Jessica Perez-Chavez, Counseling Psychology

On May 14, UW–Madison will celebrate its Spring 2022 Commencement. We reached out to a few of our students who are graduating from programs in the School of Education to learn about their favorite UW–Madison memories and future plans. Following is a Q&A with Jessica Perez-Chavez, who is graduating with a PhD in counseling psychology. 

Jessica Perez-Chavez Headshot
Jessica Perez-Chavez

Where are you from, and what brought you to UW–Madison? 

I am from Morelia, Michoacán, the Purepecha state of Mexico, and I was raised in the lower west side of Chicago. I can confidently say that the mighty force of mentorship brought me to the University of WisconsinMadison. 

As an undergraduate, I was interested in Latinx psychology, and my mentors Drs. Hector Y. Adames and Nayeli Y. Chavez-Dueñas invited me to a conference where I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by UW–Madison professor Dr. Alberta Gloria that focused on empowering Latinas to pursue a PhD. 

I recall leaving the talk feeling empowered to become a doctora and began preparing to apply for graduate programs. Part of this process included consulting Dr. Joseph L. White, my mentors’ mentor whom I had met when I was a high school student. Dr. White recommended I look into UW–Madison, telling me that, “Dr. Gloria is there; you’ll like her.” I later learned that Dr. White had been Dr. Gloria’s supervisor when she was a graduate student. When I became a graduate student, Dr. Gloria became my supervisor. Beautifully, three generations of mentors guided me to UW–Madison. 

Why did you decide to pursue graduate study?

The transformative power of mentorship allowed me to recognize that I could contribute to my immigrant community by becoming a researcher, clinician, and scholar-activist. 

Like my mentors, I wanted my research, teaching, writing, and clinical work anchored in human rights and social justice. Seeing myself reflected in my mentors allowed me to take the plunge and apply for graduate programs. ¡Gracias doctorxs!

What are your research interests?  

I am committed to engaging in scholarship that promotes health equity, healing, and liberation among historically oppressed people and communities.

I recently co-developed a theoretical intervention titled the Healing Ethno-Racial Trauma (HEART) framework, published in the American Psychologist in 2019. The HEART framework accentuates how anti-immigrant laws and policies contribute to psychological injury and how we, as people and organizations, can promote wellness at the individual, family, and community levels when working with immigrant communities.

My dissertation builds on the HEART framework. It focuses on the relationship between social justice activism and psychological wellbeing. I hope that my scholarship can inform the development of psychological interventions to uplift undocumented immigrants’ voices, promote agency, and enhance cultural strengths.

Jessica Perez-Chavez Wisconsin State Capitol What was your most meaningful experience at UW–Madison? 

My best moments at UWMadison were those that allowed me to share my accomplishments, milestones, and awards with my beloved family and community. For example, it was meaningful to publicly honor my late grandmother, mother, aunts, and Purepecha ancestors when I accepted the Outstanding Woman of Color Award in 2021. 

In receiving this award, I reflected on how my accomplishments do not fully belong to me or my individual efforts. Instead, they result from the infinite sacrifices, consejos, and acts of love from my family, mentors, and community. Without them, there would be no me. 

"The transformative power of mentorship allowed me to recognize that I could contribute to my immigrant community by becoming a researcher, clinician, and scholar-activist."

What class or professor had the greatest impact on you, and why?

Many of my professors had an impact on my training. For example, Dr. Stephanie Budge and Dr. Mindi Thompson are two professors at UWMadison whose scholarship, mentorship, and teaching greatly influenced me. I respect them immensely for how they approach their various roles, including how they champion social change within and outside of the university. 

Dr. Gloria without a doubt has also left a long-lasting impact; her words and presence have given me comfort when I have doubted myself the most. She has taught me to trust not only the skillset from my training, but also the cultural knowledge I have inherited from my ancestors. 

Lastly, I would be remiss to not mention Dr. Stephen Quintana who has recognized the value of my scholarship and has given me opportunities to share it with the Madison immigrant community, and beyond! 

Overall, I have appreciated how Dr. Quintana, Dr. Gloria, Dr. Thompson, and Dr. Budge have advocated for me and consistently uplifted me throughout my graduate school years.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Find your favorite restaurant in town and treat yourself to a meal to celebrate your accomplishments or if you had a challenging day. Eating tasty food helped me feel grounded and connected to my family and culture whenever I needed a boost! My spot was El Rancho Mexican Grill on Park Street — their torta de carnitas did it for me. 

What’s next for you? What are your plans for the future?

After six years of being away, I will return to my family in the windy city. I plan to spend a lot of time with my niece and little cousins and visit my youngest sister at Northwestern. 

I look forward to reconnecting with old friends and immigrant community organizations. Work-wise, I will start a position as a postdoctoral fellow with the Center for Women’s Behavioral and Mental Health in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center. I am thrilled about this next chapter of my life!

Jessica Perez-Chavez at Pope Farm Conservancy

What will you miss most about UW?

For me, connecting with nature is essential. I love the Pope Farm Conservancy (see picture with sunflowers), Allen Centennial Garden, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, and the Wingra Park and Boat Livery

For studying, I recommend the Graduate Room at Memorial Library, the Ethnic Studies Collection room at College Library, and Barriques Café on University Avenue. 

Read more student stories from 2022 graduates

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