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“We will be much more successful at generating grant dollars and providing sustainable resources to the Latino community if we can pool our resources instead of each of us working alone,” says Gerdes. “There are some fantastic opportunities that would not be available without the initiative.” Torres agrees. His interdisciplinary adaptive functioning research project with Dr. Grant Silva, an assistant professor of philosophy, would not have happened without the initiative. The two are studying how Latinos personally grow from negative cultural experiences, like discrimination, and use them as motivation to achieve higher goals or view the world in more complex and sophisticated ways. “Can we learn why some Latinos demonstrate this resiliency and then apply it to others? We want to share what we learn so others might find that same success,” says Torres.

Culturally relevant research mentors Edwards’ current research involves the mental well-being of Latina mothers during pregnancy and postpartum. She has witnessed a lack of support for Latinas at a critical juncture when women may already

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Edwards has completed the first phase of this research involving practitioner feedback and plans to talk with the mothers themselves to determine what resources are needed and where. Edwards is collaborating with graduate students on this project; another focus of the initiative is to encourage research mentoring and training with undergraduate and graduate students. “We take the idea of teaching students culturally relevant research seriously,” she says. “The only way to get a new generation of researchers that is sensitive to that is training them early and getting them involved.” Doctoral student Leticia Vallejo, Arts ’10, Grad ’13, who works in Torres’ Mental Health Disparities Lab, concurs. “I had no idea that there were researchers who studied some of the experiences I had had, and I was excited about the possibility of being involved in that process,” she says. Improving the well-being of Latinos requires better access to resources; more culturally aware service providers; and an alliance with the community organizations that serve the Latino population, according to Torres and Edwards. Establishing partnerships with these organizations is so imperative that the two sought the advice of several of them as they structured this initiative. Al Castro, health research program director of the United Community Center, was one of those connections, and he agrees with the symbiotic nature of his center’s relationship with the LWRI. “The United Community Center is able to provide valuable guidance, as well as community access,” he says. “In turn, UCC and the Latino community we serve would benefit from the expansion of structured, evidence-based interventions and strategies to improve the health and well-being of Latinos in Milwaukee.”

Associate Professor, Psychology

The LWRI is a young year old, and already the initial dialogue has energized the estimated 25–30 faculty, administrators and students who came forward. In March, the LWRI and Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion will sponsor speaker Dr. William Perez, an associate professor of education at Claremont Graduate University who is an expert on college students without documentation, or DREAMers, as they are commonly known. The co-directors are excited about the initiative’s first public effort to raise awareness of Latino issues, especially in this context of higher education.

“It’s a crisis here, as it is everywhere,” Edwards explains. “The stress a mother experiences has a profound impact on her baby for years to come. It’s an important area for intervention.”

Dr. Lucas Torres

The co-directors summoned the diverse and numerous campus players who were already involved in Latinorelated issues, such as Gerdes, with the hope that once introduced they would collaborate on interdisciplinary research projects driven by genuine community needs and, in turn, earn more grant money. The LWRI’s ultimate goal is to improve Latino well-being: an umbrella for efforts addressing disparities in mental and physical health care; immigration; education for those who are undocumented; and the role of family.

feel vulnerable and isolated. Often lacking insurance and unable to find bilingual and bicultural practitioners, some Latina mothers also face additional stressors such as safety concerns, complex family systems, trauma from migration and discrimination.


Latino-related research, as well as a belief that collaboration would be the most productive path to impacting Latino communities near and far.

Discover Magazine 2016  
Discover Magazine 2016