For Lupe Bacio, assistant professor of psychological science and Chicana/o-Latina/o studies, her research doesn’t get more personal as a Latina immigrant searching for answers to questions about issues facing young ethnic minorities.
Bacio arrived in the U.S. as an adolescent, not knowing the language or the culture. She says she was one of a few Latinx students in her high school to attend a four-year institution. Bacio says she did not understand why her U.S.-born counterparts seemed to have more advantages than recent immigrants like herself.
“From my perspective, I was struggling with more barriers than they were and so I started to look at why. What was getting in their [Latinx students] way of pursuing higher education? This started my search for answers to the ‘immigrant paradox’ that I began pursuing through research as an undergraduate,” Bacio says.
Her deep connection with the subject matter resulted in the CENTRO Research Lab.
Bacio is the director of the CENTRO Research Lab at Pomona College. Founded in 2016 when she joined the faculty as an assistant professor, the goal of the research lab is to improve the inequalities of Latinx and other underserved communities that results from substance use and mental health disparities.
“My intention for the lab is to be a resource for the community. When I say community, I mean both in the Colleges and our surrounding communities,” Bacio says.
The lab consists of undergraduate students from The Claremont Colleges who use different methodologies to conduct their research such as community-based participatory research, laboratory-based tasks, and surveys.
“They get to be part of every aspect of our studies. Students who are in my lab are very committed to improving the conditions of underserved communities. They want to use their assets to improve and give back to their communities,” Bacio says.
Sergio Ruvalcaba ’19, a cognitive science graduate who currently lives and works in Chicago for a company that distributes industrial materials and tools, participated in the CENTRO Lab. He says one of the most meaningful parts of the experience was getting to work with students from different disciplines to make a true difference in their communities.
“We were all coming from different fields of study. It was the opportunity to approach whatever project we were working on through different lenses. It gave us an opportunity to not limit ourselves. It was important to have the diversity of views,” Ruvalcaba says. “Just looking back at my experience with the lab, I feel really grateful that I was part of something that can be used to create real change.”
And conducting the research is just one part of the experience CENTRO Lab provides to students. They also get opportunities to conduct bilingual presentations and workshops in partnership with community organizations, present their research at conferences, and contribute to academic papers.
In fact, research conducted by Ruvalcaba and other lab alumni was published in a special issue of Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, a journal by the American Psychological Association, on the “Intersection of Minority Health, Health Disparities, and Social Determinants of Health with Psychopharmacology and Substance Use.”
The paper entitled Motivational Pathways to Problematic Drinking Among Latinx College Drinkers explores why Latinx college students experience disparities in alcohol-related problems. Study findings reveal the necessity for culturally responsive interventions that align with their needs.
CENTRO Lab undergraduate research assistants have gone on to pursue careers in education, health care, psychology, and several other fields. They develop skills to recognize disparities and find solutions either through research in their graduate studies or working directly with underserved communities.
“I aim to train the next generation of culturally responsive professionals in whatever field they are going into. I hope that they will become leaders who have all the tools and knowledge to continue working toward uplifting underserved communities,” Bacio says.