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Gabriella M. Rodriguez Izquierdo is a senior double majoring in Sociology and Spanish at Millersville University. Photo: Courtesy

Millersville student shares mental health struggle

After attending a predominantly white college, Gabriella Rodriguez, a first-generation student, finds safety at Millersville University.

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Gabriella M. Rodriguez Izquierdo is a first-generation student double majoring in Sociology and Spanish at Millersville University. 

AL DÍA had the opportunity to learn about her academic endeavors and how she learned to prioritize her mental health after a negative experience at a higher education institution.

Dominicana in Lancaster

Her mother and older sister moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States, pregnant with Gabriella. She was born in Miami, Florida, and moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when she was one. She also has a younger brother in sixth grade. 

Growing up in the School District of Lancaster, Gabriella assures it was very diverse, and her high school graduating class was approximately 700 students, with the majority being Hispanic. 

She notes other districts have a predominately white student population, but growing up exposed to different cultures in a city that accepts many refugees, ignited her passion for human rights advocacy. 

Although she has family in the Dominican Republic, her family doesn’t visit as often as she would like. The last time she traveled to the Dominican Republic was in 2018. Her Dominican culture and language were dominant in her household, where Spanish was always spoken and rarely English, which only made her more interested in serving her community in academia. 

Prioritizing mental health 

Experiencing a decline in her mental health, Gabriella transferred to Millersville University from a predominately white institution during her second year of college—which caused her to be a fifth-year student instead of the traditional four-year college student route. 

“Growing up in Lancaster, it’s very diverse,” she said. “My high school was majority Hispanic Students and students of color, and to go from that, to go to the mountains where it’s like, literally only like two other people [who] look like me, was traumatizing.”

The lowest point she’s ever been, assuring she has experienced many hardships but that “when you’re out of place that first of all, you don’t love and second of all, they don’t care about you or you don’t feel represented. You feel isolated. It can mess you up and change you from who you used to be.”

According to the 2022 College Student Behavioral Health Report, 46% of college students reported seeking help in the last year, and 11% say their college has never shared information on mental or behavioral health. 

However, Millersville University offers counseling services, crisis intervention, and consultation for students concerned about mental health and provides outreach activities to educate and support students on campus. 

Despite Gabriella’s negative experience in a previous higher education institution, she credits transferring to Millersville as the best decision she made for herself and her mental health. She has since learned to prioritize time management and make time for self-care. Also, leaning on her support system, family, and friends, in times of need and having a good grasp of her needs and what she can and can’t manage.

Home at Millersville University 

After moving back home to Lancaster, she chose to commute to Millersville University, emphasizing “it was the best thing I could have done,” referencing how she wasn’t herself academically and socially at the previous institution. 

Gabriella shares her interest in Sociology and Spanish because it aligns with her purpose and love for advocacy.

“I wanted to major in Spanish, and then I chose sociology because I was always super passionate about human rights and activism,” said Gabriella, who last year participated in a fellowship program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with their Heinz College of Public Policy and became more interested in education and immigration policy.

Photo: Courtesy

She is a family services advocate intern for Compass Mark, working closely with incarcerated parents and their families to provide resources and support as they navigate familial incarceration. She is an ardent human rights advocate interested in exploring policy and learning about trauma. 

“You learn about how incarceration is a cycle, and you want to prevent that ahead of time,” said Gabriella, who was involved in different efforts in high school advocating for others.  

Gabriella is also part of the Mentor Collective, which pairs students with someone invested in their success and is ready to listen, inspire, help navigate challenges and recognize opportunities.  

Her efforts and assistance to other students don’t go unnoticed. In 2021, she received the Michael G. Kovach Foreign Language Scholarship award, the Millersville Foundation Student Speaker award, Imagine the Possible Campaign Featured Student, and most recently, the Lina Ruiz y Ruiz Memorial Award (spring 2022), and the 2022 Campus Newman Civic Fellow.

Photo: Courtesy

First Gems

Gabriella is the president and public relations chair for the First Gems of the Ville or First Gems, an organization on Millersville University Campus focused on creating an academic and social environment for all students by exposing first-generation college students to social resources on campus. The organization also focuses on building community among first-generation college students on campus. 

The First Gems are proud of the First Gen Library, which allows other students to donate their old textbooks or books to the library and provide these books to first-generation students for free—to limit their financial burden. 

As a first-generation student, Gabriella acknowledges how difficult academia can be, stating that “you can feel like you’re doing it all by yourself, and so to know that there are other students on campus that are also going through it” builds a sense of community. Therefore, the First Gems also ease the transition burdens for first-generation students.  

I feel Latinos are stronger when united

However, the organization remains relatively unknown among many students on campus, something they are trying to change by enhancing engagements and campus presence. 

Three things college students should remember 

Gabriella shares some advice for Latinos in higher education and those considering pursuing a double major. 

  • You can do whatever you set your mind to. 
  • It’s ok to start over and switch your plans. 
  • If you don’t have the support of your family, find professors and other Latino or Latina students you can lean on. 
     

“Your path is your own, and you don’t have to feel like your path needs to look like everybody else’s,” Gabriella commented. “You don’t have to feel like you need to graduate super quick, and if you do, that’s great, but take the time to learn, gain experiences and build relationships with your professors and know that the spot you hold is yours, and you deserve it.”

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