Helping students appreciate their cultural and intersectional identities

Meet Dr. Sandra Lopez-Rocha from the Student Success Office

By Tracelyn Cornelius University Relations

Born in Mexico, Dr. Sandra Lopez-Rocha has been working in the field of intercultural learning since the mid 1990s, at a time when the field experienced exponential growth. Since then, she has accumulated a wealth of both professional and academic knowledge on the subject matter. After completing an MA in Intercultural Communication and a PhD in Language, Literacy and Culture at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, she ambitiously pursued a second PhD in Social Anthropology in the United Kingdom.

"I’m intrigued by the exploration of cultural identity and how identities are interlinked," Lopez-Rocha says. "As I worked on my own research and engaged with people, I expanded my understanding of why people think or behave in certain ways, why they seek to preserve and transmit elements of their own backgrounds, and why they feel forced to hide some elements of their culture."

Asked why she felt compelled to pursue two PhDs, Lopez-Rocha acknowledges that although she has accrued a wealth of knowledge on the subject matter, intercultural learning is continuous. She explains that intercultural education requires expanding knowledge, adaptation and understanding of how actions and inactions create a ripple effect in society.

As an intercultural learning specialist at the University of Waterloo, Lopez-Rocha supports students to better understand and appreciate their own cultural and intersectional identities, while identifying ways to engage respectfully with others with different experiences, at the university, and beyond. A key component of her work involves building students’ intercultural competencies, which are transferable across contexts and spaces, encompassing where they live, study, and work.

A recent initiative reflecting this involves an open-access program supported by a grant from eCampus Ontario. The modules for Advancing Intercultural Competence for Global Learners allow learners around the world to engage, at no cost, in interactive activities at their own pace, while they learn about culture, reflect on their own perceptions, expand their perspectives, and use strategies to develop global skills.

"The underlying message here is that creating self-awareness, understanding the diversity of experiences, and valuing people as individuals with intersectional identities leads to meaningful engagement and to creating a sense of belonging," Lopez-Rocha says.

As the University continues to advance on commitments to ensure that everyone feels like they belong, Lopez-Rocha looks forward to increased engagement via face-to-face and virtual activities that highlight histories, cultures, traditions and contributions from the University community, and beyond.

Lopez Rocha encourages engagement with the Latin American community on campus to ask questions about cultures, to understand cultural similarities and differences, to deconstruct stereotypes and to share to experiences and perspectives.

She looks forward to future opportunities to create space for understanding how racism is experienced by different marginalized, underrepresented, or excluded groups and how to dismantle it. She also hopes that Latin American heritage is celebrated throughout the year, beyond the spotlight during the month of October.

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