Location: Bowdoin / Latin American Studies / activity / 2013 / Student Focus: An Interview with Juan Del Toro

Latin American Studies

Student Focus: An Interview with Juan Del Toro

Story posted July 15, 2013

with Krista Van Vleet

What made you choose to attend Bowdoin?

Three of my siblings graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, where they would invite me to visit them in their dorms and instill in me the value of a college education. During the college application period in my senior year, I heard about Bowdoin through the multicultural visitation programs. After visiting, I realized I loved the learning environment and the College's emphasis on community and, after I was admitted, I knew my choice would be an obvious one, having these aspects of Bowdoin in mind.

What is your Honors Project about and how did you come up with the idea?

My honors project with Dr. Nadia Celis examines how gay Latino authors narrate their multiple social identities within their memoirs with attention to the intersections of race/ ethnicity and sexuality. I came to the idea from previous research experiences examining intersectionality. Since my sophomore year at Bowdoin, I have been performing research with Dr. Desdamona Rios in psychology examining how gay and bisexual men negotiate their social identities at the intersection of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and social class. From reviewing the literature in psychology, I have found research on male Latinos, including gay male Latinos, to be overlooked and sparse. Thus, going into my senior year, I knew I wanted to pursue an honors thesis in relation to these topics of social identities, especially among gay Latino men.

You are off to graduate school in the fall 2013. Tell us about the program, how you chose it, and what you are looking forward to.

From my previous research projects, I have found research on social identities, such as identity development and identity negotiations within marginalizing and stigmatizing contexts, to be stimulating. This influences my pursuit of a research emphasis for the future. The concepts that I have found interesting include stereotype threat, intersectionality, narrative development as well as identity development. I have kept an eye out for faculty who are also passionate about these topics and from whom I could learn more. Such faculty members included Drs. Selcuk Sirin, Niobe Way, and Joshua Aronson at NYU! When Dr. Selcuk Sirin at NYU congratulated me on my acceptance and learning about his great mentorship and scholarly productivity, I knew my decision would be an obvious choice. The biggest reason is that there are multiple superstar faculty and collaborators at NYU who do research on topics I am interested in. I find having this community of scholars to be essential for my scholarly endeavors, because both a supportive community and great mentorship are keys for success in graduate school. At the same time, because I have access to this community and these research labs, I am very thrilled and looking forward to the collaborations with faculty and other graduate students to contribute to the fields of psychology and social justice!

Have other kinds of community engagement shaped your academic and personal growth?

Yes! My research with Dr. Rios has been a huge influence in my decision to pursue research in psychology and graduate school. Another resource that contributed to my academic growth is working with Dr. Stephen Quintana, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is very well-known for his research on ethnic perspective-taking ability among Latina/o adolescents. I am forever in debt to Drs. Rios, Celis, and Quintana who have contributed to not only my scholarly pursuits, but also challenged my understanding of what it means to be Latina/o at a predominantly White institution and who have provided me with skills on how to turn these challenges into opportunities. I am grateful to my mentors, because they have provided me spaces to communicate these challenges as well as to help me channel my goals in applied psychology to contribute to the common good.

Any advice to share with incoming first years or LAS majors/minors?

My advice to first years is to find a staff/faculty mentor that you can connect with, not only in terms of academic interests, but also connecting on a personal basis. From my mentors, we shared our Latina/o identities, grew up in urban neighborhoods, and have common narratives of upbringing. My mentors have shared their wisdom with me on how to succeed at Bowdoin, challenged me academically to prepare me for graduate level work and have provided spaces to have meaningful conversations.

Any dreams or plans for your future?

Dreams! My biggest dream and future plan is to provide the same mentorship I have received from my parents, siblings, professors, and others, to future first generation students and students of colors. I seek to collaborate with other scholars to contribute to the fields of Latina/o- and LGBT-Psychology and apply research to inform social policy and address social justice issues.

Juan Del Toro is an Honors Student and Latin American Studies Major. He was born in Jalisco, Mexico and raised in Richmond, California, just outside of San Francisco. “As a working-class, first-generation student, I have grown to be proud of my background, because through the challenges my family and I face, I have learned the value of resilience as well as time management, which was commonly shared among my siblings as we all worked to contribute to the family. Additionally, my parents and older siblings have always emphasized the value of education and played a tremendous role in my decision to apply to college. “