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USU Professor to Lead the National Latina/o Psychological Association

Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015


USU psychology professor Dr. Melanie Domenech Rodríguez during her TEDxUSU talk

Dr. Melanie Domenech Rodríguez from her recent TEDxUSU talk. She is the president elect for the National Latina/o Psychological Association.


In January 2015, the National Latina/o Psychological Association (NLPA) gets a new president elect, and Melanie Domenech Rodríguez steps into a role that seems like a custom fit.

“These contributions to policy are very real to me,” she said of the association’s work. NLPA has focused on issues like immigration and making sure that the profession of psychology is practiced in a way that works not only for the white middle class, but for everybody.

Domenech Rodríguez is a professor in Utah State University’s Psychology Department, and an advocate for diversity. The NLPA’s mission is to advance Latino psychology and Latino psychologists.

The more diverse the student body, professors and professionals in the field, the more diverse the perspective, she said.

“You in essence transform psychology itself. … When we’re talking about behavior, we’re not just talking about the behavior of middle class European Americans,” she said.

But even Latino psychologists who have completed their education and gone into practice can feel like a small minority in the larger community of psychologists.

“Right now there is a big focus in the organization on training and support and mentorship,” Domenech Rodríguez said. “We try to make sure that we bring people together for developing and sustaining a network of support.”

Domenech Rodríguez has been personally involved in a movement to reexamine the American Psychological Association’s code of ethics to ensure it’s not a Euro-centric set of standards.

Another issue foremost on the NLPA’s agenda is the support of immigrants: Documented, undocumented, first generation, “dreamers,” second generation and beyond.

Domenech Rodríguez will bring personal experiences on the USU campus to the table when it is her turn to be involved in NLPA policy activities for immigration. She remembers one graduate student who needed to go to an academic conference, but when Domenech Rodríguez spoke to her about flying there, the conversation changed.

“She sat there and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t fly. I do not have the documentation to fly.’”

It hurt.

“We have a bright, capable, engaged, absolutely fantastic student doing everything she has been mentored to do,” Domenech Rodríguez said.

But that student could not fly. Instead she drove the 1,200 miles.

Nationally, immigrants face some real mental health challenges. Often circumstances in the country of origin were stressful to begin with -- which spurred the decision to leave.

The process of coming to the United States is often traumatizing as well.

“If they haven’t experienced it before leaving their country they experience it in transit,” Domenech Rodríguez said.

Women and children are sometimes sexually traumatized, men are sometimes beaten, people are put in humiliating situations because the perpetrators can act without fear of reprisal.

“All of those experiences kind of corrode people’s trust in humanity,” Domenech Rodríguez said.

And they’re often followed by poverty, discrimination and all the awkwardness of adjusting to a new culture.

These are the psychological issues the association wants to address.

“I think we’re on a really good track and I want to move the torch forward,” Domenech Rodríguez said.

Her term begins in January when she serves as president elect. She will begin a term as president in 2016.

Related links:

Contact: Melanie Domenech Rodríguez, melanie.domenech@usu.edu

Writer:  JoLynne Lyon, 435-797-1463





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