Research Spotlight: Dr. Nichole Garcia

Nichole Garcia

Nichole Margarita Garcia, Ph.D., has always been interested in teaching as well as reading and writing books that reflected her experience as a Chicana/Puerto Rican. She is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the GSE’s Department of Educational Psychology. 

Can you tell us about a new research project you are working on?

During COVID-19, I conducted a project on Latinx/a/o undergraduates disaster preparedness. Currently, I am working on several manuscripts that address disaster-related grief among Latinx/a/o undergraduates. In the field of education, we know very little about processes of grief and the direct impact it has on academic achievement. My preliminary findings suggest that Latinx undergraduates identify racial unrest, poverty, hurricanes, earthquakes, and COVID-19 as their primary forms of disaster. The effects of disaster-related grief were ruthless. Many had a great sense of grief and loss compounded by national and global events, such as anti-Blackness, police brutality, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate and natural disasters, and a highly polarized presidential election. All these events impacted their persistence in higher education.

Why did you decide to pursue this research? And what is unique about your approach?

Originally, I was examining disaster among Puerto Rican college students after Hurricane Irma and Maria when COVID-19 hit. I first was solely focused on disaster preparedness, which is the intersection of pre- and post-impact on how well individuals, communities, and institutions respond to and how quickly they recover from disaster. However, as I began to collect data it became evident that loss and grief were significant to all Latinx/a/o students the chose to participate. At times, I had to stop my interviews because of the pain and turmoil these students were experiencing. While it was powerful to witness their stories, I did not want to further traumatize them. I approach my scholarship as a Critical Race Feminista scholar meaning that I center students as knowledge holders and generators. They become collaborators in the research process, so I do my best not to call them participants, but rather, co-creators of knowledge. 

What kind of methodological and theoretical approaches do use? And why are these important to your work?

As a Critical Race Feminista and mixed-methodologist, I integrate constructivist approaches in most of my research projects. More recently, I collaborated with previous colleagues from UCLA to write and theorize one of the first articles using QuantCrit and Chicana/Latina Feminisms in educational research. A Chicana feminist epistemology in education is a framework that explicitly challenges the perceived objectivity and universal foundations of knowledge that undergird traditional qualitative approaches, and quantitative critical (QuantCrit) research in education, which centers how statistics have long been racist and racialized, we considered whether numbers can be race and gender conscious. We asked ourselves, “when did we first encounter our mathematical wisdom? How and when was our mathematical wisdom challenged?” We conceptualized a Critical Race Feminista Quantitative Praxis, which is significant to my scholarship because it grapples with methodological process and not an empirical outcome

What’s next for you in terms of research, or this project?

Currently, I am in the writing process using the data I collected during COVID-19. I will expand my research on grief and college-student experiences in the future. I am working with several graduate students across the nation to develop a culturally relevant and sustaining model of grief for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in higher education. We will be presenting at our national conference on “Humanizing Higher Education: A Healing Plática on Grieving, Existing, & Resisting in the Ivory Tower.” I very much look forward to the future work we will produce. Stay tuned!