UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) has added a new community group processing space for women of color graduate students. Raise Your VOICE: Validate, Own, Impact, Create, Empower is a supportive space led by Dr. Iris Melo and held over Zoom on Wednesdays from 2:30-4 p.m.
As a recent hire of CAPS, Dr. Melo wanted to create a space that was both in demand and in an area that she has extensive familiarity with. After discussions with the CAPS leadership team, she discovered that women graduate students of color needed a processing space.
“I am also a woman of color. I went through academia myself, and I thought that it would be something close to my heart to be able to be a part of,” stated Dr. Melo in an interview with The Bottom Line (TBL), “but to provide a space for other women of color students — graduate students, specifically.”
In Melo’s personal experience, she was the only Filipina-identifying person out of her cohort of 45 people. She commented, “Walking in on the first day and seeing that nobody present is like you can definitely impact your comfort in wanting to connect and be vulnerable.”
Melo reflected on the amplified difficulties of being a woman of color in academia. She said, “A lot of questions I get asked are […] micro-aggressive like, ‘What are you? […] Are you the first to be in college? Are you an immigrant?’ These kinds of questions that have happened throughout my life, definitely came up a lot more in academia as you’re trying to prove yourself.”
Creating a space for graduate students of color is a necessity, according to Melo, because it aids in empowering students who may feel alone in their experiences. She said, “Having a support space in a community is very important; and feeling like you can do things, you can feel supported, that you’re validated, that you’re seen, that you’re heard, and that’s also why I called it Raise Your VOICE.”
“It goes into that feeling where sometimes the things that we say are not received, the way we want them to be received, depending on how people maybe prejudge women of color, that in my experience, anyway, has been the case.” said Dr. Melo, elaborating further on why graduate students need Raise Your VOICE.
Melo states that the ways that Raise Your VOICE can help students is embedded within the processing space’s acronym of VOICE: Validate, Own, Impact, Create, Empower.
“I want the participants of this group to be able to see that they have intrinsic worth, they have value, and by raising their voice in their respective programs [and] being seen is a good thing. Being seen for who they truly are and how they truly represent is a good thing.”
“Sometimes people are just unaware of the challenges that women of color go through. So by getting that confidence and feeling like you have community and getting that strength to raise your voice [and] express your needs at least in your program. I’m hoping for them to have a better experience than what I’ve had.”
Of the 32 group counseling programs offered in the spring in 2022, only four of them are exclusive to graduate students. According to the campus profile of 2020-2021, graduate students consist of about 2,983 members of UCSB’s student body, with 40 percent of individuals identifying as people of color, and 45.6 percent of individuals identifying as women.
“Graduate students have been asking for more services from CAPS,” said Dr. Janet Osimo, a member of the CAPS leadership team, told TBL. “I do think the graduate experience does have different nuances that the undergrads don’t, just in terms of family responsibility and financial impact.”
Osimo also emphasizes that the majority of CAPS’s staff are people of color, and “if there’s any students that do want to reach out, [CAPS] has clinicians who work specifically with graduate students that are people of color as well.”
UCSB women of color graduate students who wish to attend Raise Your Voice’s processing spaces, may join by filling out an interest form.
The processing space is held virtually as a drop-in group and there are no requirements or expectations for attendance. The processing space is formatted similarly to a support group, where students are encouraged, but not required to share their own personal experiences.