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GCSW Student Spotlight with Flor Avellandeda, Doctoral Student


February 26, 2020

(HOUSTON, TX) – Last fall, doctoral student Flor Avellandeda joined Associate Professor and Humana Endowed Chair in Social Determinants of Health, Luis R. Torres in presenting at the International Social Work Research Conference held at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) on mental health and intergenerational communities. Flor presented research on intimate partner violence within the immigrant Hispanic female population.

Originally from Mexico, Flor shared what inspired her to pursue a Ph.D. in social work and how it felt to experience a full-circle moment through her education and advocacy. In this Q&A, Flor Avellandeda shares her story, her research, and how her time at the GCSW has influenced her to continue to fight for migrant, female populations. 

Your name and preferred pronouns: Flor Avellaneda, She/Her/Hers

Expected year of graduation: May 2020

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Guerrero, Mexico. 

What initially inspired you to get into social work?

I was drawn to the social work profession because of its commitment to social justice, which embodies the core of who I am. Social workers have the unique opportunity to walk alongside individuals, families, and communities, and bring about social change. My profession is a life-long commitment and I look forward to the next steps.

What is your primary focus of research and what drew you to that area?  

My primary research interest lies in examining the intersection of factors that fuel social and economic inequality, with a focus on Latina survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV), both in the U.S and Mexico. These intersecting factors include gender, social class, mobility and migration (e.g., immigrant status), family histories of violence, and equitable access to services, among others. Through research, my goal is to help develop and implement evidence-based interventions to address the multiple, complex needs of these women and leverage their strength and resilience.  

My doctoral research builds on my practice experiences with the intersectional challenges faced by minority female survivors of IPV. Due to the pervasiveness of IPV across all cultures, I saw firsthand the detrimental effects of this significant public health issue within my own community. As a social work practitioner, I had the opportunity to work alongside survivors and saw the adverse effects that IPV had on their overall well-being. I decided to pursue a Ph.D. because I wanted to contribute to meaningful research that would help bring social justice to survivors of IPV; research that will help prevent violence and improve the quality of life for survivors of IPV, both nationally and globally. 

What is the most important takeaway you want people to understand from your work?  

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant public health concern affecting women globally. Although women from all backgrounds experience IPV, not every woman experiences it the same way. There are various intersecting factors that influence those experiences, and a wide range of consequences affecting, victims, their families, and society. Therefore, the more research we have in this area, the better we’ll be able to inform practice, policy, and ongoing research to help end the cycle of violence. 

Tell me about your experience presenting your work at UNAM this past semester?

It was an honor being invited to present at the XXIII National Meeting/XIII International Meeting of Research in Social Work, hosted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico School of Social Work. This conference gave social work schools across Mexico and the world the opportunity to come together and share some of their latest, social justice focused, research and work. The title of my presentation was Intimate partner violence as a violation of human rights: The case of Hispanic immigrant women in the United States. Through my presentation, I spoke about the complex challenges that Hispanic immigrant women, survivors of IPV, experience in the U.S., and about the importance of policy advocacy in promoting necessary social change. While at the conference, I also met some magnificent scholars and shared space with some of the leading experts whom I learned so much from. I look forward to attending again this year!


What has been the biggest takeaway you’ve had during your time at the GCSW?

My biggest takeaway would be the value of relationships. I am grateful for my mentor, Dr. Luis Torres, and all of the wonderful faculty I’ve met and worked with throughout my time as a doctoral student. Many have invested their time in guiding me, which has strengthened me both as a scholar and person. Dr. Dettlaff’s commitment to leading our college toward achieving social justice has been a source of inspiration in my own work. My peers have been a great source of strength and I am forever grateful for the friendships I’ve built.

Who is your social justice inspiration?

My social justice inspiration is Tarana Burke. As the founder of the Me Too movement, she has played a key role in empowering individuals to start conversations about the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities. I love how this movement has empowered many women to share their stories, but I would really like to see more representation of minority women. There is so much to be done in our society and we can each play a role by continuing to advocate for and elevate the voices of survivors everywhere. Every person has the right to live a life free of violence and we must seize every opportunity to take action!

Please share anything else you feel would be of value to other social workers and anyone interested in working to achieve social justice. 

I love being an advocate for social change, but I recognize that this work has its challenges. We work with individuals and communities facing very difficult issues, so at times we may feel overwhelmed by the many stories of pain we hear. Therefore, it’s important that we surround ourselves with people who love and support us; people who will be our champions when times get hard. Always remember your purpose and be persistent in the fight for social justice.