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Josefina Bañales, PhD

We sat down with Professor Josefina Bañales to officially learn more about what led her to psychology and how she gained her faculty position here at UIC.

Dr. Bañales

[TT] Josi, thank you so much for sitting down to chat with us today. Can you describe what piqued your interest in psychology?

  • [JB] Honestly, ever since I was a child, and just reflecting, I was always a psychologist. Now I didn’t call it that or have the language to say that, but I always wanted to understand the ‘why’ behind things. I always wanted to understand my mom’s life history and how that related to my upbringing, and why I am the way that I am. I am a first-generation student from high school and so forth. I didn’t have the vocabulary to get a degree or become a psychologist. I think my interest in understanding the world and understanding people to connect with them was something I think I was born with, but also facilitated by my mom. My mom was a big storyteller and would share stories of her upbringing and our family, and that really piqued my interest in wanting to understand more about people.

[TT] Can you tell us the defining moment that led you to choose psychology as your career path?

  • [JB] When I was in college at Illinois Wesleyan University during my sophomore year, I took Psychology of Racism course with Dr. Kira Hudson-Banks and that class changed my life. [TT]: Shout out to you for teaching that class here at UIC this semester! [JB] Yes! I teach this class because when I was taking this class as a student, I couldn’t believe this was something I could study. Understanding how people of color develop racial identities. All people have racial identities, but for me, I was particularly validated in learning theories of how Black and Latino/x people, how we navigate the world as racialized beings. How do we learn about race and racism from our parents, schools, even the media? I couldn’t believe this was something I could research and have a career in understanding how people come to understand themselves as racialized beings and ultimately, how they can challenge oppression for a more racially just world. To me, I always thought that was a position for social workers, but not necessarily a field of research psychologists could do. Since taking that class, at that moment I knew I wanted to teach that class. Now, I teach Psychology of Racism.

[TT] Can you tell us about your choice for pursuing a PhD?

  • [JB] Well, I earned all of my degrees in psychology. My master’s was “included” with my PhD program, so I didn’t apply to a separate program for it. My PhD is in Developmental Psychology, though I am working in Community and Prevention. Honestly, your degree is what you make of it! So, I chose Developmental Psychology, and it wasn’t an applied program at all. My training was very basic research. There were theories and methods, but there was no application component meaning I did not have to have an internship or work with a community partner. I chose to do that because I knew I wanted that as part of my training. I developed partnerships with social workers, community psychology, and sociologists. I wanted a more interdisciplinary perspective on how people think about race and racism. I knew psychology is helpful, but doesn’t get the full picture, so I designed my PhD in a way that works for me. You must ask yourself, “What is my why?” I thought about this every single day in graduate school. I always thought about how this degree is not solely for me, but for my people, for other black and brown girls, and for young people from low-income communities who did not have the opportunity to be in this space. Our presence, us being in these classrooms, being professors of color, walking down hallways, it matters! Your passion is what will pull you through.

[TT] What was your progress to securing a full-time faculty position like? What advice would you give to other professors who are seeking tenure-track positions?

  • [JB] I graduated with my PhD in 2019 and immediately started my faculty position a few months later. I didn’t do a post-doc and there are so many reasons I believe I was able to do that. At Michigan, I was lifted up by Black and Latina women, who lifted me up. My advice is really to find and develop a village. Your village doesn’t have to be at your institution, or be all academics, it could be people who are in your community or in the spaces where you feel a sense of connection. I also think being around Black and Latina women who were professors showed me I could do this. I never had the conception that I couldn’t do this because they were doing it with such excellence. They are the leaders of the field. Because I was able to work with them and they held such high standards and high support for me, I never doubted that I could not be a professor. That has a lot to do with them, my community, my people. It’s not to say that it isn’t hard. It’s hard, but in those moments reflect on your why. What is your purpose and what are you here for? Again, you’re going to be exposed to stereotypical ideas of what a professor is supposed to look like, talk and sound, and what research we’re supposed to focus on, that’s real. You’re going to experience that, but again find people that will affirm your identity and help support you in your research. You belong here. It’s important to know that women of color and first-generation college students, we belong in professorship positions. It’s important to build community amongst one another to create and work towards structural change where there are fewer barriers for us to get here.

[TT] Is there anything exciting you are working on that you would like to share, or give us a mini update on?

  • [JB] I am a research scholar at CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). Through this program, I receive mentoring to connect with Chicago Public Schools (CPS). I am excited about this because I am a product of CPS and I have made connections with at least two schools to create a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project with them. YPAR is an epistemological stance to research where you co-create research with young people. It challenges the mainstream paradigm that researchers come into the community with ideas. This is different because you work with young people on issues they care about. I am excited about working with these two high schools on the south side of Chicago and their students surrounding the questions, “What is means to be Latino? What does it mean to be Latinx in our current contemporary society, and how the ideas of who you are as Latinx relates to who you see as your community? Do you have a broad notion of community that include other people of color? Why? How does it relate to the type of civic, political engagement behaviors you choose to engage in? I’m excited to do the YPAR study with youth from my own community around issues they care about.

[TT] Are there any hobbies or activities you enjoy doing in your free time?

  • [JB] I love walking! I actually walk to campus, yes even in the snow. I sing! I used to compete at Star Search and Showtime at the Apollo. I also love karaoke. I really like black coffee, so if anyone every wants to go out for coffee, let me know.

We can’t say thank you enough to Dr. Bañales for carving time out of her busy schedule to sit and share her story with us. We are so glad to have you with us in UIC’s Psychology Department. Your passion for your work and research is so evident, and we know our students are in great hands. We can’t wait to see what you do next! Until then, keep up the excellent work!