27– Support within cultural context with, Dr. Melanie Domenech Rodríguez

July 20, 2020 Utah State University Office of Research Episode 27
27– Support within cultural context with, Dr. Melanie Domenech Rodríguez
Mental health and diversity
The incubator of superheroes
Social constructs
A delicious bonding experience
27– Support within cultural context with, Dr. Melanie Domenech Rodríguez
Jul 20, 2020 Episode 27
Utah State University Office of Research

The conversation surrounding mental health across the globe is only beginning as more and more leaders are addressing this topic. In this episode of Instead, Wyatt sits down with USU psychologist Melanie Domenech Rodriguez. The two discuss the mental health conversation going on in minority communities, navigating assimilation, and different ways to bring people together.

Bread Technique

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The conversation surrounding mental health across the globe is only beginning as more and more leaders are addressing this topic. In this episode of Instead, Wyatt sits down with USU psychologist Melanie Domenech Rodriguez. The two discuss the mental health conversation going on in minority communities, navigating assimilation, and different ways to bring people together.

Bread Technique

Wyatt : [00:00:00] If you've taken up bread making during this pandemic, I hope it's been delicious because I love bread, but you might want your homemade bread to be a bit fluffier and stay fresh a few days longer. Well, there's actually an Asian cooking technique that might be able to help you. It's called tongue Jong or Yukon a and essentially what you do is you make some water and flour together and heat that to 140 degrees.

And you'll come up with this gross gloopy paste. If you put that paste in your recipe, it will help your dough and your bread hold onto moisture. So your lows will bake up fluffier and they won't dry out as quickly. There's a link in the description to a YouTube video that will explain this better. This episode, isn't about bread.

It's about what we can learn from other cultures and how we can work together to make things that. Help people. In this episode, I talked to a psychology researcher and professor Dr. Melanie Dominic Rodriguez. It's all about being comfortable with what's imperfect talking to people, making mistakes and appreciating your roots.

My name is Wyatt, and you could be AB sitting your sourdough starter, but you are listening to this instead.

Real quick. If you liked this episode, you will love episode 14 with Dr. Brianne Litz. It's about grading, awesome educational experiences. Also, if you could do me a favor and leave instead, a positive review and text a friend about instead,   

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:01:33] Hello I’m Melanie Domenech-Rodriguez and I'm a professor in the department of psychology at Utah state.

I'm also really proud to be the chair of the institutional review board for the protection of human subjects in research. 

Wyatt : [00:01:46] Okay, let's jump into the conversation. Describe what your role is at USU as a researcher, because I did a little bit of looking, um, and it's like really hard to distill you into one thing.

So I'm going to make you do that for me. 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:02:01] You know, probably the distilling factor in, in what I do is a real passion for advancing social justice broadly. Um, and one of the ways in which I do that with. Absolute passion and vigor is in mentoring. And so my doctoral students come into the program and oftentimes I try to find things that they are really passionate about within the broad arena of advancing social justice.

So for one student that might be culturally adapting, a parenting intervention for Spanish speaking, Latino families, things that shine a light. On specific inequities, whether they are in health or in education or broadly, socially, um, address those inequities in a meaningful way, thus advancing our scholarship in psychology.

So that probably is what brings me together as a whole scholar is, is really trying to fill in gaps in the literature and. And mentoring to me is a profoundly subversive act in the sense that I'm preparing the future workforce of psychology. And I make it a point to mentor students that are ethnically and culturally diverse so that our workforce is ethnically and culturally diverse so that we don't have more cracks moving forward.

Wyatt : [00:03:27] Like. At least from my perspective, one of the benefits of diversity is if there was some process in the mental health, health field that worked with, um, people who were way raised in like a white community in the United States, but only kind of worked and it didn't super work well, and it didn't work in a Latin X community.

Um, the solution like. They have to find the solution and we can benefit from that way. So tell me a little bit about the ways that things have changed and what anybody can learn from the adoptations that have been made to people in other cultures when it comes to the mental health field. 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:04:06] I think you're tapping into something.

When I started doing translation work really, really early on, I was a Spanish speaking graduate student. This, this was 20, 25 years ago. There weren't very many of us, I was getting phone calls from people to translate instruments. And because I was a scientist, I, I knew I had an awareness. I'm not. Trained as a translator, I'm not trained as an interpreter.

Those are two different things I have since learned. Um, how do people do translation work? How do you do this work? Well, because it is part of what I'm passionate about. So regardless of whether your request was appropriate or not, I'm going to figure out a way to make something good out of this. Um, and so.

I in, in learning about that, I learned about the concept of de-centering, which is a really key concept. And so when you have in translation, when you have an item, like the classic item for the example of this phenomenon is I feel blue. So this is an item you would have another depression scale. When you try to translate that into Spanish, it says.

so I feel like the color blue, it doesn't have any meaning whatsoever. So what you have to do is say, okay, the meaning of this is I'm feeling blue in the cultural context means I'm sort of down and I'm down and out. How do we create an item? That can capture that meaning. And the decentering is when you take them that translated item and you back translate it into the original item and you may find that it actually works to measure the construct.

So then you can drop an item that is sort of very culturally specific and make the, the questionnaire itself be more relevant to more people across cultural contexts just by. Bite language, uh, that also happens at the level of an intervention, right? So when you have, when you make cultural adaptations, one of the things that we did in the evidence-based parenting intervention that I work with is we had an exercise where people needed to do tracking behaviors.

And when I was running the randomized control trial here in Logan, I realized in order for families to have success with that exercise, I needed to break it down into smaller steps, that action of breaking down the homework assignment into smaller steps so that it was more manageable for the families that I was working with was completely consistent with the tenants of the evidence-based parenting intervention.

Right. You set up goals, you break them down into small achievable steps, and then you. Work on them. And so when I did that with the homework assignment, I took that back to the treatment developer, my mentor, and said, Hey, we did this. Does it look okay? You know, you consult with your colleagues. And now actually my understanding is that that exercise is, has been translated into English and is, is sometimes used, especially with lower income English speaking families.

You can use it because it's breaking down the bigger assignment into a smaller step. 

Wyatt : [00:07:15] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And it makes me think of, I did a episode with Brianne lit she's in ITLs and we were talking about like learning tools and the best way to like give instructions and the best way to structure a class.

And like I have add. And so I, I struggled in one of my courses. I did bad on like all the assignments and all the assignments were completely different. Um, and when I read her feedback, I saw what I did wrong, but I also saw what was wrong and in this professor's instructions. And so I rewrote the instructions and sent them with my updated assignments that I've made the changes on.

And I don't know how she responded to that, but I did pass the class and I like. It was like, these are like, I think I'd be happy to have, like students have better instructions so that they can produce better work, you know? And I think everybody struggled. In her class, but I struggled the most, but because I struggled the most, I was able to come up with the best solution maybe.

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:08:15] Um, yeah, it's actually, so that's a beautiful example. If that had been you in one of my classes, I would have plucked you and brought you into my lab because that is, that's actually the kind of diversity of thought and experience that I'm looking for. You noted something that I couldn't see. Right. And so when you think about cultural competence and being.

Culturally competent to work with people across different dimensions of identity. We bring to the table. I'm a cultural being. You're a cultural being I bring to the table the best that I can with what I have. And I've prepared to try to have as broad a vision as possible, but ultimately I'm going to have blinders.

Um, it it's impossible not to. And you, your ability to help me see something that I couldn't otherwise see is something that to me, would be Val valuable to bring to our team so that we could all grow and expand our ability to work successfully across groups. So that actually is a, is a really beautiful example.

And it had, it happened in my class. I would have like, I would have just grabbed you and two are meant to do so you're probably happy not to have them. 

Wyatt : [00:09:27] Um, 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:09:28] uh, 

Wyatt : [00:09:30] how does perceptions and approaches to mental health change across 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:09:35] cultures? Yeah. So I'm going to run with, run with what you said before, because it really goes to the heart of a lot of what I care about in the work that I do, your, your experience.

As a person with a diagnosable illness. Right. And I'm doing this air 

Wyatt : [00:09:57] quotes. Oh yeah. Big air quotes. I have spent so much time trying to find the right words for it. So to me, 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:10:03] to me, what you have is an expression of neuro-typical diversity, right? So I am what would be considered super neuro-typical in fact, sort of an exaggerated version of it.

I can sit. For eight, 10, 12 hours doing one activity, be absolutely InFocus and get a bunch of work done and forget to eat, go to the bathroom, call my mother, whatever. So it is hard for me to understand the experience of somebody whose behavior may be perfectly normal and functional, but that is, has a very different expression from mine.

Right. And so. A lot of the ways I, I have a very hard time using the DSM when I'm working with families, because I tend to think of always the hypothesis. Is this pathology, or is this a diverse expression of the normal variety of human behavior? And if it's a lot of our pathology has grown from a set group of people, That had notions about what typical human behavior was and then in post that onto somebody else.

Right. If I am the person that writes the DSM and I say, sitting for 10 hours straight is normal. Anybody that doesn't do that is therefore pathological I'm exercising my power and privilege to determine normalcy. It is at the very foundation of health inequities, academic disparities, and all sorts of social disparities is a set group of people determining what is normal.

And so when I work with families across cultural groups, and when I work in ethnically and culturally diverse teams, I have the ability to expand my notions about what is normal human diversity and how can you work with that? Um, and so then. When I go and do my work, I do it in a way that reflects those, that variety of experiences.

So for example, I don't use only surveys. I use hopes, surveys, I use behavioral observations. I use third-party reports, and then you try, angulate all of that information as you're trying to understand what is it that I'm looking at here? Um, so I, I really, I really love your example and I think. I think there are folks that feel, we internalize a lot of those social messages, right?

And so I work with students of color, um, and oftentimes it is not rare for a student to come in and feel under-prepared and somehow missing or lacking because they don't see the world the same way their peers do. And I'm on a one-woman mission to say, no, that is exactly what you're here for. That is what you bring.

That's actually your super power. It's not a deficit. It's what you bring to the table, um, that I value. And then I believe our field should value. And so to the degree that I can grow those humans and put them out in the world, the field can be transformed and how we understand psycho pathology. And our role as psychologists and our role in developing treatments and to what end, if we can do that in a way that, that humanizes people in their experience.

I think we're doing a really great thing. 

Wyatt : [00:13:28] Yeah. Yeah. It kind of, I guess, like I would want to call you like you like, or the incubator of superheroes, I guess there's maybe I could, if I had to distill you've now, I think that's what I would say. Um, Unless you hate it. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. It took you a second. I was like, Oh no, maybe not.

Um, I like it. Yeah. Uh, tell me about the Padres.  I'm sorry. I don't know how to say that project. Um, why did you get started in that? 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:14:02] So  was a very special project. Um, It's a prevention sample. I have worked with headstart families since my first year in graduate school, and I have a very special place in 

Wyatt : [00:14:15] my heart headstart families.

I don't know what that means. 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:14:19] Families that participated in the headstart program. It's a preschool program for children in a low-income or marginalized communities to have. Uh, preparation to enter the K through 12 system. And it's where I began my work with, with Latino families was in headstart out in Fort Collins, Colorado, and I fell in love with the program.

Uh, and so we developed a parenting intervention program based on the evidence-based program that I utilize, which is generation PMT. Oh. And it was targeting. Low-income Latino families and headstart in Oregon. And we developed the program with a purpose to empower parents, to be their children's best teachers.

And so. Parents would report that they, for example, teaching their children how to read the first lesson is all about teaching your child, how to read. You don't know, you don't need to know how to read in order to teach your child to read. Because at that age, it turns out conversational skills are very important and even reading a book without words, but getting the child to learn how to narrate what they're seeing is a.

It's a pre-reading skill. 

Wyatt : [00:15:43] It's like a primer for like linear thought. Maybe, you know, like beginning, middle end. Not like form of thinking maybe. Okay. 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:15:56] Yeah. And it's, it's also, so it's being able to narrate a story that makes sense in a sort of linear way, but it's also picking up vocabulary and it's. And it's picking up richness in description, the cat.

Well, the cat is white and it's fluffy and it's fat. And so you, you are stimulating a lot of language 

Wyatt : [00:16:16] development. So as, so the parents, like maybe they have a book and they can't read the words, but they're describing what's happening in the pictures. Yes. Okay, cool. 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:16:25] So what we did was we developed. We actually develop the intervention from scratch and we develop these really cool videos that parents could look at that we're modeling for parents how to do these things such as like here's a book and it has no words, or it has words, but the person reading them as I'm following them.

And how do you, um, read with your child in this particular manner and what does it do when you do that? And so. We developed a set of very specific skills for parents to have that included the, the reading preparation, but also, you know, skills building and monitoring and effective discipline. Um, all of them building on, on what we know of evidence-based parenting practices that we know lead to good child outcomes.

Uh, and we packaged it for, it was in, it was a fully bilingual program. So the manual, when you open, it has a Spanish on one side and English on the other. And so the teachers. It, regardless of their bilingual ability, they had access to both scripts and they could use the materials to work with families in Spanish or English.


Wyatt : [00:17:41] And so while you were doing that, did you learn anything that changed the way you look at stuff? 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:17:49] You know, though the community-based projects always do and it's never. It's just something I've heard of. The things that I think of. Um, you know, the community that we worked with in Oregon was a pretty tight knit community.

And I think I learned more about sort of community organization and community ties and the importance of working from the grassroots with communities to really have an impact. So I think. You know, we pass psychologists, we learn how to package these evidence-based interventions. And I know how to do that.

I can sit in my office and I can put a book together, but we don't learn to get sort of down and dirty in terms of talking with people. And what is it about this that works for you? What doesn't work? What do you like? What don't you like? Um, that, those sort of. Focus group methodology, or even just hanging out in the community and talking to people even more informally.

That was not something that I learned in my, in my formal training as a psychologist. And oftentimes it's not even knowledge that is highly valued, but it's knowledge that is incredibly powerful. And I think it did make the intervention stronger for us to work within communities. And working in groups.

And so, you know, instead of delivering that intervention individually, we held groups and at the end of the groups, there was this huge graduation and it was beautiful to see how families would help prepare foods. And like everybody would bring something and they were super excited to get, like some parents were actually had tears in their eyes as they were receiving their, their graduation diplomas because.

Because it was meaningful to them. They had worked hard on something that they cared about and it was meaningful to them to complete it, to do it well. And 

Wyatt : [00:19:44] so when your involvement with the community allowed you to create a program that not only worked, but that they would use is that, and I guess that kind of makes me think of.

Oh, I think maybe it was an India or somewhere, but like they were using wood burning stoves inside the house and it wasn't ventilated and it's just bad for your health. And so some charity went in and provided the stoves that, um, were like vented, um, and made it easier to cook, except for the fact that it required smaller pieces of wood.

And. They just assumed that like, Oh yeah, they can just chop some more wood, but that's man's work. And the men were busy working and so the women never used the stove because they couldn't get what into it. And so I guess like your. You being in the community allows you to like, figure out like, okay, if we're going to give you a stove, what kind of stove do you need?

And if we're going to give you an intervention, what does that look like? 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:20:41] I have this big old grin because that work that you're referencing is based on, uh, Everett Rogers, diffusion of innovations work and that he has tracked and. You know, many, many people now do this work, you know? 

Wyatt : [00:20:55] Ha I'm happy you can provide a citation for me.

Cause I was just pulling it out of my head. So thank 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:20:59] you for that. Happy. I have the book of my officers. I don't know. I think it's fourth edition at this point, but, but. Everett Rogers talks about how our innovations, uh, spread into a community. Right? And you have all of these examples of things that were, that were tragic fails.

And then you have examples of things that, that were the community transformed the, the innovation itself, right? So maybe that wood stove became. I don't know the place where people wash their clothes because it worked for that. And I believe he termed that reinvention. So in the process of trying to bring an innovation to a community, the community members might reinvent the purpose of that artifact to fit whatever needs they have, that model of diffusion of innovations.

It's actually central to my model of cultural adaptations. And so that notion and that there is an openness to learn from the community, what learn, what works from them. It's actually fully embedded so that as we, and it's why we use the focus groups, because the process of cultural adaptation was basically.

Going to the community and saying, what do you need? What do you want? Here are some things that we know they map on to things that we know you care about. If you're at head start, you care about your child's early academic development, right? So we know you care about these things. What does this look like to you?

What do you like about this? What works and what doesn't work. And, and that is very much informed the whole process of development of the intervention. So that's a really cool connection that you made. 

Wyatt : [00:22:37] Cool. Thank you. Um, so you've also, ethics has been a part of your research. Um, can you tell me how it's.

I guess how it's threaded 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:22:46] throughout. What you do I think is, is fundamentally connected to everything that I do. And the reason for that is when you think about cultural adaptations and the need, the responsibility to address health inequities is a fundamentally ethical motivation on my part. And so I, I feel like I have a responsibility with my preparation and training, which was largely, largely subsidized by society.

Right. Um, through my undergraduate and graduate education, I have a responsibility to give back. So where can I give back where it's most needed? And so, you know, if you go look at the Belmont report, justice is one of the three core principles that looks at. Are all people going to have access to the benefits of this work.

And so a lot of what I've done is. Try to make the benefits of psychology accessible to folks that where it hasn't traditionally been accessible. So a lot of my motivations are fundamentally ethical in the sense of, do we have justice? Is this work available to folks? Um, are we respecting people in the process?

I remember early on. Respect for person that respect for autonomy, you know, the notion of informed consent. And so we have these informed consent forms that sometimes are four pages long, especially if you're doing intervention research, it gets really prickly. And I remember at the time I think I was an IRB member or maybe that's why I became an IRB member.

I can't remember now. And I worked with the director of the office and I said, I, I really concerned that I'm working with low income. Non-native speakers of English. I can translate this form, but my folks have a second, third, fourth, fifth grade education. This form has a lot of CYA. And I want to make sure that I'm getting their consent.

I want to make sure that they know what they're getting into in, in, uh, in words and in a format that is really gonna make sense. And I worked with the IRB at the time. To create a one page really simple form. And what we discussed was that I would read the form. So then it was short enough that I could read it and it would be understood and pause at different points in time to check in on a person's knowledge about what I was just saying.

And so that resulted in a consent process that took 15 to 20 minutes per person, but where I felt like, okay, people really know what it is that they're signing up for. They know what it is that is about to happen. And that is okay with them. Um, that was important to me because I needed to be able to communicate that I wasn't coming into a community.

I am part of this community. And I want to treat you with the same respect that you would treat me and that we would both treat our other neighbors. Right. We are colaborate owners in this research enterprise. These are the things that I bring and you are allowing me the opportunity to learn something that I'm interested in learning.

So I need to treat you with the deference required of the person that's facilitating my learning. Does that make sense? 

Wyatt : [00:26:03] Yeah, it makes sense. And I just want to make a note in my notes to like bundle up that little chunk and send it off to all my software development friends. So. You mentioned ethnicity and culture.

And I think that we often use the term, um, ethnicity, race, and culture interchangeably. What is the difference between those words to you or to 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:26:28] research? Yeah, that's a big question. And so race, ethnicity, and culture are, are related but different. Um, let me grab race and ethnicity first, because those are the ones that sort of.

Co-exist and the closest space, they're both social constructs and race has traditionally referred to a descent that is marked by some phenotypic characteristics. And so African-American. Or black American white American American, Indian, or native American, depending on the preference of the person for that umbrella terminology, those tend to be considered racial groups, literally connected to phenotype.

Right. And so, and if necessity is a broader construct that has to do with the context in which you grew up in. And so, you know, you could have Italian American heritage and follow a lot of those traditions. And so you're F you might have an ethnicity that you. That you identify as Italian American. Um, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico to a mom that was a Cuban refugee.

So I have a lot of Cuban in me and I have, obviously I grew up in Puerto Rico, so a lot of Puerto Rican in me. So when I think about my ethnicity, I, I use the label Latina, but if I'm having a conversation with other Latinos, I talk about my Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage. Um, and. Culture of course is connected to that.

So as we put them in a culture or the Lifeways that we learned that are transmitted from one generation to the next, that inform our values or beliefs in our practices. So what I eat, what music I listen to, who I hang out with, what language do I speak? Um, what do I do when a person dies? You know, what kind of rituals is that met with?

What kind of beliefs do I hold about what it means to die and what happens next? You know, and I could go on and on, but basically values, beliefs and practices that are informed by an upbringing that's connected to an intergenerational transmission of these values, beliefs and practices. So all of these things are connected.

What's really interesting. And what I love about the question that you asked is that oftentimes we measure race. Or ethnicity if we're really with it, we'll measure both, but we often neglect to men to measure culture. So variables like a culturation or a culture of stress measurements that I can't even name because they don't exist.

That capture what your beliefs, values and practices are that are connected to your cultural group that oftentimes we don't measure. So we wind up with a body of research that, that we're. Specific articles that you're reading in the literature will say there was a difference between Latino parents and white parents on their involvement in education.

Therefore there's a cultural difference. We don't know that because we did a measure culture. And one of the fun things actually is on the other end. Now, one of my former students who just graduated actually looked at measures of parental beliefs and teaching and educational exchanges and communication and parenting practices and saw that there are systematic differences between Latino and white parents.

Right. That then might actually actually show up in how they involve themselves in the classroom with their children's education. And that those practices may be different. The literature would tell you they're deficient. So. You know, there goes another one of my superheroes out to change the world. I hope.

Um, but these things are very, they're very connected, but they're different. And they matter in our science because a lot of times we bundle race and ethnicity with culture, and we say things that are, we say things that are, are a result of culture when they're not because we never measured it. What we measured was race or ethnicity.

Wyatt : [00:30:49] Yeah. How do you feel about, like, I feel like there's probably a 10 attention for people when they're in a new place between like, The advantages of assimilating and preserving their culture. I feel like there's a lot of tension in those situations. Like how much should you adapt to being in a different cultures, like space and how much should you try to help them adapt to you?

You know, like what is the balance? 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:31:17] Yeah, I, you know, this is, this is a question in which my answer also reflects my fundamental. Kind of connection to ethics. I would never want an individual to do something that crosses the boundaries of their dignity or sense of safety, or, you know, I don't want somebody to compromise their integrity because they are being, you know, so flexible that they're taking everything in.


Wyatt : [00:31:48] they're not themselves 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:31:49] anymore. Right. So the, you know, I think that the tension, I think of the tension as a balance more, and there's, there's tension inherent in, in trying to maintain a balance. You know, if you imagine yourself on a Seesaw, right. And you have one leg on this side, on the other leg on the other side, and you're sort of shifting your balance depending on where you're at, so that you can stay standing on it.

Um, that might be a metaphor for what I would call by culturalism. And I always. Target and value. Multiculturalism biculturalism is wonderful. If you can add more legs and more balances, then all the better. I think we're stronger for having. More exposure to more groups and the ability to navigate those differences elegantly and in keeping with our integrity.

Right. So for students, when I'm working with students, I think I aim for bi-cultural development and students really vary. So actually, if a student is coming in and, and just going for adaptation, 

Wyatt : [00:32:56] I might, I might better shot in a simulation. It's less star Trek, Porky. Sorry. Well, 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:33:01] and both are in the literature.

I think the word assimilation in the literature has this negative connotation. But if you have a student, you know, that's sort of immediately adapting and yes, let's go ahead and speak English and let's go ahead and do everything the way everybody else does it here. And we're just going to do it that way.

I tend to push back because I'm interested in developing professionals. Right. And so I'm going to try to build yourself awareness regardless of where you're at. And I might say, boy, that's excellent flexibility. Like, are you giving anything up? Do you miss anything? Tell me about your process of sort of moving in that direction.

And I'll do check-ins to, to make sure that nobody's integrity is compromised or their sense of selfhood that it's, that it's done in the spirit of exploration, rather in the spirit of assimilation, I suppose. Yeah. And on the other side, you know, there are folks who. We'll say, well, this is who I am, and this is where I come from, and this is my culture and I'm not going to move on any of it.

And so this, this system is just broken. Um, there's probably going to be a lot of that that I'm going to agree with. And then we need to talk about you're here. How do we work? From where we're at to move into direction of your values and your goals. Um, what are things that, that you can do to navigate the different context successfully?

And so it's not necessarily that the system isn't broken, but how do you communicate that in a way that there could be growth and movement in the direction of, uh, fixing a system that is broken? Um, so regardless of where people are at. I think I I'm, I'm always just trying to push to develop self-awareness and skills in, in both maintaining your cultural of origin and your connection to your roots, because there's a lot of resilience.

There and also developing skills to successfully navigate these systems that may be, 

Wyatt : [00:35:08] yeah, yeah. Yeah. So diversity is like, it's definitely a good thing and I believe in it, but there can also be some challenges there, um, because you have. You are coming from different places. And so your cultural communication shortcuts that you've developed in the scripts that you use and your expectations for how other people respond to things, are they don't work or maybe not that they don't work, but you don't have the right toolbox yet.

If you're dropped into a situation like that, how do you keep things going or make sure that everything stays healthy within like your group of students that you work with? 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:35:46] Yeah, that's a really good question. And as it's a tough one, because you're getting at a question that is at the crux of the difference between what is diversity and what is inclusion.

So with diversity, we're looking to bring people in, you know, to be able to say 10% of our faculty or faculty of color or whatever it is that, that the organization wants to say. So you have this diversity. Uh, and we have 30 to 40%, I believe of our graduate student body, our students of color. So we, we could say we've done a great job at diversity.

I think we have done a great job of people bringing people in that come from all sorts of diverse backgrounds, international students, ethically diverse students from within the U S from different socioeconomic levels, et cetera. Now, how do you. Ensure that everybody feels included, respected, seen, and heard.

Uh, that can be really challenging. I deeply, and honestly believe that spending time together is where it's at and making mistakes. And learning how to recover from making those mistakes and being surrounded by people that are going to help support you in seeing your mistakes, but also repairing. So I I'm a big believer in contact and just hanging out together and giving each other space to see each other's humanity.

Um, explore it fully and expect. That you're going to make mistakes because all of us, regardless of our ethnic or cultural background, all of us have culture. We all have what I would call cultural programming. And if we are interacting with folks who come from a different context, we have no way of foreseeing.

Every last thing, you know, there's no way to perfectly interact. Yeah. And to the degree that you can be comfortable with imperfectly interacting, you know, from a place of love and caring and connection, be comfortable making mistakes, learn how to recover from them and help each other do that in that process.

That, that to me is the ideal situation. 

Wyatt : [00:38:08] Yeah. Like you said that spending time together is one of the things you do. And I know that's challenging now, um, because of coronavirus, but how did you do that before the pandemic? And have you found any ways to continue it? Within the pandemic. 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:38:24] Yeah, we, so one of the things that we started doing about three years ago, and it's all thanks to one of my graduate students, um, is we started having a Thanksgiving gathering at my place and I opened it up to the whole department.

And so we roast a pig in traditional Cuban style. And just get together and gather and eat the pig. And the roasting a pig takes all day. So I let people know that we're going to start roasting the pig at nine or 10 or whatever it is that we're starting to get together. Um, and folks will come and like help pick up the pig and, uh, marinaded the night before.

And then. The the morning crew shows up and they do the roasting. And whoever wants to show up during the day can do that. We play games and just hang out and talk. Some people actually do their cooking here. So they'll bring what they, what they want to cook for the meal for the evening meal. And they'll cook it here as they're hanging out.

Um, They're at your house. Sorry. They're at my house. Yeah. Yeah. Here, um, my house and we can spend half a day, an entire day together. And then in the evening, when it's time to eat a lot more people show up. There's like a, you know, the bigger crew that just wants to come for the meal and. And it sharing that, but I've had 40, 50 people here every year for the past three years just gathering for Thanksgiving and that's a way to connect.

Wyatt : [00:39:51] Yeah. And I think that like having something to do and having something to help with people get to learn how to roast a pig who have not done it before. And people get a teach how to roast a pig and I've done it before. And it's like a really. Equal footing maybe is solid suggestion. I think I might need to try to find some analogs for it.

Cause I just would cook food and invite people over and then they leave versus cooking 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:40:17] literature. Yeah. You know, there there's a lot of culture in there. And one of the things that I do is I, I like I'm a narrator. So as I see things, I just say them, I could just name them as we're going. Right. But. You could see culture at every step.

The notion that I cook people show up and I cook and my meal is prepared and then I serve it is very soaked with culture. Right. Where did you learn that? How did you learn that? Who taught 

Wyatt : [00:40:41] it to you? Yeah. And it's just kind of like, that's what you do to be respectful so that you're not taking advantage of other people's time as you show up and food is ready, um, because it's a sign of respect.

Um, and there's advantages to that, but there's also the disadvantages of the. Participation in the, our interaction is different. 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:41:01] Think about what you just said. It's beautiful, right? You basically gave me an operational definition for respect. Respect means being prepared, being timely, doing what you said you were going to do for a group of people and doing it when they show up respect for a bunch of my students means they stay till midnight doing my dishes because they're not going to leave me with a dirty house.

Yeah. And that's a respect that is very founded in more communal contexts. So the expectation is we all come to your house, you know, you're the, you're the elder, if you will, I'll use that label. So you're the elder. So we go to your house cause that's the big house. Nobody else here has a big house and we use all of these things and that's okay.

It's part of the transaction. But then what we can do is cook and clean. And so, you know, 

Wyatt : [00:41:52] my friends do cook and clean for me. I don't want to, sorry. But 

Melanie Domenech Rodriguez: [00:41:55] yes, then there's a bus. I think what is what's interesting there is that people get super hung up on labels. Mike respect. Yeah. And I will say, well, I really value respect.

And you might say, well, I really value respect to, well, of course we both do. But what that looks like to you and what it looks like to me is going to be different and how I understand your behavior is going to be in the context of my lenses. And likewise. Yeah. Right. So if shoes show up at three o'clock and the pig isn't going to be done until seven and somebody boiling Yuca, and yeah.

You know, I'm playing, but that he at the table, you might say, what is this? Which has happened like this isn't ready. Why am I even here when there's a bunch of people that like the, the respect and the, and the beauty and the interaction is in the hanging out and being together until this is done, it'll be done when it's done.

So sometimes we hang on to labels and forget that. They mean different things to different people. And, and, and that's another one of those places where you can see culture. 

Wyatt : [00:43:01] I love talking with people who can help me see my culture and show me theirs. When this pandemic is over, you can invite me over for a meal that's ready and waiting, or invite me over and I'll be happy to help you cook.

The thing is I just need to know how empty of a stomach I should show up with communication is key. This episode of instead was edited by Nick Vasquez and me Wyatt  as part of our work in the office of research at Utah state university.


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