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Davis, California

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Counseling group Adelante Mujeres promotes cultural understanding, facilitates meaningful conversations among Chicana and Latina students

Mental health counseling for specific communities acknowledges the unique experiences of students from marginalized racial groups on campus 


By MARIA MARTINEZ CASTRO  — features@theaggie.org 


In an effort to address the diversity of experiences and identities among the student population and their complexities, UC Davis hosts group counseling services for students to have conversations about mental health in safe and supportive environments. 

According to the UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) website, group counseling services allow students to share feedback and personal experiences with peers while creating a sense of community. 

Counseling groups focus on themes such as living with anxiety, the graduate student experience and sexual assault and grief, among others. 

Within the multiple counseling groups that are offered, some solely focus on serving marginalized communities and their experiences. Due to their underrepresentation in higher education, students with marginalized identities often face a plethora of academic, financial and personal obstacles.

 As marginalized populations attempt to overcome the struggles of higher education, the process often takes a toll on their mental health.

At UC Davis, counseling groups such as the BIPOC Support Circle, Wellness Wednesday Talking Circle and Adelante Mujeres are counseling groups that address the unique experiences of marginalized students on campus. 

Adelante Mujeres is a group counseling service dedicated to providing a safe and supportive environment for students who identify as Chicana, Latina, gender fluid, gender non-conforming and two-spirit. Through the group, participating students can explore personal experiences on campus, create community and gain emotional support on topics such as navigating multiple identities, relationships and managing self-care.

Roxana Reyes, a licensed family therapist, has been working with UC Davis’s counseling services since 2010 and is the co-founder of Adelante Mujeres. 

Prior to the establishment of Adelante Mujeres, there was only one therapy group for Chicana and Latina students led by a male, Chicano facilitator, according to Reyes. This led many Chicana- and Latina-identifying students wanting a safe space where their identities and experiences were highlighted and understood.  

“We had a lot of female students [say] they wanted a group facilitated by women, for women,” Reyes said. “And so I think that the difference then was you needed to consent to therapy in order to be in the Latina group. And so we heard Latinas saying that they didn’t want to consent to therapy, but they wanted a space where they [could] remain anonymous if they wanted […] so we decided, well, let’s start something different for Latinas, by Latinas. And let’s have it as an informal drop-in support space. And so Dr. Rene Lopez and I started it then. That was probably 2011, and it just took off. It has been running every year since.”

Reyes said that support groups for marginalized communities have not always been provided at UC Davis. However, in the past years, it has become a priority for UC Davis to serve communities that are often underrepresented in counseling services. One of the actions taken was establishing the Community Advising Network (CAN), a group of diverse counselors helping students take care of their mental health. 

“We have definitely not had as many services focused on working with special populations, or marginalized populations as we do now,” Reyes said. “That is definitely unique and wonderful. And I think that it’s a result of the diversity of our staff now. So the establishment of the CAN program was actually […] out of a need to diversify staff on all the UC campuses and to reach out to students who don’t typically seek services.”

Group counseling tailored specifically for marginalized populations creates a space for cultural wealth and understanding, Reyes said. 

“Specific feedback I’ve got about Adelante Mujeres is that it is so nice to have a space that talks about culture as much as we talk about problems, like unpacking the stigma of using limpias, sage, energy work, using a curandero or going to a sweat lodge,” Reyes said. “There could be a fear of being pathologized and working with a therapist that might not understand the power of energy in your culture or […] your belief in chakra work.” 

 Marlene Velazquez, a licensed clinical social worker and behavioral health counselor at SHCS, is the facilitator for Adelante Mujeres in Spanish. Velazquez said people from marginalized communities often feel discouraged from seeking mental health services because of fear of judgment, because they do not see themselves represented in conversations about mental health or because they struggle to identify with service providers. She said that in her own undergraduate experience at UC Davis and as a Mexican-American, she often hesitated to seek mental health services. Coming back now as a behavioral health counselor, she said she hopes to break that cycle. 

“When I was a student, even though I knew I wanted to come into the field of mental health and be a counselor and whatnot, I never stepped foot into counseling services,” Velazquez said. “For the reason of feeling like no one’s going to understand my experience because the mental health field is, for the most part, seen as white therapists or for the white community. So when I saw my position, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is my time to go back and at least be a face or a person or a name that students can at least see and be like, […] I think they, they may be [able] to understand.’” 

Providing students from marginalized communities with support to make sense of who they are can allow them to thrive against the obstacles they encounter in higher education, according to Reyes.

“I think that the commonality that we have on our campus is [that] everyone’s a student, but the way our identities develop are not in sync usually,” Reyes said. “Our identities kind of go on their own journey. Some identities are salient, while others are not. And so offering groups for students who are navigating these different identities that are salient to them, I think, is super, super helpful.” 

Written by: Maria Martinez Castro — features@theaggie.org