Commencement 20 Profile: Inspired by Chicanx Studies, Danny Meza focuses on the mental health of marginalized communities

Monday, June 29, 2020
Danny Meza

Danny Meza graduated with a Ph.D. with an emphasis in Counseling Psychology from the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology. Next, he will complete his post-doc fellowship at UC Berkeley’s Counseling and Psychological Services, where he completed his internship.

GGSE: What are your research interests, and why are they important to you?
Generally my interests lie within mental health for marginalized communities. I am deeply concerned about how racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination against LGBT+ communities impact the mental health of communities and have dedicated my life as a teacher, researcher, and counselor to addressing these important concerns. More specifically, my research as a graduate student addressed the importance of Chicanx Studies to the mental health of Chicanx-identified and Latinx college students. My experience with Chicanx Studies as an undergraduate was incredibly transformative, allowing me to connect with my own Chicano identity that was not supported or seen in my years of elementary, middle, and high school. Chicanx Studies allowed me to cultivate a deeper purpose in my life when I was struggling to make sense of my future while an undergraduate. 

GGSE: What's one piece of information you wish every person knew and remembered about your research?
I wish everyone knew the real answer to the questions, "Chicanx Studies? What can you do with that degree?" The truth is, you can transform your life. You can find purpose and future goals. More fundamentally, you can find acceptance for your cultural and gender identities. You can feel you belong on predominantly white and cis-gender campuses. You can develop a critical consciousness, which is incredibly necessary for a world that unfortunately has the potential to discriminate and violate humanity on the basis of identity. You can become involved in fomenting real change against the forces of discrimination. You can promote and preserve your mental health. You can use your gains in mental health to propel you to broader academic success in college, which can lead to countless other opportunities and experiences. This are just some of things I found in my research and my journey. 

GGSE: Tell us about your internship. How was it affected by COVID-19? 
I am currently on internship at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for UC Berkeley. I have never been in a more accepting and consciously challenging environment in my life. I have never been so readily welcomed by my peers and colleagues, but also challenged by the environment to be a counselor and agent of pluralistic change. My fellow interns and post-docs in counseling and social work have also transformed my life. The friendships I have made there are truly ones that remain with me forever and I am incredibly grateful for that.

COVID-19 has been incredibly challenging personally and professionally. I truly miss the face-to-face interactions I would have with students and colleagues through counseling, outreach, and collaboration. We are all doing our best to be there for our students and for each other, but we all miss being with each other. I will be staying at Berkeley CAPS for my post-doctoral fellowship, for which I am excited and grateful, but it looks like COVID-19 will continue to impact that experience as well. The current civil discord around police violence in our communities is also a moment to rethink our roles of social justice counselors, and the human and ethical imperatives to challenge silence in all dimensions. 

GGSE: What do you hope to do after earning your Ph.D.?
After earning my Ph.D., I plan to assess what teaching and counseling opportunities are available. Given how the last recession impacted employment in academics for years and how the socio-economic landscape is impacting academics right now, it seems likely that I will look for opportunities in counseling and psychotherapy. This is not a concession, however; one of my dreams has always been to run a private practice that serves BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] and LGBT+-identified folx, and continue to expand my work and consciousness in these areas throughout my life. Throughout my career, I will continuously look for opportunities in counseling, teaching, and consulting, particularly around ethnic studies and disciplines that promote expansive notions of identity which improve mental health.

GGSE: What piece of advice would you pass on to future students in the Gevirtz School?
As much as graduate school is a continuous evaluation of your academic prowess, always believe in yourself first. The years-long marathon will make you doubt yourself often, as well as people around you, but this is an unfortunate normality of graduate school. Remain in balance with yourself. Offer yourself love, praise, and acceptance, and be connected as much as possible with the things you love. Music, along with friends and family who truly believed in me, saved me in graduate school right up until the graduation day.

GGSE: Is there anyone in the Gevirtz School you would like to thank?
I would like to thank all of the friends I made, not only in CCSP, but across disciplines here at UCSB. You all contributed invaluably to my success as a graduate student as my growth as a person. I would like to thank my committee, Melissa Morgan, Maryam Kia-Keating, and Ines Casillas, all tremendously supportive professors and profesoras. I would also like to thank the Departments of Chicanx Studies, Black Studies, and Sociology, which all gave me teaching opportunities and funding support, in addition to those that I received at CCSP.

GGSE: What is one of your favorite memories of your graduate school experience?
There are too many memories to name that have contributed to my life, but perhaps my experience as a teaching assistant in Chicanx Studies for my entire first year in graduate school stands out. It gave me the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the most formative experiences in my own undergraduate experience but also see other students have their own crucial experiences with the courses. Chicanx Studies has undergone a decade-long battle in my home state of Arizona, after being banned, reinstated, and recently banned again by racist members of the state government there. It was my goal since before I started graduate school to research the experience, and not just the discipline, of Chicanx Studies, and being a teaching assistant and forming relationships within that department was important in that.

GGSE: In lieu of an in-person ceremony, how will you be celebrating your graduation? 
Thankfully, I was able to celebrate with a small number of my family and friends for graduation. I was also able to participate in the virtual graduation, which allowed me to thank these family and friends in a formal way. I was devastated, perhaps not as much as my mother, to miss out on walking for graduation and celebrating with a large number of family who all planned to travel to Santa Barbara from different parts of the country, but I am hoping to bring them all together next year.