school experience and let you take over. After all, I believed you were who was best equipped for this sort of thing, at least out of the two of us.

Mexican/Cuban:  I felt you “shy away” and I wanted to include you but I didn’t know how. I could barely find a “Latina psychologist” to model myself after and I admit I didn’t want to complicate my search any further. So I let you have your own friends and enjoy yourself socially, and I stayed in class, attended the faculty parties with my male partner, and worked hard to establish our academic identity. I resented your freedom.

Bisexual: You thought I was free! How do you think it felt to bite my tongue anytime sexuality was discussed in class? To only share my questions with myself? To seek only this underground railroad of friendships where I could be assured safety? To feel your doubt and questioning anytime I showed even a glimpse of myself? At times I felt I needed to be free of you and your worry that we wouldn’t be seen as a “real Latina” if I joined the conversation.

Mexican/Cuban: I am sorry. My heart races when you speak but I want you to join me. We will create our own image; our reflection.

It has taken three years for the two of you to begin this conversation. I only ask for the courage to continue and the maturity to understand that reflection on our disintegration will lead to our integration.

This column is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS CSOGD (Julia Benjamin, jzbenjam@gmail.com) or CARED (James Garcia, jjg0136@gmail.com).