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Podcast Ep. 8: How to Talk to Your Kids About Race and Ethnicity With Sofia Pertuz, PhD

In this episode:

Audra and Justin are joined by Sofia Pertuz, PhD to talk about the difference between race and ethnicity, how Sofia learned that difference, getting bullied as a child, and how White parents can start talking to their kids about racism. Then they dig into Sofia's work and teen mental health and suicide prevention. You can also check out Sofia’s Cheat Sheet for common terms!

About our guest:

Sofia Pertuz, PhD is a Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity practitioner who has worked in a number of fields, including higher education. Evening the playing field for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities is her life’s work, and in her spare time, she even created the Facebook Group Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees!

Show Notes:

00:26 - To read "The Autobiography of Malcom X," click here, and to watch the 1972 documentary, "Malcom X," click here.

02:39 - Teachers College, Columbia University specializes in graduate-level courses in education, health and psychology.

05:36 - Brene Brown is an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host who promotes discussions on bravery, honesty, and choosing "courage over comfort."

16:21 - Seton Hall University is a Catholic university in South Orange, New Jersey.

21:49 - ASU is Arizona State University

23:05 - To read Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" click here.

23:25 - To read "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson, click here.

26:32 - Richard Wright was an American writer whose work contained commentary and references to racial plights and injustices faced by (primarily) African Americans.

53:40 - The JED Foundation aims to empower young adults and teens with the skills and support they need to "grow into healthy, thriving adults."

55:51 - The Steve Fund is devoted to promoting the mental health and emotional wellness of students of color.

57:08 - You can register to view the "Proud and Thriving" webinar here.

57:24 - Billie Jean King is a tennis pro and proud social justice activist.

1:01:33 - "Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities."

Justin: I'm honored to publish this episode for BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month by BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. And this conversation is with our good friend, an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, Sofia Pertuz, PhD.

I have to admit right off the bat that as a white kid from the white suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, talking about race and ethnicity doesn't come easy for me. Outside of reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” after watching the movie in high school, I never gave race and ethnicity much thought. In college, I learned more about American history and the history of Europeans traveling around the world and killing and stealing from non-White people.

At some point, I realized that whether I like it or not, the way my White ancestors thought about race and ethnicity has led to some pretty bad things in the world. And that realization hasn't really helped me understand how to talk to my kids about race and ethnicity. We can watch the movies and documentaries and watch the news, but I still don't know how to bring that into their lives so they can do better than I've done and do better than our ancestors.

Thankfully, Sofia sat down with me and Audra to get into it. We talk about the difference between race and ethnicity. How Sofia learned that difference, getting bullied as a child. How white parents like me can start talking to our kids about racism. And finally, we dig into Sofia's work and teen mental health and suicide prevention. So without further ado, here's our wonderful conversation with Sofia Pertuz PhD.


Audra: Good morning, Sofia. So good to see you!


Sofia: Good morning. It’s good to see you both, always a thrill.


Audra: Thank you so much for being with us today. We are so, so thrilled to have this conversation with you and such an important conversation. I feel like this is one that I have been really, really looking forward to having on The Family Thrive, that I'd like to be ongoing because we're going to be growing together. And I think this conversation can continue to grow.


Sofia: Oh, I'm excited. What are we talking about?


Justin: So, Sofia, we have known you for such a long time that there I mean, we could talk about so many things going all the way back to Columbia in New York City several decades ago.


Audra: Can I just say, can I just add? So we first met Sofia when, actually, we first met in an interview to, for me. So I had gotten into a master's program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and I had found the Resident Director in Residence Life position and was able to secure an interview. So, went out for a live interview at the time. And that's when I first met Sofia. And I was just in awe of Sofia from the beginning. And she's been such an incredible mentor to me from day one. And this was a high-pressure interview, like they put us in scenarios and we were in teams and they're standing there with clipboards.


Sofia: It was a terrible interview process. The wonderful thing is you came through with flying colors and you were awesome. So I'm so glad that we ended up getting to work together because I think we did some great things.


Audra: It was an experience of a lifetime. We were able to move to Manhattan without having to secure an apartment or deposit or anything like that. So if anybody is listening to this thinking, like, “How is my kid going to go to college and make this happen?” I highly, highly recommend Residence Life. Check it out. And it's some of the best people experience you could ever get.

One of the things that you brought to the team was a good amount of experiences, trainings, and support when it comes to what we called at the time “diversity.” And I think that we're kind of changing the language around that now. I think that we're moving into a space beyond kind of diversity and into a space of belonging. So I'm really excited to talk with you about that.

But I also wanted to share that Sofia, as a mentor to me, taught me so, so much. And one of the things that always fits with me is just your kind supportive guidance in the fact that you're always just so real with me. And I'll never forget this time. There was a time when I emailed not an inappropriate email, but an inappropriate email for the setting, like with higher-ups out of frustration for something I'll never forget, like Sofia told me. And she's like, “Sit down. This is not how this is done. This is not how you get things done. This is not the way to go about it.” And it was one of the biggest life lessons for me.

And one of the things that I learned going into higher education myself, going into leadership development, becoming someone who has built teams myself now, is that one of the very, very best things that we can do when it comes to working with others and mentoring folks is being honest and real and kind. Because if you just try to do the people-pleasing, kind of like, “You're doing a great job, it's ok!” You don't get into the real lessons, nobody grows.


Sofia: Exactly, exactly. And I always think feedback is a gift. And I don't like to give feedback. I think most people don't. But I think when you do get the feedback, sometimes it comes in different ways. It comes very direct. And I believe in being clear. Brene Brown has an expression: “Clear is kind.” I know you’ve heard of her expressions, but the idea is that you should just tell people what you mean and mean what you say because that's the best way for us to understand each other and be, I guess, graceful and kind with each other.


Justin: So, it sounds to me like there's parenting lessons in here as well.


Sofia: Yes...parenting lessons. I have a 17-year-old and a 13-year-old and they have taught me so much.


Justin: Yeah, but that the clarity and the feedback because as parents, we're always giving our kids feedback whether we know it or not. And so how did your experience in these leadership roles in higher education inform your parenting?


Sofia: Well, first I'll say, like, maybe I could talk about what I've always done. Right, so I grew up in the Bronx and I grew up with a mom who, parents, but my mom was the strong one in the family who was the one that laid down the law pretty much about what discipline was like. One thing that I remember is my mom was very strict. She was very direct. You couldn't be more direct than my mom, and I lost her back in April. We lost her in April, unfortunately. But I want to say that I start with her because she taught me all the leadership lessons about that clarity and as mean as she was growing up, I feel like I bring that into my parenting.

I try really hard to battle against the overly mean, right. Like being too direct and my kids, I don't yell like, well, maybe I do. But I’m very direct when I'm asking them to do something or explain to them why I'm disappointed that they didn't do something that I asked them to do. And my daughter would say, “Stop yelling.” I'm like, “Oh, you don't know what yelling is.” My mom, not even just yelling, she would go all out.

What I bring from that, from my mom's being very clear about what she expected and telling us exactly what she is disappointed about. I brought that into my parenting where I just let them know. I'm very clear. I'm very open. And my dad was part of our upbringing, too. But he was more quiet. He did things in a much more, I think I take from that too, where sometimes just a look is enough.


Audra: Oh yes.


Sofia: Setting an example was enough. My dad was a kind of person that was just like, you know what, I'm not going to get upset. His car burned down. He had a car that just like, in a parking lot. I don't know what happened to it, but I guess a fuse or something, it pretty much blew up. We were just looking at the picture the other day and he just looked at it and was like, “Ok, I'll get another one. We'll figure it out.” And then there were many instances like that. He was a cab driver and he had a knife put through, to his throat. And I said, “What did you do?” “I gave them the money.”

Like, he just was always very calm and very like when we had achievements, me and my siblings, I grew up with my five siblings and we were all like on honor roll. We were winning awards. And his response was always like, “Que bien. It's what I expect from you. Of course, you're going to be excellent. You're great people and you're smart people and you're great kids.”

So I feel like I got the balance of both, like my mom's “rawr,” over the top, you know, very high expectations always like really clear. And I would even say, like, mean about it. So we knew, like, we had expectations, we for real knew that. With my dad's “Ok, I expect that I'm not going to go over the top on it. I'm just going to expect that and you know it. And you're all going to be good people and that's it.” So I think I got a little bit of both from both.


Audra: Yeah, that resonates with me as somebody who worked for you, I can really see your dad in that you were so calm under any pressure, under any fire and like really modeled the way for all of us on how to just get into calm and be like, “Ok, what's the problem we’re solving?” Like, really straightforward, nothing to freak out about, we’re solving a problem, even like we had an attempted kidnaping or a kidnapping. Actually, I think there's definitely there was attempted suicide attempts and I think a water tower broke on the roof at one point. And we had the blackout when we first got there. I was, we were there for days, I think, and we had the big blackout.


Sofia: Oh, I was busy having a baby actually. My daughter and I was freaking out. I was like, “Oh, no, I'm not there to take care of the things that I need to do.” My daughter was actually born August 13, 2003.


Justin: Oh my god.


Sofia: And then the next day the power was…


Audra: Oh, my god.


Sofia: I was a mess. They had shut down the hospital. I was downtown in Roosevelt Hospital on, what is it, 60th Street. And they shut everything down. Obviously, there was no power. They were on generators, so there was minimal everything. I just had a C-section, which was alright.


Audra: How does that work? I’ve had C-sections. I don't get it.


Sofia: Oh, no. It was terrible because the doctors were cranky. The nurses were cranky because they were grounded. They were told they couldn't leave. So you have to go with...


Audra: Were there first responders?


Sofia: Yeah.


Justin: Oh no.


Sofia: And to come visit me, my husband, Antonio, had to come from 120th Street all the way down to 60th on foot.


Audra: Yes, that's right.


Sofia: Because he couldn’t drive, there were no lights. And had to go up 11 flights to come see us. It was a mess.


Audra: And for your first baby. What a story.


Sofia: That's what I was doing, is that you were all barbecuing because people were like, well I guess this is going to happen for a couple of days. They were like social things happening, a barbecue in front of Bancroft, the building over there. So I felt like at first I'm worried about my baby, me, and I'm crying. She's crying. It was a mess. But I was like I remember getting some reports from people like, “Oh, it's pretty cool. The staff is holding it down, they’re going around with flashlights, they're giving out candles, they're doing what they have to do to do the emergency stuff.” So I felt good that I was like, “They don't need me.” And that's probably the best thing you could do with parenting too. Right?


Justin: I raised them so well.


Sofia: I did the best I could. Like I, my daughter’s graduated from high school. She's about to go to college and a five-year college administrator. I'm absolutely terrified because I was the dean of students. So I thought…


Justin: Oh, you know it all.


Audra: You know too much.


Sofia: And yet I know nothing because I don't know how I'm going to react when it's my child and I'm going to just trust that I did the best I could and that I'm sending this human out into the world who is going to do good things. Who's going to be a good person.

And you know what? If she does bad things and she's a terrible person, it comes with the territory. It's like we have to take it and do the best we can with everything that is in front of us, because not every one of us can be perfect. And I want her to know that. I want them, both my kids, to know we're going to make mistakes. I have made some doozies. As they get older, I share more about the history.


Justin: Up until now, you've been perfect.


Sofia: I’ve been perfect. Like sometimes I start to reminisce and I'm like, “Oh, back in my day I used to go to the club.” And she’s like “So what time did you get home?” Like, nope. “How old were you?” I don't know. I don't remember.


Justin: Thirty… So Sofia. I want to get into this diversity and inclusion part of your life. How did you get into the whole diversity and inclusion world and then what makes you passionate about it?


Sofia: Well, first I would say everyone is in the diversity and inclusion world because everyone is handling different people, different personalities. I think you're asking it from a professional sense, right?


Justin: Yes.


Sofia: So, I started my career in higher education and I remember going away to college. I pretty much went away and stayed in college for the rest of my life until two years ago.


Justin: Preach.


Audra: Reminds me of someone I know.


Sofia: College and how it all started, I think was I had grown up Catholic. I grew up in the Bronx like I said earlier. I was born in Dominican Republic, was brought to the US when I was a baby. I was barely one. And I remember just watching how my family was where we lived.

We lived in a place that there were mostly Puerto Rican and Black families. We were the only Dominican family. As the only Dominican family, we were treated differently. And I remember having some standards around like who to hang out with, who not to, and all that stuff. And so that's got me thinking about, wait a minute, what's different and why are we treating each other differently and why am I being attacked?

I would actually be walking in my neighborhood and I would be attacked by some Black girls who were like, what are you? Touching my hair, pulling my hair because my hair is Black hair. It was curly, kinky at the time. So when they see kind of a light skin, you kind of look, I don't know what you look like. I don't know what you are. I actually was attacked by people who were trying to understand what I was. So I think that's probably how I started, because I don't want anyone to ever feel attacked just by being who they are.

But I would say that my real start career-wise in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, would be when I was an RA. I went to college, I became an RA and I would be that RA going around doing programs like, “Let's do programing on how to respect each other.” And I did a lot of programming on, it was the time of AIDS Awareness, HIV, AIDS Awareness, STDs when we called them STDs.


Audra: Yeah.


Sofia: I would do programs called “Condoms and Games” or “How to be a Better Lover” on just respecting each other and how to be mindful of each other's boundaries and stuff like that. So it was kind of like some of it was gender, some of it was sexuality. And having gone to Catholic school most of my life, my mom would have been shocked to know what kinds of presentations and programs I would do.


Audra: Right. I mean, how courageous of you as an undergrad RA to dive right in. I mean, I think it's incredible. What were you studying at the time?


Sofia: Organizational Communications. I gravitated towards any class where I can be talking. I love…


Justin: Do we get to talk here?


Sofia: Is it math or not? No. I love math, but that's how I started. So I was an RA and then when I was about to finish school, I was talking to my hall director and I said, “I'm not sure what I want to do next, but maybe I could do what you're doing. You seem to really enjoy working with students and kind of working through challenges and crises. I kind of like that.”

And she said, “well, you have to get your Master's.” So I went all the way to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to find a job in New Jersey. So my real start was Seton Hall University. I love them. I got a Grad Assistantship before I even applied to a Master's program. They were like, “Which program are you with?”


Audra: Wow.


Justin: That’s awesome.


Sofia: I don't even know all of these things, so I look up there...


Audra: No, it's amazing.


Sofia: I'm learning it was the Master's in Educational administration supervision and they only had a Ph.D., not a Masters. So I kind of created my first higher Ed Masters degree because I was piecing it together and they allowed me. And this is back to like, the idea of diversity. There was a chair of the department who was just amazing, gave me so much grace, and said, “Wait, but you got into the K through 12 program. Why would you want to do higher ed?” I said, “I always wanted to do higher ed and I saw the classes were there, so I figured we could work something out.” That's where I channel my mom.


Audra: Oh, yes.


Justin: Nice.


Sofia: That’s where I channel my mother again. And I can't think of why we can't do that. Let's figure it out. And we did. And I ended up staying there for my PhD too. I finished it decades later.

But what resonates to me throughout my whole career is that I had people along the way who didn't see me as Latina and didn't see me as a Black woman, didn't see me as a woman, just saw me as a scholar, as a student, as an employee, as an administrator. So I would say that working in higher ed and working in student affairs especially, seeing humanity in its rawest form, was really where I've gotten a lot of my, I guess, open-mindedness and thoughts about how diversity can work if you really just shift your perspective and your own awareness.


Justin: So you have already said a couple of terms that I think we use them regularly throughout our lives, but not many of us have a chance to step back and examine these words. So I'm wondering if you can take us through a couple of definitions. So, first of all, can you walk us through what the differences between “race” and “ethnicity.”


Sofia: Sure, I'll speak to it from my own perspective in my own identity. But race is a socially constructed concept that people from different colors and what they appear can be labeled a certain way. So that's why you'll see on the US Census form, are you, well, I see that. Are you Hispanic or not? And then you pick there and then from there you pick race. And then there's Asian, Caucasian, White, there's Black. And to be honest, back before I went to college, if you had asked me what my race was, I would have just said, “Oh, I'm Dominican” or “I'm Hispanic,” because that was the language at the time. Now we see Latinx, Latino.

So I didn't learn that I was Black as a race until I went to college. And other people told me, “You know, you're Black, right?” I'm like, “What? My mom didn't tell me I was Black. What are you talking about?” Meanwhile, my family and many of my grandparents, my parents are darker than me. So when I came back home and told my mom, “Oh, by the way, we're Black, you can't say negative things.” And like in my family, sometimes there were some issues with like if you marry, don't marry someone Black because you're going to bring down the whole culture. There were serious issues like that within the culture, which I hate to admit it, but that's what race is. That idea of what you look like and the identity with it. So now I proudly say I'm Black. Like I said, if you had asked me at 14 what was my race, I wouldn't know how to answer that question. So it's also an evolving concept and self-identity thing.

Ethnicity. I would define it as a community-oriented identification. So like if I say my race is Black, then I say my ethnicity is Latina or Latinx or Hispanic. If that's the community of other people that have similar traits or similar commonalities with food, commonalities with language, I also speak Spanish.

Then if you ask me what my nationality is, I was Dominican because I was born in the Dominican Republic. But once I came to the United States and became a citizen, my nationality technically is American or United States. So there's like layers of who you are.


Justin: Layers, yeah.


Audra: You know what? I'd really like to put a pin in and go back to in this as well, because that was a beautiful I mean, I love the way that you share this through the personal lens. Like, for example, I had no idea that it sounds like from the kind of like Dominican heritage in your family, like you struggle with some racism, even going back into your own heritage. I did not know this is a part of your story. You talk about race as a social construct. And I think that that is a really, really powerful point that I don't know how many of us like, that's really something to dig into. So we're saying that race isn't a…


Justin: Biological fact.


Audra: Right. I mean, I think when you look at the sort of genetics involved, there's like a barely perceptible something that gives your skin a different color and that's it. And what is constructed around all of that is the social construction part. And it reminds me of, you remember Professor Mitchell at ASU? So we were taking this class…


Justin: Late ‘90s.


Audra: Late nineties. We go to our professor, one of our favorite classes ever, a Black faculty member. And we're like, oh, my god, we're studying postmodernism structuralism. And we have learned that race is a floating signifier and our minds are blown up. We're so excited by this. And he looks at us and he goes, “Doesn't matter much when I get punched in the face.”


Sofia: Right. Exactly. That's the problem, right? Other people's perceptions are, it doesn't matter what you think you are, because at the end of the day, you still get judged by what you look like. And that's part of the issue with race that you can say all you want like, “Oh, no, I don't see color. I don't believe in categorizing people.” And it's like, well, that's not even natural. That's not human. We as humans, we categorize people.


Justin: Nor is it a social reality that we live in. Like we live in a culture that is so just soaked in race consciousness for better or for worse.


Sofia: Exactly. I have two books that I want to suggest if I can.


Justin: Oh yes, yes.


Sofia: So one of the books that I read early on in my career that I felt was one of the clearest in terms of trying to explain all this stuff and why it's so important to talk about it was Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum and she actually did an update 20 years later, which was awesome because it was like language changes and evolves over time.

The other one about the social construction piece, I think that I haven't read a book in a while that really made me think like this: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson that came out.


Justin: I heard an interview with her.


Sofia: It just puts it in perspective in a way that is almost, I wouldn't say shocking. I don't think I get shocked that much. But it was very like, wow, how do I not know this? I'm a diversity and inclusion practitioner trainer and yet there are things that it made me think about things in a different way about just humanity, the reality of humanity.


Audra: Is there anything off the top of your head that occurred to you in that way that surprised you?


Sofia: Yes, I think it made me think about like some unconscious ways that, for example, I went to Chile and I'm walking around the streets and I pretty much was ignored because a lot of people where I was navigating space were White. And even though they could be considered as part of the ethnicity of Hispanic or Latino, I felt invisible. And I walked around and I kind of enjoyed it. But I thought, “Why am I feeling so invisible?” And people are not acknowledging me. And then I realized, well, I look darker than everybody else. And I think I even had braids at the time when I went.

So that book made me think about like White women in past times who had maids, servants and some of the women of color in their lives were people who were of service to them. So there was this whole section about that and how sometimes that's such a consciousness that you don't even realize is there.

And maybe I've had experiences that I've had some challenges with White women in my life who I felt like we're not equals, are we? At the end of the day, I'm thinking we are. And then something happens in the interaction if we're working together, something that I'm like, you still think you're better than me or you have power over me or you're talking to me in a way that you think I'm less than. And the thing about my perspective is, I don't think you realize you're doing it so…


Audra: She doesn't even realize it. Yeah, absolutely.


Sofia: The book put it in perspective. It said basically some people are raised with these people in their lives who are of service to them and they bring that into their lives later in the workplace. And I was like, “That explains so much about so many interactions I’ve had.”


Audra: Such a powerful point. It reminds me too of, you remember Orla's research on orig wife syndrome.


Sofia: Yes.


Audra: We see that with men in the workplace being like, “Well, you're going to pick up the food, right? And you're going to do the agenda and you're going to do…” It's just an example of that embedded sexism.

And I feel like that is a really, really powerful way to talk about White Supremacy culture. And at least in my own work is to understand the deep embeddedness of this. And it is part of the work for me as a White woman is bringing it into my own consciousness. That's my work. What has been sort of laid in there, like culturally and even socially, historically along the line. But that's my work to do. And it's really powerful to hear you speak of your experiences with this.


Sofia: You probably didn't get this education or awareness until you probably went to college, I’m guessing.


Justin: Oh, yeah, absolutely.


Sofia: If you had a great high school teacher who brought you through the Richard Wright and all the really cool literature there. Otherwise, now there's this fight about let's not teach people this negativity of critical racism…


Justin: College was central for me, for a White kid from the suburbs who only hung out with other White kids and only knew other White kids. College was essential in learning this. I had no idea.

And so this idea of unconscious bias is so crucial because I had no idea that I even had these biases until I went to college and learned about this, learned the history, and then learned about this idea of unconscious bias. And then it ties into something that's even broader than this. The idea in therapy and self work that most of our work is about bringing the unconscious into the conscious. And so this is just one really important aspect of just a bigger life work that we all have to do.


Sofia: Absolutely.


Justin: Sofia, so there are so many words here that I just want to make sure parents listening to this get oriented. So we got race, we have ethnicity. We just mentioned unconscious bias. Are there any other key terms that as parents start to think through this stuff and they think about how to talk to their kids about this, what other terms should parents know?


Sofia: I would say if you wanted to go from the positive perspective, it's ally, what it means to be an ally, and to look out for others. And even if you're not part of a culture or a way of being that you can still advocate. So being an advocate for social justice in general. So I would say social justice is another term that I've always loved.

So diversity is who's there, who's not, people, right? Numbers. Inclusion is who is able to contribute and be part of that number. So it's not enough to just bring a number of people that are different together. It's how are you all engaging and does everyone feel like they can equally contribute. And the possibility of outcomes equal for everybody. Diversity, inclusion, equity. And I put it in that order because you hear diversity, equity, inclusion, and that's only because we don't want it to spell “die.”


Justin: Oh, I never thought about that.


Sofia: So I say equity after inclusion, because equity really is the hard work of looking at what is wrong, what is different, what is not happening that's not bringing that…


Justin: Systemically.


Sofia: Because equality is everyone gets the same thing, but equity is everyone gets what they need to be successful and thrive. So I'm going to bring this to parenting for a second. I have two kids, two young people that I am responsible for. They are so different, different personalities, different needs. If I treated them equally then I would be a terrible parent because I’m not being responsive to what each of them needs to be able to thrive. So I've had to really work hard to figure this out over time, right?


Justin: I love that.


Sofia: And you never get it completely right. But I'm going to frame it in saying it's just being responsible, paying attention. So when it comes to diversity, everybody's like, “This is so hard.” And they sit through maybe like a long day of a workshop. And it's like, “You know what's hard? Living this every day and having to respond to other people because of the way you've been treated or looked at or the injustices that might happen to you personally because other people don't understand they're doing it.”

So diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, as in what are the actions you're taking to actually make change and create opportunity for other people. But that takes, let's bring in another term ‘anti-racism.’ I also like to say ‘anti-bias,’ because I think racism obviously is a major issue in this last year, especially. A lot of parents were like, “How do I talk to my kids about this?”


Audra: Right.


Sofia: And someone like me who is already a Person of Color, it is like, how do I not? I have to. My kids are already navigating the world in a way that's unjust. So I'll give you an example. When my son was in PreK, the teacher called us in because they do these testing things to see you know, can he touch his nose? Can he touch his knees? Can he follow direction, I guess is the whole premise there. So we got to meet with the teacher and she's like, “I just want to talk to you about your son, maybe has some issues.” And I said, “Oh, what's the problem?” “Well, maybe it's a language barrier issue.” I said, “That's interesting because my son doesn't speak Spanish and that's my bad.”

I'm trying to understand what's happening. She's like, “Well, when I was giving him instruction, he was looking at me strange. I told him to touch his nose. I told him to bend down and put his hand up. And he just looked at me really strange the whole time. I was trying to figure out if he understood me.” And I said, “Oh, let me figure out what's going on here.” So I go back to my son and I said, “What happened? The teacher said you were looking at him funny.” He says, “I was just trying to figure out why she's telling me to touch my nose in school. What's the point?”

He was just confused. But basically, she chalked it up to, one: that he was Latino and one: that he was a kid of color and that somehow there was a developmental delay with him because he was looking at her strange…


Justin: Where it was the opposite. He was like, “What are you doing? Why?”


Sofia: “What is this? Why are you telling me to touch my nose? Like, it's silly because I'm, aren't I supposed to learn about letters and numbers?” Like, what are you...


Audra: Sofia, that sounds exhausting. I mean, you were pulled into a meeting. A working mom is the last thing that you needed to be pulled into a meeting. And then you have to go and have this conversation and to then face this sort of like, I don't know. Did it feel almost like it's bias? Did it feel like scrutiny to some degree? Judgment? I mean, it sounds exhausting.


Sofia: All of it. And it's not the first instance. There's been others where I've had teachers just, I'm trying to figure out if that teacher is mistreating my child because of who they are or are they just mean. And I mean, I don't know. I'm just trying to, and that's the exhausting piece, right?

Like, always trying to figure out, it could just be that she's just mean to him because she doesn't like his personality or her personality. But if you're trying to figure it out all the time, because I know that my experience is I'm always trying to figure out. Did I not get that promotion because of who I am? Did I not…


Justin: That's super fascinating. I've never thought, like, if there's some instance where one of our kids is, we perceive them as being treated unfairly or unkind. I just immediately chalk it up to that person's a jerk and that's who they are. And there's no so-


Audra: Yeah, we don’t go through any of that.


Justin: And just the like, psychological and emotional burden that I don't have to carry. That and, so this is super interesting.  


Audra: That’s White privilege, isn’t it?


Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So this is what helped me start to understand White privilege and why it's so hard for most White people to understand White privilege is that, it's what you don't have to deal with.

It's the times you didn't get pulled over. You know, it's the time you didn't get followed. And this is like all the stuff that you never have seen in your life. And so it's hard to see White privilege when you're White because it's all the stuff you didn't have to deal with.


Sofia: Exactly. But as we learned this last year, when we talk about anti-racism, anti-bias, it's not what is happening and pointing out all the problems. It’s: what am I doing to make things better? Am I trying to notice those things, am I going to look out for others who are already experiencing these?

Like, I was having a conversation with someone about antisemitism and the growing number of polls and epithets, I mean, it's just horrible and Islamophobia. And I think of every ism, every otherness. I think of what things I'm not and am I doing something? Am I...

So back to what do I talk to my kids about this? We're always having conversations about my poor kids. They have language probably that other kids may not have because I'm all right. So we're always talking about like, who are we missing? Who are we not looking out for, who are we not standing up for when it comes to LGBTQ+ advocacy? They've always heard me say positive things about what we need to be doing more of. We go to a Pride Parade. As a queer woman myself, like I am constantly trying to figure out how do we use language that is not coded in negativity all the time?

Because I think sometimes we say things that you don't know what your child’s identity is. You don't know that. And there are things that they might hear when they're five, six, seven, eight years old. Whether it's forming their opinions and thoughts, they might hear a parent say a negative thought about somebody because of their identity. And they might say, “Oh, now I can't be who I am. Now I can't tell Mom who I am because I heard that negativity.” Or if they say racist stuff about a culture and they like somebody from that culture, guess what? They're not going to be able to talk to their parent about that because they're going to say, “Oh, my parent is not going to accept me now.”


Audra: It doesn't feel safe.


Sofia: It doesn't feel safe. So we're always trying to, I'm not saying I'm perfect. We're not, I'm sure I say things that they're like, “Why did you say that?”

Like, one thing that happened is my, we were in the car and my daughter was little. I try not to tell too many more recent stories because there's a lot. But when she was like five, I was handing her the phone and my husband's uncle was calling and he was speaking in Spanish and she took the phone and he was trying to say just ‘happy birthday.’ So she handed back the phone and she goes, “I don't understand what he's saying.” And we're like “What?” “I don't know. He's saying something in Spanish. I'm not from there.”

And I freak out and I'm like “Not from where?” I was not driving, if I had been driving, I think I would have been like errrrrr. “How did I not instill pride for my culture?” So then we had a whole conversation about like, “Oh, you don't have to know Spanish to be Hispanic or to be Latina.” So it was a very interesting moment where you think you're embedding or instilling certain values and pride, but you're not if you're not actively engaging in and talking about it.


Justin: A decade ago, Audra and I received news no parent ever expects to hear: “Your four-year-old son has brain cancer.” I’m telling you, in that hospital room in Orange County, California, we had a lot of tears and we felt a lot of despair. But in that room, we also vowed that we would use this pain to help our family thrive no matter what. Here we are, a decade later, after starting and growing a nonprofit that has helped thousands of childhood cancer families thrive. We are on a mission to bring our years of knowledge and experience working with researchers, doctors, therapists, and other experts to all families everywhere.

To do all this we’re building The Family Thrive, an online community of top health and wellness experts and parents like us who are looking to thrive in the face of challenge. It has fresh, daily expert articles on topics that matter to parents like us, like developing practices around parent emotional health, or how to cook a meal that supports metabolic health in under 20 minutes, or what we should know about circadian rhythms to boost our kids' mental health.

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Audra: Sofia, it sounds like what I'm hearing is there's a wonderful opportunity to infuse joy and positivity when you're talking about our relationship with the world, with others, with how we're showing up for others, the things that we're noticing that there could be, it sounds, like there's a really powerful effect in our own modeling, not only for ourselves, probably, but also for our kids in being able to bring this positive and joyful language to the home when speaking of others and other cultures and our observances and things like that.


Sofia: Absolutely. And my family is a big family. We have 15—I think I hope to have the number right every time I turn around there's a new one—but we have 15 cousins that all hang out together. And if you saw the picture of them, they all look so different. They're all different shades. They all have different personalities. And it's so wonderful to have them all together and playing together because I'm like, this is what I would love to see in the world.


Audra: That was beautiful.


Sofia: That play together and don't have any concern of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality is not an issue. It's like we're just having a good time and we're having fun.


Justin: We're humans having a good time.


Audra: Can I talk with you? Because I think one step in this direction of achieving this vision that you speak of, this beautiful vision. It's what I love to see in the world as well. And it's a vision where we love our color and that inherent beauty in our differences and all of that. We love that. It's not the color blind thing. It's like the profound, the beauty of profound diversity and difference. And it seems like a step in that direction is this inner work, especially for White folks and White women like myself, is this inner work.

But then on top of that, that inner work leads to the desire to show up. We want to show up more every day, get up off the couch of White privilege where things are comfortable and move into the space of doing outward work. And I think that's moving into the space of allyship. And I really want to model that for my kids.

The other side to this, some of what I have been seeing, too, is significant emotional labor that we throw on people of Color and as White women, White women, women of Color to bear witness to this ship, to hear from us, to see us all of this, like I want to do this work. I've been trying to do this work with my kids, totally imperfectly as well. So I want to know from you, if you won't, if you don't mind talking about it, like, do you have this experience of that burden of White kind of like allyship moving forward as we are growing? Are we a burden? I guess essentially, are we a burden on people of Color as we're growing?


Sofia: I'm going to answer, like I said, clear is kind: yes.


Justin: Yes, clear is kind.


Sofia: And yeah, it depends on context. Right. Like, I have chosen a career of being in the field of diversity, equity, inclusion, which means that it's my job to point out injustices or see where there might be some issues. But it's also an exhausting job because sometimes some of the people that are the more vocal about their allyship are the ones that are sometimes the worst when their actions are not aligning.

So my thought on allyship is don't wait for the recognition. I think some people really would love to and that's a conditioning thing to look at what I did, I read this book. I'm doing this amazing thing and I know people who will constantly tell me the work they're doing behind the scenes, but will actually sit in a meeting with me and not call out an injustice in the moment. And that's great that you're reading all these great books that you went to that book club, that you put that blog together. But if you're not showing up for me as a colleague, as a friend, I'm not sure if it's worth your time to continue to read those things.

So I would say, like what on an ongoing basis do you do, what decisions to make? Do you surround yourself with people of Color and not in tokenized ways, but we're partners together. I'm going to share my resources, my power, and my influence with this person so that you are taking the actions that are behind this, beyond just the learning. So I wouldn't say it's a burden. It's more like an awareness that needs to happen around really showing up.


Audra: Yeah. What it means to get into the work. You know, that's something that really struck me in the past year, especially after the murder of George Floyd, was coming to understand, like I remember thinking, “I don't have anything to give. What do I have to offer?” Like what do I have, like, in terms of…

And it was just like an overnight switch of like, wait a minute, you know, there are so many different things I can do in our daily lives and through our businesses, through our nonprofit to support people of Color, especially for me to support women of Color, and to be able to show up in a way that I didn't think I had resources, I do have resources. And it was coming to understand that I do have opportunities if I just kind of flip the switch and start thinking about how I can start to show up. To me, it was just a huge difference. I was stuck in the phase before of like I don't really know what to do to show up. That's my work. And I do think everybody has that opportunity inside themselves in their own lives as their own work to do. But we all have spaces where we can show up.

I have an example of a woman I've worked with who, you know, I remember she came to me in the nonprofit world and said, “Hey, can I talk with you about the nonprofit?” And I remember thinking, “Oh, my god, I’m pushing water up a mountain. I have nothing to give. I have nothing to offer with that.” And I started to dig in and realize, especially in this past year, no, I do. I have connections that I have because of my privilege. And these are connections to be shared, to be shared with you. You know, it's just like small, small things like that I think especially for White women, there is a lot of, “Oh, my god, there's so much of it to do.” So it resonates with me not trying to perform this, but just doing the work.

The other side of it, most of the people I know in my network are White women. So I do feel like there is a role for sort of like, sharing the work. But it's a fine line, I feel like between because it is about you doing the work and knowing that yourself and growing yourself. But then you also want to encourage the other White people in your life.


Sofia: Exactly, and I love the idea of that action could look like what you were saying, being a good mentor to people. But beyond mentorship and giving your information and being able to help someone out is also sponsorship. What doors are you opening and who are you introducing people to and living in a world of abundance and not of scarcity. Like, oh, if I open that door somehow that's going to be a problem for me. It's like, no, no, no. We have different missions, different things that we could be doing and then we can partner on some things and strengthen something that we're working on.


Justin: So, Sofia, I would be remiss if I don't just ask this really specific question because I want parents listening to the podcast to just get this little piece from you. Do you have any advice for White parents, like us, to talk to our kids about race, ethnicity, social justice, diversity, inclusion, equity?


Sofia: Yes, I would say don't wait. It's not a special conversation that ‘Let me wait till they turn 13’ and now I'm going to have a…


Justin: It's like ‘the talk.’


Sofia: Yes, think about the talk that Black parents have to have with their young men of Color or even Hispanic parents, Latino parents. That conversation of: you show up differently in the world. You're going to be mistreated. And, yeah, that's a conversation later. You're not going to scare a five-year-old and say, “Ok, the world is horrible to you because of what you look like.”

But I would say, like, don't shush when conversations are happening around there. I think a lot of folks will not say the word “Black” even because they're like I was, somebody shushed me because I pointed out somebody was Black or I was watching TV and something came up. You have to have those conversations early, really early. And it doesn't have to be a whole sit-down explanation. It could be as practical as making sure that your children's books are diverse, that there are different representations in your household around different cultures. That when you're watching movies, you're not only focusing on movies, are trying to seek out movies that have a more broader representation. Unfortunately, that's harder to find.

And it's funny because I was just watching Netflix and I go to Amazon Prime, I go to all these things and they're like the Black Experience and, or during Asian American and Pacific Islander, the Asian Experience, which is great. Group them for me and that's awesome. But they should just be family stories. They should just be like comedy and they're all there. But I think doing that as a parent goes a long way to really showing young people the different ways that people live.


Justin: So what I'm hearing is a more subtle like it's not sitting down. And, you know, “Son, let's talk about race and ethnicity.” But that it is this ongoing, subtle way of bringing diversity into the home through books or movies or TV shows.


Audra: Also our role modeling, it seems like we're like, learning, unlearning, doing our work and being vocal about that, you know what I mean? Sharing at the table what we're learning. I know having slightly older kids now, one of the cool things has been like there's a lot of movies we can watch together, a lot of, you know, a lot of opportunities there that have been really, really awesome for us to be a part of, our journey has been—and we've had significant privilege to be able to do this—but we chose to live in a more diverse place than where we were living before.

And a big part of that was a consciousness around like how our kids were growing up. And we didn't want to kind of perpetuate the way that we grew up, right. And it was, we had the really great opportunity to move into a place that is significantly more diverse and has automatically just brought up more opportunities for conversation, just sort of embedded in the home.

But it sounds like too, with little kids, like what you were talking about, like I totally we're of the generation growing up when a little kid would be like, “Look, Mommy, that person has brown skin. Look, Mommy, that person,” you know. Like kids are observers, right? Like you said, we're built to see difference. And we grew up in the generation of the parent being like “Shhhh. That is not nice.”


Sofia: We do not talk about it. Yeah. And it's like...


Audra: Why is that not nice? It's beautiful. Right? Isn't it beautiful that we all have profoundly different skin colors? Do you want to talk more about that?


Sofia: Exactly. Like I remember when my son saw two men holding hands. “Look, they're holding hands.” I'm like, “Yeah, they are a couple.” Like me and your Papi, just so it’s normalized. And I remember when he was taking a Taekwondo class and I was in that class too, a different class, not the kid one, the adult one.


Justin: You are crushing it in that kid’s class.


Sofia: How this shows up later, it's normalized, right. This is what couples look like, the different representation of that. During a class, he had, Master Lee had all the kids lined up. And he's like, “you need to have hair neat, uniform clean.” It was like one of the tenets of the thing, that you had to come in looking me. You can look a mess. And he would say, don't you want to look- he's rubbing the head of a girl and said, “Don't you want to look good for your boyfriend?” Like he's genderizing it. It actually was my daughter who goes, “Mommy doesn't Master Lee know that boys can be with boys and girls with girls? How does he not know that?”


Justin: You might be good at martial arts, but you need some social skills.


Sofia: Exactly. So but, you know, there's so many settings, this stuff like that gets normalized. So because I was having conversations with my child early on at five years old, she recognizes like, something's not right. So you don't have to that's that critical thinking skill.

There are people around this to have different ways of thinking, different ways of navigating the world, and they don't have to be the same as you. So you just need to know for yourself what is right and what is wrong and then compare and say, oh, look, he messed up. He doesn't know that, but it's like he doesn't. So that's ok. Or he doesn't want or maybe he's not, in that moment just didn't give the example. So I don't know what it was. Let's not make assumptions. Assume the best.


Audra: Yeah. And as a parent we can, we're all, I mean from our generation anyway, and with the way many of us were raised, we're going to struggle with like a binary kind of view, for example. And, you know, you can change along the way.

Like, I remember having this awareness when we're talking about, well, like someday you might have a girlfriend, boyfriend sort of situation to the kids, like, and all of the diversity in that. So we're like, it could be boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever. And I had a proud moment recently where Maesie helped Max do that Grand Theft Auto presentation and everything. He hired her to help with the presentation. And she was like, “Mommy, he didn't have all the pronouns, like we needed to have more diversity in the pronouns.” So I definitely added that for him and talked to him about that.

And I think you're right, it is just these efforts to normalize. And I think many of us do have to raise our own awareness in order to insert that into these conversations. But it is a really, really powerful way to start bringing diversity and really belonging into the home.


Sofia: Yes, it starts at home.


Justin: So, Sofia, you have worked for the JED Foundation, which does amazing work around teen and young adult mental health and suicide prevention. Can you tell us a little bit about what you learned there, what you learned as a parent? Just a little bit about your work there. And I know that you're transitioning so…


Audra: And maybe even the transition to the JED Foundation and then, because that is really interesting, to coming out of higher education.


Sofia: Oh, well, I was in higher ed for 24½ years when I got recruited for a role at the JED Foundation. And you already mentioned the mission, which was amazing to me because after being in higher ed and observing young people just struggling and I always loved working in colleges because it was the transition time that you realize like, wow, some people have eye-opening experiences for the first time in college that I've never experienced this. So first time away from home, first time on my own, first time meeting people different than me. And that comes with a lot of mental health weight from I thought I knew everything and now I'm shocked or my eyes are open.

And sometimes that's really positive and cool. For some, it's negative and really feels like what did I miss? Right. And that comes with a lot of struggles mentally. And it's also an age where some people are realizing for the first time that they have a mental disorder or an illness. That's something that was not diagnosed previously.

So there's a lot of resource sharing and connecting to practitioners and mental health providers in a way that I feel like, “Ok, this is your moment. Let's figure this out so that you can set yourself up for success from now on.” So to me, the transition to JED, I was at first like, “Oh, I'm not sure I've been in higher ed so long. My next role, I was the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students and in my mind and the trajectory of my career, I'm going to be a Vice President of Student Affairs.”

And then when the role came up and I was recruited, the idea of putting together the diversity, equity, inclusion and thinking about disparities and who's not getting what they need in terms of health, mental health help and resources, and putting that together with mental health and mental health together was to me like, wow, it was the equity and mental framework that was put together between the JED Foundation and The Steve Fund that really when I read the 10 recommendations, there's a lot of others in there, but basically like making mental health a priority, listening to your students to get their feedback about what they need, diversifying and training and making sure that your staff is culturally responsive, you can go on and on.

But to me, they were like, “Ok, I can really see myself really helping to move this along and helping the organization think about it from a more connected perspective.” So that was my transition to JED. And I've been there two-and-a-half years.

And one thing that I've learned is I'm a higher ed professional. I'm also a D.I.E. practitioner. So the mental health piece was not one that I knew it more from a first responder situation, handling crises and working through situations on different campuses. But I felt like at this time they need the clinical perspective now, and there are many really amazing researchers, psychologists who this is their world and trying to do the practical research around this.

So I kind of feel like my role at JED, I was there two-and-a-half years and I'm still staying on to help with a couple of projects that I'm really excited about. One of them is called Proud and Thriving, supporting the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people in higher ed, in high school and in colleges. So I'm taking on new roles, focusing back on primarily diversity, equity and inclusion. I'm going to be the Managing Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion for Billie Jean King Enterprises. And….


Audra: All right!


Justin: That’s awesome.


Sofia: So I know it's a hard transition because I'm like, you know, once you're at a place that you really feel like you're making a difference and the JED Foundation is doing some amazing things and I'd love to talk about some things I learned there, even for my own family.

But when I was recruited to do this position for Billie Jean King, she is an icon, a champion for equality, for gender equity, for equity for women in general, equality for sports and even beyond sports. Just making sure that everyone is respected and is given their fair chance, fair opportunities and their due in terms of finances. All of it, because I think that helps to even the playing field literally for future generations.

So making sure that young women get connected and get what they need to move forward and thrive. So I'm excited. I start in the next couple of weeks, very soon. And I'm excited because we'll be able to work with different organizations to help them strategize and think about what could they be doing differently or what can they continue to be doing that's helping their employees and their communities thrive and really respect differences. And not just that, but figure out how those differences can actually help everyone be better people, to put out better products, put out better services. So that's what I'm going to be doing. I'm excited.


Audra: Oh, it's beautiful. What an incredible mission, too. And the fact that, you're so entrepreneurial, that's one thing that I really, really love about you. You’re in another founding role. I mean, I think one thing that we didn't talk about is that you founded an organization, too. You have a group of eight thousand women on Facebook who are completing, they’re Latinas completing doctoral degrees.


Sofia: Yes.


Audra: This is in addition to everything else you're doing. I mean, you talk about moving, pushing the needle and bringing, I think, bringing women into the spaces where we need them most. Especially bringing Latinas into the spaces where we need them most is incredible.

So this seems like totally just makes sense for me, for you, because you're a founder. You're an entrepreneur. I think you see need and you move into addressing it. Super exciting.


Sofia: Yeah.


Justin: Yeah. And you'll be starting in the next couple of weeks. And so we are excited to have you back on pretty soon so you can tell us about all the work that you're into there. This is such an exciting position. And we're so we're just so thrilled for you.


Audra: Yeah, I'm really, really interested to know more about you as this starts to come up and we talk next time about how we can move forward into a space of not only celebrating our differences, but like treasuring and protecting it.

To me, it's a whole nother level between acknowledging and then kind of like really celebration to then moving into the space of protection. And this is our future, the growth of our country, our economy, our I think moving into the space of creating a safer world. We need to move into that space of protection and treasuring almost.


Sofia: The idea of safety, psychological safety, safety in general, so that everyone can just be themselves and not be afraid of speaking their own truth and just being who they are and not being afraid of navigating space and wondering, is someone going to be treating me differently, mistreating me? I would love to see that. That's my goal. In every space, everyone can navigate it fully as themselves.


Audra: How does this movement towards safety relate to, from your perspective, some of the unique mental health challenges faced by BIPOC folks in this country and also probably more generally what you can extrapolate from that and how that relates to safety, and what we can do.


Sofia: I'll speak to BIPOC mental health month. It used to be, I think it was 2008, I could be wrong. What Bebe Moore Campbell had her name was attached to National Minority Mental Health Month, Awareness Month, and a few organizations last year with the movement of really pointing out that there are some people in minority communities, or minority numerically. I know that's not a term that is embraced anymore because it really has been used in negative ways as opposed to the numerical sense minority has and less then. So I personally don't use Minority Mental Health Month for that reason. But I also recognize that not everybody understands what BIPOC is the Black, Indigenous and People of Color, which is a term that we heard more.

It's not a new term, but we heard more in the last year because it pointed out this unique, I would say, challenges for Black, Indigenous and people who visually look in ways that if you think about White supremacy and White and then I don't use that term lightly, I'm very careful when I see the idea of Whiteness as the norm. And that's the way I define it.

Like who is other than what is seen as the norm? And there was a congressional task force that got formed to talk about Black youth mental health and specifically Black youth suicide, that while the numbers of suicides overall in the last year, which is excellent news, has gone down. And I don't have the numbers off the top of my head. But the numbers for young Black youth, Latinx youth and Indigenous youth has not gone down, it’s actually going up. Because I think when you're watching violence and injustices and see like, is there hope for me in this future?

And I actually when I see the numbers of who is getting advanced, what the C-suites are looking like, what boards are looking like, and you're still not there after all this time. And, you know, forget about People of Color, even women are not there. So then what kind of hope do you feel like you have in your future when you feel like so many doors are not opening up for you?

So I would say that when it comes to mental health, that's that part of that stress. So there's a lot of resilience, which I think is awesome. We use that term a lot like, “Oh, you're so resilient.” But when you're constantly feeling like messaging around your identity is negative. Of course you build resilience because you're like, I have to get through this and you have people around you, families, back to the when you talk to your kids about this, I think families of Color have always had to combat against what the world is seeing with what the media is saying about People of Color. So they do help their children build that resilience.

But when it lives in reality, as you grow up and you start seeking out those opportunities beyond your family safety network, I think that's when it really hits hard and hits home. So that's what I think causes a lot of a lot more mental health concerns. And those disparities in terms of psychologists and mental health providers.

If you look at psychologists, last I looked I think was from 2018. If you look at it was like 86% of psychologists that were tracked by APA, the American Psychological Association were White. Then after that, I forgot the numbers exactly, but consider that only 14% of everyone else. So when you don't see yourself in the profession, you don't see it normalized in your family because of cultural issues or religious issues. Whereas some families might say don't talk out of turn. And in some families, therapy is normalized. There are, I know people who grew up and were in therapy since they were little because their families said this is part of life. You need someone else outside of your family and who's professional to talk about your challenges. That is not the case for every family. And it's actually not accessible if you don't have the finances or you don't have health care coverage to be able to see.

I mean, I was trying to make an appointment with a therapist through my own and I have health insurance and it was a challenge. It took weeks because just trying to connect, who takes my insurance? How much is the copay? How much is it to see? So I can not even imagine for families just don't have that kind of coverage. All those families are working part-time who don't have mental health or even just health, dental health coverage. So I think there's a lot to be done and there’s work in recruiting psychologists of Color, but also in making sure that there's access to care.


Justin: We have you just for a couple more minutes. I want to see if I can just get in these final three questions that we asked guests. The first one is if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?


Sofia: I would say, ‘Give yourself much grace as you would to others.’


Justin: Mmm. Give yourself grace. Beautiful, and then what is the last quote that changed the way you think or feel?


Sofia: I would say one by Maya Angelou, where it's “Once you know better, do better.” Like we can sit in our lack of awareness or I didn't know and it's like, well, now, you know, and that's with anything... Even in a relationship.

Trust me, I'm about to be married. I want to say that I'm going to be, next week is my 20-year wedding anniversary. And if I learned anything, it's once you know what your partner needs, wants you, you should act on that and make sure that you're doing that. I haven't been perfect, but I would say, like, that's where, how we got to 20 years. Just trying to understand, like, what do you need to be your own successful, thriving person and what do I need and paying attention to that.


Audra: What a beautiful gift to share.


Justin: And then finally, what is your favorite thing about kids?


Sofia: My favorite thing is you never know what they're going to do and say. It’s always a surprise.


Justin: It's always an adventure!


Sofia: I was always scared to have kids. I didn't even know I would because I never considered myself a good parent. Like I was always like, can I be like, what do you say to young people? I babysat when I was little, but when it came to my own, I actually had to ask somebody, like, how do you respond to kids? Like, what do you do with them, how do you play with them? And my mom was not a playful person. What am I going to do? And somebody I remember the best advice I got was “you wait for them to tell you what they want.” I was like, “I can do that. That's easy. I can respond.” So I feel like that helped me calm down about whether or not I was going to be a proactive, good parent. It was …


Audra: Another great point.


Justin: Ah, that’s beautiful.


Audra: Sofia, thank you so much, so much for taking the time to talk with us. And we'd really like for this to be a recurring series. We have so much to talk about, as you can tell, like me only I feel like we only got into a little bit at the surface. Like, I really feel like this is such, such an incredible, always incredible conversation with you. But this is really, really powerful work for families. And thank you for everything that you do for the world. The world is so much better off with you in it.


Sofia: Ah, thank you, you’re making me blush. And thank you two so much, for everything that you're doing and the amazing things you're putting together for families, because I think there's such a void. We want to know what to do and it's so helpful to put it in one place that we can really tap into. So thank you for that.


Justin: Thank you for being a part of this team. Yeah.


Audra: Thank you for being on our board. You know, speaking about board positions like thank you and thank you for all of the work that you're going to do to really elevate the resources that we're providing to The Family Thrive.


Sofia: Thank you.


Justin: Alright, my friend.

Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast, if you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple podcast or anywhere you listen to a podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Podcast Ep. 8: How to Talk to Your Kids About Race and Ethnicity With Sofia Pertuz, PhD

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Podcast Ep. 8: How to Talk to Your Kids About Race and Ethnicity With Sofia Pertuz, PhD

Audra and Justin are joined by Sofia Pertuz, PhD to talk about race, ethnicity, allyship, and how to have this conversation with our kids.

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Reading time:

60 Minutes

In this episode:

Audra and Justin are joined by Sofia Pertuz, PhD to talk about the difference between race and ethnicity, how Sofia learned that difference, getting bullied as a child, and how White parents can start talking to their kids about racism. Then they dig into Sofia's work and teen mental health and suicide prevention. You can also check out Sofia’s Cheat Sheet for common terms!

About our guest:

Sofia Pertuz, PhD is a Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity practitioner who has worked in a number of fields, including higher education. Evening the playing field for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities is her life’s work, and in her spare time, she even created the Facebook Group Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees!

Show Notes:

00:26 - To read "The Autobiography of Malcom X," click here, and to watch the 1972 documentary, "Malcom X," click here.

02:39 - Teachers College, Columbia University specializes in graduate-level courses in education, health and psychology.

05:36 - Brene Brown is an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host who promotes discussions on bravery, honesty, and choosing "courage over comfort."

16:21 - Seton Hall University is a Catholic university in South Orange, New Jersey.

21:49 - ASU is Arizona State University

23:05 - To read Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" click here.

23:25 - To read "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson, click here.

26:32 - Richard Wright was an American writer whose work contained commentary and references to racial plights and injustices faced by (primarily) African Americans.

53:40 - The JED Foundation aims to empower young adults and teens with the skills and support they need to "grow into healthy, thriving adults."

55:51 - The Steve Fund is devoted to promoting the mental health and emotional wellness of students of color.

57:08 - You can register to view the "Proud and Thriving" webinar here.

57:24 - Billie Jean King is a tennis pro and proud social justice activist.

1:01:33 - "Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities."

In this episode:

Audra and Justin are joined by Sofia Pertuz, PhD to talk about the difference between race and ethnicity, how Sofia learned that difference, getting bullied as a child, and how White parents can start talking to their kids about racism. Then they dig into Sofia's work and teen mental health and suicide prevention. You can also check out Sofia’s Cheat Sheet for common terms!

About our guest:

Sofia Pertuz, PhD is a Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity practitioner who has worked in a number of fields, including higher education. Evening the playing field for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities is her life’s work, and in her spare time, she even created the Facebook Group Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees!

Show Notes:

00:26 - To read "The Autobiography of Malcom X," click here, and to watch the 1972 documentary, "Malcom X," click here.

02:39 - Teachers College, Columbia University specializes in graduate-level courses in education, health and psychology.

05:36 - Brene Brown is an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host who promotes discussions on bravery, honesty, and choosing "courage over comfort."

16:21 - Seton Hall University is a Catholic university in South Orange, New Jersey.

21:49 - ASU is Arizona State University

23:05 - To read Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" click here.

23:25 - To read "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson, click here.

26:32 - Richard Wright was an American writer whose work contained commentary and references to racial plights and injustices faced by (primarily) African Americans.

53:40 - The JED Foundation aims to empower young adults and teens with the skills and support they need to "grow into healthy, thriving adults."

55:51 - The Steve Fund is devoted to promoting the mental health and emotional wellness of students of color.

57:08 - You can register to view the "Proud and Thriving" webinar here.

57:24 - Billie Jean King is a tennis pro and proud social justice activist.

1:01:33 - "Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities."

In this episode:

Audra and Justin are joined by Sofia Pertuz, PhD to talk about the difference between race and ethnicity, how Sofia learned that difference, getting bullied as a child, and how White parents can start talking to their kids about racism. Then they dig into Sofia's work and teen mental health and suicide prevention. You can also check out Sofia’s Cheat Sheet for common terms!

About our guest:

Sofia Pertuz, PhD is a Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity practitioner who has worked in a number of fields, including higher education. Evening the playing field for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities is her life’s work, and in her spare time, she even created the Facebook Group Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees!

Show Notes:

00:26 - To read "The Autobiography of Malcom X," click here, and to watch the 1972 documentary, "Malcom X," click here.

02:39 - Teachers College, Columbia University specializes in graduate-level courses in education, health and psychology.

05:36 - Brene Brown is an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host who promotes discussions on bravery, honesty, and choosing "courage over comfort."

16:21 - Seton Hall University is a Catholic university in South Orange, New Jersey.

21:49 - ASU is Arizona State University

23:05 - To read Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" click here.

23:25 - To read "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson, click here.

26:32 - Richard Wright was an American writer whose work contained commentary and references to racial plights and injustices faced by (primarily) African Americans.

53:40 - The JED Foundation aims to empower young adults and teens with the skills and support they need to "grow into healthy, thriving adults."

55:51 - The Steve Fund is devoted to promoting the mental health and emotional wellness of students of color.

57:08 - You can register to view the "Proud and Thriving" webinar here.

57:24 - Billie Jean King is a tennis pro and proud social justice activist.

1:01:33 - "Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities."

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Justin: I'm honored to publish this episode for BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month by BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. And this conversation is with our good friend, an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, Sofia Pertuz, PhD.

I have to admit right off the bat that as a white kid from the white suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, talking about race and ethnicity doesn't come easy for me. Outside of reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” after watching the movie in high school, I never gave race and ethnicity much thought. In college, I learned more about American history and the history of Europeans traveling around the world and killing and stealing from non-White people.

At some point, I realized that whether I like it or not, the way my White ancestors thought about race and ethnicity has led to some pretty bad things in the world. And that realization hasn't really helped me understand how to talk to my kids about race and ethnicity. We can watch the movies and documentaries and watch the news, but I still don't know how to bring that into their lives so they can do better than I've done and do better than our ancestors.

Thankfully, Sofia sat down with me and Audra to get into it. We talk about the difference between race and ethnicity. How Sofia learned that difference, getting bullied as a child. How white parents like me can start talking to our kids about racism. And finally, we dig into Sofia's work and teen mental health and suicide prevention. So without further ado, here's our wonderful conversation with Sofia Pertuz PhD.


Audra: Good morning, Sofia. So good to see you!


Sofia: Good morning. It’s good to see you both, always a thrill.


Audra: Thank you so much for being with us today. We are so, so thrilled to have this conversation with you and such an important conversation. I feel like this is one that I have been really, really looking forward to having on The Family Thrive, that I'd like to be ongoing because we're going to be growing together. And I think this conversation can continue to grow.


Sofia: Oh, I'm excited. What are we talking about?


Justin: So, Sofia, we have known you for such a long time that there I mean, we could talk about so many things going all the way back to Columbia in New York City several decades ago.


Audra: Can I just say, can I just add? So we first met Sofia when, actually, we first met in an interview to, for me. So I had gotten into a master's program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and I had found the Resident Director in Residence Life position and was able to secure an interview. So, went out for a live interview at the time. And that's when I first met Sofia. And I was just in awe of Sofia from the beginning. And she's been such an incredible mentor to me from day one. And this was a high-pressure interview, like they put us in scenarios and we were in teams and they're standing there with clipboards.


Sofia: It was a terrible interview process. The wonderful thing is you came through with flying colors and you were awesome. So I'm so glad that we ended up getting to work together because I think we did some great things.


Audra: It was an experience of a lifetime. We were able to move to Manhattan without having to secure an apartment or deposit or anything like that. So if anybody is listening to this thinking, like, “How is my kid going to go to college and make this happen?” I highly, highly recommend Residence Life. Check it out. And it's some of the best people experience you could ever get.

One of the things that you brought to the team was a good amount of experiences, trainings, and support when it comes to what we called at the time “diversity.” And I think that we're kind of changing the language around that now. I think that we're moving into a space beyond kind of diversity and into a space of belonging. So I'm really excited to talk with you about that.

But I also wanted to share that Sofia, as a mentor to me, taught me so, so much. And one of the things that always fits with me is just your kind supportive guidance in the fact that you're always just so real with me. And I'll never forget this time. There was a time when I emailed not an inappropriate email, but an inappropriate email for the setting, like with higher-ups out of frustration for something I'll never forget, like Sofia told me. And she's like, “Sit down. This is not how this is done. This is not how you get things done. This is not the way to go about it.” And it was one of the biggest life lessons for me.

And one of the things that I learned going into higher education myself, going into leadership development, becoming someone who has built teams myself now, is that one of the very, very best things that we can do when it comes to working with others and mentoring folks is being honest and real and kind. Because if you just try to do the people-pleasing, kind of like, “You're doing a great job, it's ok!” You don't get into the real lessons, nobody grows.


Sofia: Exactly, exactly. And I always think feedback is a gift. And I don't like to give feedback. I think most people don't. But I think when you do get the feedback, sometimes it comes in different ways. It comes very direct. And I believe in being clear. Brene Brown has an expression: “Clear is kind.” I know you’ve heard of her expressions, but the idea is that you should just tell people what you mean and mean what you say because that's the best way for us to understand each other and be, I guess, graceful and kind with each other.


Justin: So, it sounds to me like there's parenting lessons in here as well.


Sofia: Yes...parenting lessons. I have a 17-year-old and a 13-year-old and they have taught me so much.


Justin: Yeah, but that the clarity and the feedback because as parents, we're always giving our kids feedback whether we know it or not. And so how did your experience in these leadership roles in higher education inform your parenting?


Sofia: Well, first I'll say, like, maybe I could talk about what I've always done. Right, so I grew up in the Bronx and I grew up with a mom who, parents, but my mom was the strong one in the family who was the one that laid down the law pretty much about what discipline was like. One thing that I remember is my mom was very strict. She was very direct. You couldn't be more direct than my mom, and I lost her back in April. We lost her in April, unfortunately. But I want to say that I start with her because she taught me all the leadership lessons about that clarity and as mean as she was growing up, I feel like I bring that into my parenting.

I try really hard to battle against the overly mean, right. Like being too direct and my kids, I don't yell like, well, maybe I do. But I’m very direct when I'm asking them to do something or explain to them why I'm disappointed that they didn't do something that I asked them to do. And my daughter would say, “Stop yelling.” I'm like, “Oh, you don't know what yelling is.” My mom, not even just yelling, she would go all out.

What I bring from that, from my mom's being very clear about what she expected and telling us exactly what she is disappointed about. I brought that into my parenting where I just let them know. I'm very clear. I'm very open. And my dad was part of our upbringing, too. But he was more quiet. He did things in a much more, I think I take from that too, where sometimes just a look is enough.


Audra: Oh yes.


Sofia: Setting an example was enough. My dad was a kind of person that was just like, you know what, I'm not going to get upset. His car burned down. He had a car that just like, in a parking lot. I don't know what happened to it, but I guess a fuse or something, it pretty much blew up. We were just looking at the picture the other day and he just looked at it and was like, “Ok, I'll get another one. We'll figure it out.” And then there were many instances like that. He was a cab driver and he had a knife put through, to his throat. And I said, “What did you do?” “I gave them the money.”

Like, he just was always very calm and very like when we had achievements, me and my siblings, I grew up with my five siblings and we were all like on honor roll. We were winning awards. And his response was always like, “Que bien. It's what I expect from you. Of course, you're going to be excellent. You're great people and you're smart people and you're great kids.”

So I feel like I got the balance of both, like my mom's “rawr,” over the top, you know, very high expectations always like really clear. And I would even say, like, mean about it. So we knew, like, we had expectations, we for real knew that. With my dad's “Ok, I expect that I'm not going to go over the top on it. I'm just going to expect that and you know it. And you're all going to be good people and that's it.” So I think I got a little bit of both from both.


Audra: Yeah, that resonates with me as somebody who worked for you, I can really see your dad in that you were so calm under any pressure, under any fire and like really modeled the way for all of us on how to just get into calm and be like, “Ok, what's the problem we’re solving?” Like, really straightforward, nothing to freak out about, we’re solving a problem, even like we had an attempted kidnaping or a kidnapping. Actually, I think there's definitely there was attempted suicide attempts and I think a water tower broke on the roof at one point. And we had the blackout when we first got there. I was, we were there for days, I think, and we had the big blackout.


Sofia: Oh, I was busy having a baby actually. My daughter and I was freaking out. I was like, “Oh, no, I'm not there to take care of the things that I need to do.” My daughter was actually born August 13, 2003.


Justin: Oh my god.


Sofia: And then the next day the power was…


Audra: Oh, my god.


Sofia: I was a mess. They had shut down the hospital. I was downtown in Roosevelt Hospital on, what is it, 60th Street. And they shut everything down. Obviously, there was no power. They were on generators, so there was minimal everything. I just had a C-section, which was alright.


Audra: How does that work? I’ve had C-sections. I don't get it.


Sofia: Oh, no. It was terrible because the doctors were cranky. The nurses were cranky because they were grounded. They were told they couldn't leave. So you have to go with...


Audra: Were there first responders?


Sofia: Yeah.


Justin: Oh no.


Sofia: And to come visit me, my husband, Antonio, had to come from 120th Street all the way down to 60th on foot.


Audra: Yes, that's right.


Sofia: Because he couldn’t drive, there were no lights. And had to go up 11 flights to come see us. It was a mess.


Audra: And for your first baby. What a story.


Sofia: That's what I was doing, is that you were all barbecuing because people were like, well I guess this is going to happen for a couple of days. They were like social things happening, a barbecue in front of Bancroft, the building over there. So I felt like at first I'm worried about my baby, me, and I'm crying. She's crying. It was a mess. But I was like I remember getting some reports from people like, “Oh, it's pretty cool. The staff is holding it down, they’re going around with flashlights, they're giving out candles, they're doing what they have to do to do the emergency stuff.” So I felt good that I was like, “They don't need me.” And that's probably the best thing you could do with parenting too. Right?


Justin: I raised them so well.


Sofia: I did the best I could. Like I, my daughter’s graduated from high school. She's about to go to college and a five-year college administrator. I'm absolutely terrified because I was the dean of students. So I thought…


Justin: Oh, you know it all.


Audra: You know too much.


Sofia: And yet I know nothing because I don't know how I'm going to react when it's my child and I'm going to just trust that I did the best I could and that I'm sending this human out into the world who is going to do good things. Who's going to be a good person.

And you know what? If she does bad things and she's a terrible person, it comes with the territory. It's like we have to take it and do the best we can with everything that is in front of us, because not every one of us can be perfect. And I want her to know that. I want them, both my kids, to know we're going to make mistakes. I have made some doozies. As they get older, I share more about the history.


Justin: Up until now, you've been perfect.


Sofia: I’ve been perfect. Like sometimes I start to reminisce and I'm like, “Oh, back in my day I used to go to the club.” And she’s like “So what time did you get home?” Like, nope. “How old were you?” I don't know. I don't remember.


Justin: Thirty… So Sofia. I want to get into this diversity and inclusion part of your life. How did you get into the whole diversity and inclusion world and then what makes you passionate about it?


Sofia: Well, first I would say everyone is in the diversity and inclusion world because everyone is handling different people, different personalities. I think you're asking it from a professional sense, right?


Justin: Yes.


Sofia: So, I started my career in higher education and I remember going away to college. I pretty much went away and stayed in college for the rest of my life until two years ago.


Justin: Preach.


Audra: Reminds me of someone I know.


Sofia: College and how it all started, I think was I had grown up Catholic. I grew up in the Bronx like I said earlier. I was born in Dominican Republic, was brought to the US when I was a baby. I was barely one. And I remember just watching how my family was where we lived.

We lived in a place that there were mostly Puerto Rican and Black families. We were the only Dominican family. As the only Dominican family, we were treated differently. And I remember having some standards around like who to hang out with, who not to, and all that stuff. And so that's got me thinking about, wait a minute, what's different and why are we treating each other differently and why am I being attacked?

I would actually be walking in my neighborhood and I would be attacked by some Black girls who were like, what are you? Touching my hair, pulling my hair because my hair is Black hair. It was curly, kinky at the time. So when they see kind of a light skin, you kind of look, I don't know what you look like. I don't know what you are. I actually was attacked by people who were trying to understand what I was. So I think that's probably how I started, because I don't want anyone to ever feel attacked just by being who they are.

But I would say that my real start career-wise in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, would be when I was an RA. I went to college, I became an RA and I would be that RA going around doing programs like, “Let's do programing on how to respect each other.” And I did a lot of programming on, it was the time of AIDS Awareness, HIV, AIDS Awareness, STDs when we called them STDs.


Audra: Yeah.


Sofia: I would do programs called “Condoms and Games” or “How to be a Better Lover” on just respecting each other and how to be mindful of each other's boundaries and stuff like that. So it was kind of like some of it was gender, some of it was sexuality. And having gone to Catholic school most of my life, my mom would have been shocked to know what kinds of presentations and programs I would do.


Audra: Right. I mean, how courageous of you as an undergrad RA to dive right in. I mean, I think it's incredible. What were you studying at the time?


Sofia: Organizational Communications. I gravitated towards any class where I can be talking. I love…


Justin: Do we get to talk here?


Sofia: Is it math or not? No. I love math, but that's how I started. So I was an RA and then when I was about to finish school, I was talking to my hall director and I said, “I'm not sure what I want to do next, but maybe I could do what you're doing. You seem to really enjoy working with students and kind of working through challenges and crises. I kind of like that.”

And she said, “well, you have to get your Master's.” So I went all the way to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to find a job in New Jersey. So my real start was Seton Hall University. I love them. I got a Grad Assistantship before I even applied to a Master's program. They were like, “Which program are you with?”


Audra: Wow.


Justin: That’s awesome.


Sofia: I don't even know all of these things, so I look up there...


Audra: No, it's amazing.


Sofia: I'm learning it was the Master's in Educational administration supervision and they only had a Ph.D., not a Masters. So I kind of created my first higher Ed Masters degree because I was piecing it together and they allowed me. And this is back to like, the idea of diversity. There was a chair of the department who was just amazing, gave me so much grace, and said, “Wait, but you got into the K through 12 program. Why would you want to do higher ed?” I said, “I always wanted to do higher ed and I saw the classes were there, so I figured we could work something out.” That's where I channel my mom.


Audra: Oh, yes.


Justin: Nice.


Sofia: That’s where I channel my mother again. And I can't think of why we can't do that. Let's figure it out. And we did. And I ended up staying there for my PhD too. I finished it decades later.

But what resonates to me throughout my whole career is that I had people along the way who didn't see me as Latina and didn't see me as a Black woman, didn't see me as a woman, just saw me as a scholar, as a student, as an employee, as an administrator. So I would say that working in higher ed and working in student affairs especially, seeing humanity in its rawest form, was really where I've gotten a lot of my, I guess, open-mindedness and thoughts about how diversity can work if you really just shift your perspective and your own awareness.


Justin: So you have already said a couple of terms that I think we use them regularly throughout our lives, but not many of us have a chance to step back and examine these words. So I'm wondering if you can take us through a couple of definitions. So, first of all, can you walk us through what the differences between “race” and “ethnicity.”


Sofia: Sure, I'll speak to it from my own perspective in my own identity. But race is a socially constructed concept that people from different colors and what they appear can be labeled a certain way. So that's why you'll see on the US Census form, are you, well, I see that. Are you Hispanic or not? And then you pick there and then from there you pick race. And then there's Asian, Caucasian, White, there's Black. And to be honest, back before I went to college, if you had asked me what my race was, I would have just said, “Oh, I'm Dominican” or “I'm Hispanic,” because that was the language at the time. Now we see Latinx, Latino.

So I didn't learn that I was Black as a race until I went to college. And other people told me, “You know, you're Black, right?” I'm like, “What? My mom didn't tell me I was Black. What are you talking about?” Meanwhile, my family and many of my grandparents, my parents are darker than me. So when I came back home and told my mom, “Oh, by the way, we're Black, you can't say negative things.” And like in my family, sometimes there were some issues with like if you marry, don't marry someone Black because you're going to bring down the whole culture. There were serious issues like that within the culture, which I hate to admit it, but that's what race is. That idea of what you look like and the identity with it. So now I proudly say I'm Black. Like I said, if you had asked me at 14 what was my race, I wouldn't know how to answer that question. So it's also an evolving concept and self-identity thing.

Ethnicity. I would define it as a community-oriented identification. So like if I say my race is Black, then I say my ethnicity is Latina or Latinx or Hispanic. If that's the community of other people that have similar traits or similar commonalities with food, commonalities with language, I also speak Spanish.

Then if you ask me what my nationality is, I was Dominican because I was born in the Dominican Republic. But once I came to the United States and became a citizen, my nationality technically is American or United States. So there's like layers of who you are.


Justin: Layers, yeah.


Audra: You know what? I'd really like to put a pin in and go back to in this as well, because that was a beautiful I mean, I love the way that you share this through the personal lens. Like, for example, I had no idea that it sounds like from the kind of like Dominican heritage in your family, like you struggle with some racism, even going back into your own heritage. I did not know this is a part of your story. You talk about race as a social construct. And I think that that is a really, really powerful point that I don't know how many of us like, that's really something to dig into. So we're saying that race isn't a…


Justin: Biological fact.


Audra: Right. I mean, I think when you look at the sort of genetics involved, there's like a barely perceptible something that gives your skin a different color and that's it. And what is constructed around all of that is the social construction part. And it reminds me of, you remember Professor Mitchell at ASU? So we were taking this class…


Justin: Late ‘90s.


Audra: Late nineties. We go to our professor, one of our favorite classes ever, a Black faculty member. And we're like, oh, my god, we're studying postmodernism structuralism. And we have learned that race is a floating signifier and our minds are blown up. We're so excited by this. And he looks at us and he goes, “Doesn't matter much when I get punched in the face.”


Sofia: Right. Exactly. That's the problem, right? Other people's perceptions are, it doesn't matter what you think you are, because at the end of the day, you still get judged by what you look like. And that's part of the issue with race that you can say all you want like, “Oh, no, I don't see color. I don't believe in categorizing people.” And it's like, well, that's not even natural. That's not human. We as humans, we categorize people.


Justin: Nor is it a social reality that we live in. Like we live in a culture that is so just soaked in race consciousness for better or for worse.


Sofia: Exactly. I have two books that I want to suggest if I can.


Justin: Oh yes, yes.


Sofia: So one of the books that I read early on in my career that I felt was one of the clearest in terms of trying to explain all this stuff and why it's so important to talk about it was Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum and she actually did an update 20 years later, which was awesome because it was like language changes and evolves over time.

The other one about the social construction piece, I think that I haven't read a book in a while that really made me think like this: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson that came out.


Justin: I heard an interview with her.


Sofia: It just puts it in perspective in a way that is almost, I wouldn't say shocking. I don't think I get shocked that much. But it was very like, wow, how do I not know this? I'm a diversity and inclusion practitioner trainer and yet there are things that it made me think about things in a different way about just humanity, the reality of humanity.


Audra: Is there anything off the top of your head that occurred to you in that way that surprised you?


Sofia: Yes, I think it made me think about like some unconscious ways that, for example, I went to Chile and I'm walking around the streets and I pretty much was ignored because a lot of people where I was navigating space were White. And even though they could be considered as part of the ethnicity of Hispanic or Latino, I felt invisible. And I walked around and I kind of enjoyed it. But I thought, “Why am I feeling so invisible?” And people are not acknowledging me. And then I realized, well, I look darker than everybody else. And I think I even had braids at the time when I went.

So that book made me think about like White women in past times who had maids, servants and some of the women of color in their lives were people who were of service to them. So there was this whole section about that and how sometimes that's such a consciousness that you don't even realize is there.

And maybe I've had experiences that I've had some challenges with White women in my life who I felt like we're not equals, are we? At the end of the day, I'm thinking we are. And then something happens in the interaction if we're working together, something that I'm like, you still think you're better than me or you have power over me or you're talking to me in a way that you think I'm less than. And the thing about my perspective is, I don't think you realize you're doing it so…


Audra: She doesn't even realize it. Yeah, absolutely.


Sofia: The book put it in perspective. It said basically some people are raised with these people in their lives who are of service to them and they bring that into their lives later in the workplace. And I was like, “That explains so much about so many interactions I’ve had.”


Audra: Such a powerful point. It reminds me too of, you remember Orla's research on orig wife syndrome.


Sofia: Yes.


Audra: We see that with men in the workplace being like, “Well, you're going to pick up the food, right? And you're going to do the agenda and you're going to do…” It's just an example of that embedded sexism.

And I feel like that is a really, really powerful way to talk about White Supremacy culture. And at least in my own work is to understand the deep embeddedness of this. And it is part of the work for me as a White woman is bringing it into my own consciousness. That's my work. What has been sort of laid in there, like culturally and even socially, historically along the line. But that's my work to do. And it's really powerful to hear you speak of your experiences with this.


Sofia: You probably didn't get this education or awareness until you probably went to college, I’m guessing.


Justin: Oh, yeah, absolutely.


Sofia: If you had a great high school teacher who brought you through the Richard Wright and all the really cool literature there. Otherwise, now there's this fight about let's not teach people this negativity of critical racism…


Justin: College was central for me, for a White kid from the suburbs who only hung out with other White kids and only knew other White kids. College was essential in learning this. I had no idea.

And so this idea of unconscious bias is so crucial because I had no idea that I even had these biases until I went to college and learned about this, learned the history, and then learned about this idea of unconscious bias. And then it ties into something that's even broader than this. The idea in therapy and self work that most of our work is about bringing the unconscious into the conscious. And so this is just one really important aspect of just a bigger life work that we all have to do.


Sofia: Absolutely.


Justin: Sofia, so there are so many words here that I just want to make sure parents listening to this get oriented. So we got race, we have ethnicity. We just mentioned unconscious bias. Are there any other key terms that as parents start to think through this stuff and they think about how to talk to their kids about this, what other terms should parents know?


Sofia: I would say if you wanted to go from the positive perspective, it's ally, what it means to be an ally, and to look out for others. And even if you're not part of a culture or a way of being that you can still advocate. So being an advocate for social justice in general. So I would say social justice is another term that I've always loved.

So diversity is who's there, who's not, people, right? Numbers. Inclusion is who is able to contribute and be part of that number. So it's not enough to just bring a number of people that are different together. It's how are you all engaging and does everyone feel like they can equally contribute. And the possibility of outcomes equal for everybody. Diversity, inclusion, equity. And I put it in that order because you hear diversity, equity, inclusion, and that's only because we don't want it to spell “die.”


Justin: Oh, I never thought about that.


Sofia: So I say equity after inclusion, because equity really is the hard work of looking at what is wrong, what is different, what is not happening that's not bringing that…


Justin: Systemically.


Sofia: Because equality is everyone gets the same thing, but equity is everyone gets what they need to be successful and thrive. So I'm going to bring this to parenting for a second. I have two kids, two young people that I am responsible for. They are so different, different personalities, different needs. If I treated them equally then I would be a terrible parent because I’m not being responsive to what each of them needs to be able to thrive. So I've had to really work hard to figure this out over time, right?


Justin: I love that.


Sofia: And you never get it completely right. But I'm going to frame it in saying it's just being responsible, paying attention. So when it comes to diversity, everybody's like, “This is so hard.” And they sit through maybe like a long day of a workshop. And it's like, “You know what's hard? Living this every day and having to respond to other people because of the way you've been treated or looked at or the injustices that might happen to you personally because other people don't understand they're doing it.”

So diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, as in what are the actions you're taking to actually make change and create opportunity for other people. But that takes, let's bring in another term ‘anti-racism.’ I also like to say ‘anti-bias,’ because I think racism obviously is a major issue in this last year, especially. A lot of parents were like, “How do I talk to my kids about this?”


Audra: Right.


Sofia: And someone like me who is already a Person of Color, it is like, how do I not? I have to. My kids are already navigating the world in a way that's unjust. So I'll give you an example. When my son was in PreK, the teacher called us in because they do these testing things to see you know, can he touch his nose? Can he touch his knees? Can he follow direction, I guess is the whole premise there. So we got to meet with the teacher and she's like, “I just want to talk to you about your son, maybe has some issues.” And I said, “Oh, what's the problem?” “Well, maybe it's a language barrier issue.” I said, “That's interesting because my son doesn't speak Spanish and that's my bad.”

I'm trying to understand what's happening. She's like, “Well, when I was giving him instruction, he was looking at me strange. I told him to touch his nose. I told him to bend down and put his hand up. And he just looked at me really strange the whole time. I was trying to figure out if he understood me.” And I said, “Oh, let me figure out what's going on here.” So I go back to my son and I said, “What happened? The teacher said you were looking at him funny.” He says, “I was just trying to figure out why she's telling me to touch my nose in school. What's the point?”

He was just confused. But basically, she chalked it up to, one: that he was Latino and one: that he was a kid of color and that somehow there was a developmental delay with him because he was looking at her strange…


Justin: Where it was the opposite. He was like, “What are you doing? Why?”


Sofia: “What is this? Why are you telling me to touch my nose? Like, it's silly because I'm, aren't I supposed to learn about letters and numbers?” Like, what are you...


Audra: Sofia, that sounds exhausting. I mean, you were pulled into a meeting. A working mom is the last thing that you needed to be pulled into a meeting. And then you have to go and have this conversation and to then face this sort of like, I don't know. Did it feel almost like it's bias? Did it feel like scrutiny to some degree? Judgment? I mean, it sounds exhausting.


Sofia: All of it. And it's not the first instance. There's been others where I've had teachers just, I'm trying to figure out if that teacher is mistreating my child because of who they are or are they just mean. And I mean, I don't know. I'm just trying to, and that's the exhausting piece, right?

Like, always trying to figure out, it could just be that she's just mean to him because she doesn't like his personality or her personality. But if you're trying to figure it out all the time, because I know that my experience is I'm always trying to figure out. Did I not get that promotion because of who I am? Did I not…


Justin: That's super fascinating. I've never thought, like, if there's some instance where one of our kids is, we perceive them as being treated unfairly or unkind. I just immediately chalk it up to that person's a jerk and that's who they are. And there's no so-


Audra: Yeah, we don’t go through any of that.


Justin: And just the like, psychological and emotional burden that I don't have to carry. That and, so this is super interesting.  


Audra: That’s White privilege, isn’t it?


Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So this is what helped me start to understand White privilege and why it's so hard for most White people to understand White privilege is that, it's what you don't have to deal with.

It's the times you didn't get pulled over. You know, it's the time you didn't get followed. And this is like all the stuff that you never have seen in your life. And so it's hard to see White privilege when you're White because it's all the stuff you didn't have to deal with.


Sofia: Exactly. But as we learned this last year, when we talk about anti-racism, anti-bias, it's not what is happening and pointing out all the problems. It’s: what am I doing to make things better? Am I trying to notice those things, am I going to look out for others who are already experiencing these?

Like, I was having a conversation with someone about antisemitism and the growing number of polls and epithets, I mean, it's just horrible and Islamophobia. And I think of every ism, every otherness. I think of what things I'm not and am I doing something? Am I...

So back to what do I talk to my kids about this? We're always having conversations about my poor kids. They have language probably that other kids may not have because I'm all right. So we're always talking about like, who are we missing? Who are we not looking out for, who are we not standing up for when it comes to LGBTQ+ advocacy? They've always heard me say positive things about what we need to be doing more of. We go to a Pride Parade. As a queer woman myself, like I am constantly trying to figure out how do we use language that is not coded in negativity all the time?

Because I think sometimes we say things that you don't know what your child’s identity is. You don't know that. And there are things that they might hear when they're five, six, seven, eight years old. Whether it's forming their opinions and thoughts, they might hear a parent say a negative thought about somebody because of their identity. And they might say, “Oh, now I can't be who I am. Now I can't tell Mom who I am because I heard that negativity.” Or if they say racist stuff about a culture and they like somebody from that culture, guess what? They're not going to be able to talk to their parent about that because they're going to say, “Oh, my parent is not going to accept me now.”


Audra: It doesn't feel safe.


Sofia: It doesn't feel safe. So we're always trying to, I'm not saying I'm perfect. We're not, I'm sure I say things that they're like, “Why did you say that?”

Like, one thing that happened is my, we were in the car and my daughter was little. I try not to tell too many more recent stories because there's a lot. But when she was like five, I was handing her the phone and my husband's uncle was calling and he was speaking in Spanish and she took the phone and he was trying to say just ‘happy birthday.’ So she handed back the phone and she goes, “I don't understand what he's saying.” And we're like “What?” “I don't know. He's saying something in Spanish. I'm not from there.”

And I freak out and I'm like “Not from where?” I was not driving, if I had been driving, I think I would have been like errrrrr. “How did I not instill pride for my culture?” So then we had a whole conversation about like, “Oh, you don't have to know Spanish to be Hispanic or to be Latina.” So it was a very interesting moment where you think you're embedding or instilling certain values and pride, but you're not if you're not actively engaging in and talking about it.


Justin: A decade ago, Audra and I received news no parent ever expects to hear: “Your four-year-old son has brain cancer.” I’m telling you, in that hospital room in Orange County, California, we had a lot of tears and we felt a lot of despair. But in that room, we also vowed that we would use this pain to help our family thrive no matter what. Here we are, a decade later, after starting and growing a nonprofit that has helped thousands of childhood cancer families thrive. We are on a mission to bring our years of knowledge and experience working with researchers, doctors, therapists, and other experts to all families everywhere.

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Audra: Sofia, it sounds like what I'm hearing is there's a wonderful opportunity to infuse joy and positivity when you're talking about our relationship with the world, with others, with how we're showing up for others, the things that we're noticing that there could be, it sounds, like there's a really powerful effect in our own modeling, not only for ourselves, probably, but also for our kids in being able to bring this positive and joyful language to the home when speaking of others and other cultures and our observances and things like that.


Sofia: Absolutely. And my family is a big family. We have 15—I think I hope to have the number right every time I turn around there's a new one—but we have 15 cousins that all hang out together. And if you saw the picture of them, they all look so different. They're all different shades. They all have different personalities. And it's so wonderful to have them all together and playing together because I'm like, this is what I would love to see in the world.


Audra: That was beautiful.


Sofia: That play together and don't have any concern of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality is not an issue. It's like we're just having a good time and we're having fun.


Justin: We're humans having a good time.


Audra: Can I talk with you? Because I think one step in this direction of achieving this vision that you speak of, this beautiful vision. It's what I love to see in the world as well. And it's a vision where we love our color and that inherent beauty in our differences and all of that. We love that. It's not the color blind thing. It's like the profound, the beauty of profound diversity and difference. And it seems like a step in that direction is this inner work, especially for White folks and White women like myself, is this inner work.

But then on top of that, that inner work leads to the desire to show up. We want to show up more every day, get up off the couch of White privilege where things are comfortable and move into the space of doing outward work. And I think that's moving into the space of allyship. And I really want to model that for my kids.

The other side to this, some of what I have been seeing, too, is significant emotional labor that we throw on people of Color and as White women, White women, women of Color to bear witness to this ship, to hear from us, to see us all of this, like I want to do this work. I've been trying to do this work with my kids, totally imperfectly as well. So I want to know from you, if you won't, if you don't mind talking about it, like, do you have this experience of that burden of White kind of like allyship moving forward as we are growing? Are we a burden? I guess essentially, are we a burden on people of Color as we're growing?


Sofia: I'm going to answer, like I said, clear is kind: yes.


Justin: Yes, clear is kind.


Sofia: And yeah, it depends on context. Right. Like, I have chosen a career of being in the field of diversity, equity, inclusion, which means that it's my job to point out injustices or see where there might be some issues. But it's also an exhausting job because sometimes some of the people that are the more vocal about their allyship are the ones that are sometimes the worst when their actions are not aligning.

So my thought on allyship is don't wait for the recognition. I think some people really would love to and that's a conditioning thing to look at what I did, I read this book. I'm doing this amazing thing and I know people who will constantly tell me the work they're doing behind the scenes, but will actually sit in a meeting with me and not call out an injustice in the moment. And that's great that you're reading all these great books that you went to that book club, that you put that blog together. But if you're not showing up for me as a colleague, as a friend, I'm not sure if it's worth your time to continue to read those things.

So I would say, like what on an ongoing basis do you do, what decisions to make? Do you surround yourself with people of Color and not in tokenized ways, but we're partners together. I'm going to share my resources, my power, and my influence with this person so that you are taking the actions that are behind this, beyond just the learning. So I wouldn't say it's a burden. It's more like an awareness that needs to happen around really showing up.


Audra: Yeah. What it means to get into the work. You know, that's something that really struck me in the past year, especially after the murder of George Floyd, was coming to understand, like I remember thinking, “I don't have anything to give. What do I have to offer?” Like what do I have, like, in terms of…

And it was just like an overnight switch of like, wait a minute, you know, there are so many different things I can do in our daily lives and through our businesses, through our nonprofit to support people of Color, especially for me to support women of Color, and to be able to show up in a way that I didn't think I had resources, I do have resources. And it was coming to understand that I do have opportunities if I just kind of flip the switch and start thinking about how I can start to show up. To me, it was just a huge difference. I was stuck in the phase before of like I don't really know what to do to show up. That's my work. And I do think everybody has that opportunity inside themselves in their own lives as their own work to do. But we all have spaces where we can show up.

I have an example of a woman I've worked with who, you know, I remember she came to me in the nonprofit world and said, “Hey, can I talk with you about the nonprofit?” And I remember thinking, “Oh, my god, I’m pushing water up a mountain. I have nothing to give. I have nothing to offer with that.” And I started to dig in and realize, especially in this past year, no, I do. I have connections that I have because of my privilege. And these are connections to be shared, to be shared with you. You know, it's just like small, small things like that I think especially for White women, there is a lot of, “Oh, my god, there's so much of it to do.” So it resonates with me not trying to perform this, but just doing the work.

The other side of it, most of the people I know in my network are White women. So I do feel like there is a role for sort of like, sharing the work. But it's a fine line, I feel like between because it is about you doing the work and knowing that yourself and growing yourself. But then you also want to encourage the other White people in your life.


Sofia: Exactly, and I love the idea of that action could look like what you were saying, being a good mentor to people. But beyond mentorship and giving your information and being able to help someone out is also sponsorship. What doors are you opening and who are you introducing people to and living in a world of abundance and not of scarcity. Like, oh, if I open that door somehow that's going to be a problem for me. It's like, no, no, no. We have different missions, different things that we could be doing and then we can partner on some things and strengthen something that we're working on.


Justin: So, Sofia, I would be remiss if I don't just ask this really specific question because I want parents listening to the podcast to just get this little piece from you. Do you have any advice for White parents, like us, to talk to our kids about race, ethnicity, social justice, diversity, inclusion, equity?


Sofia: Yes, I would say don't wait. It's not a special conversation that ‘Let me wait till they turn 13’ and now I'm going to have a…


Justin: It's like ‘the talk.’


Sofia: Yes, think about the talk that Black parents have to have with their young men of Color or even Hispanic parents, Latino parents. That conversation of: you show up differently in the world. You're going to be mistreated. And, yeah, that's a conversation later. You're not going to scare a five-year-old and say, “Ok, the world is horrible to you because of what you look like.”

But I would say, like, don't shush when conversations are happening around there. I think a lot of folks will not say the word “Black” even because they're like I was, somebody shushed me because I pointed out somebody was Black or I was watching TV and something came up. You have to have those conversations early, really early. And it doesn't have to be a whole sit-down explanation. It could be as practical as making sure that your children's books are diverse, that there are different representations in your household around different cultures. That when you're watching movies, you're not only focusing on movies, are trying to seek out movies that have a more broader representation. Unfortunately, that's harder to find.

And it's funny because I was just watching Netflix and I go to Amazon Prime, I go to all these things and they're like the Black Experience and, or during Asian American and Pacific Islander, the Asian Experience, which is great. Group them for me and that's awesome. But they should just be family stories. They should just be like comedy and they're all there. But I think doing that as a parent goes a long way to really showing young people the different ways that people live.


Justin: So what I'm hearing is a more subtle like it's not sitting down. And, you know, “Son, let's talk about race and ethnicity.” But that it is this ongoing, subtle way of bringing diversity into the home through books or movies or TV shows.


Audra: Also our role modeling, it seems like we're like, learning, unlearning, doing our work and being vocal about that, you know what I mean? Sharing at the table what we're learning. I know having slightly older kids now, one of the cool things has been like there's a lot of movies we can watch together, a lot of, you know, a lot of opportunities there that have been really, really awesome for us to be a part of, our journey has been—and we've had significant privilege to be able to do this—but we chose to live in a more diverse place than where we were living before.

And a big part of that was a consciousness around like how our kids were growing up. And we didn't want to kind of perpetuate the way that we grew up, right. And it was, we had the really great opportunity to move into a place that is significantly more diverse and has automatically just brought up more opportunities for conversation, just sort of embedded in the home.

But it sounds like too, with little kids, like what you were talking about, like I totally we're of the generation growing up when a little kid would be like, “Look, Mommy, that person has brown skin. Look, Mommy, that person,” you know. Like kids are observers, right? Like you said, we're built to see difference. And we grew up in the generation of the parent being like “Shhhh. That is not nice.”


Sofia: We do not talk about it. Yeah. And it's like...


Audra: Why is that not nice? It's beautiful. Right? Isn't it beautiful that we all have profoundly different skin colors? Do you want to talk more about that?


Sofia: Exactly. Like I remember when my son saw two men holding hands. “Look, they're holding hands.” I'm like, “Yeah, they are a couple.” Like me and your Papi, just so it’s normalized. And I remember when he was taking a Taekwondo class and I was in that class too, a different class, not the kid one, the adult one.


Justin: You are crushing it in that kid’s class.


Sofia: How this shows up later, it's normalized, right. This is what couples look like, the different representation of that. During a class, he had, Master Lee had all the kids lined up. And he's like, “you need to have hair neat, uniform clean.” It was like one of the tenets of the thing, that you had to come in looking me. You can look a mess. And he would say, don't you want to look- he's rubbing the head of a girl and said, “Don't you want to look good for your boyfriend?” Like he's genderizing it. It actually was my daughter who goes, “Mommy doesn't Master Lee know that boys can be with boys and girls with girls? How does he not know that?”


Justin: You might be good at martial arts, but you need some social skills.


Sofia: Exactly. So but, you know, there's so many settings, this stuff like that gets normalized. So because I was having conversations with my child early on at five years old, she recognizes like, something's not right. So you don't have to that's that critical thinking skill.

There are people around this to have different ways of thinking, different ways of navigating the world, and they don't have to be the same as you. So you just need to know for yourself what is right and what is wrong and then compare and say, oh, look, he messed up. He doesn't know that, but it's like he doesn't. So that's ok. Or he doesn't want or maybe he's not, in that moment just didn't give the example. So I don't know what it was. Let's not make assumptions. Assume the best.


Audra: Yeah. And as a parent we can, we're all, I mean from our generation anyway, and with the way many of us were raised, we're going to struggle with like a binary kind of view, for example. And, you know, you can change along the way.

Like, I remember having this awareness when we're talking about, well, like someday you might have a girlfriend, boyfriend sort of situation to the kids, like, and all of the diversity in that. So we're like, it could be boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever. And I had a proud moment recently where Maesie helped Max do that Grand Theft Auto presentation and everything. He hired her to help with the presentation. And she was like, “Mommy, he didn't have all the pronouns, like we needed to have more diversity in the pronouns.” So I definitely added that for him and talked to him about that.

And I think you're right, it is just these efforts to normalize. And I think many of us do have to raise our own awareness in order to insert that into these conversations. But it is a really, really powerful way to start bringing diversity and really belonging into the home.


Sofia: Yes, it starts at home.


Justin: So, Sofia, you have worked for the JED Foundation, which does amazing work around teen and young adult mental health and suicide prevention. Can you tell us a little bit about what you learned there, what you learned as a parent? Just a little bit about your work there. And I know that you're transitioning so…


Audra: And maybe even the transition to the JED Foundation and then, because that is really interesting, to coming out of higher education.


Sofia: Oh, well, I was in higher ed for 24½ years when I got recruited for a role at the JED Foundation. And you already mentioned the mission, which was amazing to me because after being in higher ed and observing young people just struggling and I always loved working in colleges because it was the transition time that you realize like, wow, some people have eye-opening experiences for the first time in college that I've never experienced this. So first time away from home, first time on my own, first time meeting people different than me. And that comes with a lot of mental health weight from I thought I knew everything and now I'm shocked or my eyes are open.

And sometimes that's really positive and cool. For some, it's negative and really feels like what did I miss? Right. And that comes with a lot of struggles mentally. And it's also an age where some people are realizing for the first time that they have a mental disorder or an illness. That's something that was not diagnosed previously.

So there's a lot of resource sharing and connecting to practitioners and mental health providers in a way that I feel like, “Ok, this is your moment. Let's figure this out so that you can set yourself up for success from now on.” So to me, the transition to JED, I was at first like, “Oh, I'm not sure I've been in higher ed so long. My next role, I was the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students and in my mind and the trajectory of my career, I'm going to be a Vice President of Student Affairs.”

And then when the role came up and I was recruited, the idea of putting together the diversity, equity, inclusion and thinking about disparities and who's not getting what they need in terms of health, mental health help and resources, and putting that together with mental health and mental health together was to me like, wow, it was the equity and mental framework that was put together between the JED Foundation and The Steve Fund that really when I read the 10 recommendations, there's a lot of others in there, but basically like making mental health a priority, listening to your students to get their feedback about what they need, diversifying and training and making sure that your staff is culturally responsive, you can go on and on.

But to me, they were like, “Ok, I can really see myself really helping to move this along and helping the organization think about it from a more connected perspective.” So that was my transition to JED. And I've been there two-and-a-half years.

And one thing that I've learned is I'm a higher ed professional. I'm also a D.I.E. practitioner. So the mental health piece was not one that I knew it more from a first responder situation, handling crises and working through situations on different campuses. But I felt like at this time they need the clinical perspective now, and there are many really amazing researchers, psychologists who this is their world and trying to do the practical research around this.

So I kind of feel like my role at JED, I was there two-and-a-half years and I'm still staying on to help with a couple of projects that I'm really excited about. One of them is called Proud and Thriving, supporting the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people in higher ed, in high school and in colleges. So I'm taking on new roles, focusing back on primarily diversity, equity and inclusion. I'm going to be the Managing Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion for Billie Jean King Enterprises. And….


Audra: All right!


Justin: That’s awesome.


Sofia: So I know it's a hard transition because I'm like, you know, once you're at a place that you really feel like you're making a difference and the JED Foundation is doing some amazing things and I'd love to talk about some things I learned there, even for my own family.

But when I was recruited to do this position for Billie Jean King, she is an icon, a champion for equality, for gender equity, for equity for women in general, equality for sports and even beyond sports. Just making sure that everyone is respected and is given their fair chance, fair opportunities and their due in terms of finances. All of it, because I think that helps to even the playing field literally for future generations.

So making sure that young women get connected and get what they need to move forward and thrive. So I'm excited. I start in the next couple of weeks, very soon. And I'm excited because we'll be able to work with different organizations to help them strategize and think about what could they be doing differently or what can they continue to be doing that's helping their employees and their communities thrive and really respect differences. And not just that, but figure out how those differences can actually help everyone be better people, to put out better products, put out better services. So that's what I'm going to be doing. I'm excited.


Audra: Oh, it's beautiful. What an incredible mission, too. And the fact that, you're so entrepreneurial, that's one thing that I really, really love about you. You’re in another founding role. I mean, I think one thing that we didn't talk about is that you founded an organization, too. You have a group of eight thousand women on Facebook who are completing, they’re Latinas completing doctoral degrees.


Sofia: Yes.


Audra: This is in addition to everything else you're doing. I mean, you talk about moving, pushing the needle and bringing, I think, bringing women into the spaces where we need them most. Especially bringing Latinas into the spaces where we need them most is incredible.

So this seems like totally just makes sense for me, for you, because you're a founder. You're an entrepreneur. I think you see need and you move into addressing it. Super exciting.


Sofia: Yeah.


Justin: Yeah. And you'll be starting in the next couple of weeks. And so we are excited to have you back on pretty soon so you can tell us about all the work that you're into there. This is such an exciting position. And we're so we're just so thrilled for you.


Audra: Yeah, I'm really, really interested to know more about you as this starts to come up and we talk next time about how we can move forward into a space of not only celebrating our differences, but like treasuring and protecting it.

To me, it's a whole nother level between acknowledging and then kind of like really celebration to then moving into the space of protection. And this is our future, the growth of our country, our economy, our I think moving into the space of creating a safer world. We need to move into that space of protection and treasuring almost.


Sofia: The idea of safety, psychological safety, safety in general, so that everyone can just be themselves and not be afraid of speaking their own truth and just being who they are and not being afraid of navigating space and wondering, is someone going to be treating me differently, mistreating me? I would love to see that. That's my goal. In every space, everyone can navigate it fully as themselves.


Audra: How does this movement towards safety relate to, from your perspective, some of the unique mental health challenges faced by BIPOC folks in this country and also probably more generally what you can extrapolate from that and how that relates to safety, and what we can do.


Sofia: I'll speak to BIPOC mental health month. It used to be, I think it was 2008, I could be wrong. What Bebe Moore Campbell had her name was attached to National Minority Mental Health Month, Awareness Month, and a few organizations last year with the movement of really pointing out that there are some people in minority communities, or minority numerically. I know that's not a term that is embraced anymore because it really has been used in negative ways as opposed to the numerical sense minority has and less then. So I personally don't use Minority Mental Health Month for that reason. But I also recognize that not everybody understands what BIPOC is the Black, Indigenous and People of Color, which is a term that we heard more.

It's not a new term, but we heard more in the last year because it pointed out this unique, I would say, challenges for Black, Indigenous and people who visually look in ways that if you think about White supremacy and White and then I don't use that term lightly, I'm very careful when I see the idea of Whiteness as the norm. And that's the way I define it.

Like who is other than what is seen as the norm? And there was a congressional task force that got formed to talk about Black youth mental health and specifically Black youth suicide, that while the numbers of suicides overall in the last year, which is excellent news, has gone down. And I don't have the numbers off the top of my head. But the numbers for young Black youth, Latinx youth and Indigenous youth has not gone down, it’s actually going up. Because I think when you're watching violence and injustices and see like, is there hope for me in this future?

And I actually when I see the numbers of who is getting advanced, what the C-suites are looking like, what boards are looking like, and you're still not there after all this time. And, you know, forget about People of Color, even women are not there. So then what kind of hope do you feel like you have in your future when you feel like so many doors are not opening up for you?

So I would say that when it comes to mental health, that's that part of that stress. So there's a lot of resilience, which I think is awesome. We use that term a lot like, “Oh, you're so resilient.” But when you're constantly feeling like messaging around your identity is negative. Of course you build resilience because you're like, I have to get through this and you have people around you, families, back to the when you talk to your kids about this, I think families of Color have always had to combat against what the world is seeing with what the media is saying about People of Color. So they do help their children build that resilience.

But when it lives in reality, as you grow up and you start seeking out those opportunities beyond your family safety network, I think that's when it really hits hard and hits home. So that's what I think causes a lot of a lot more mental health concerns. And those disparities in terms of psychologists and mental health providers.

If you look at psychologists, last I looked I think was from 2018. If you look at it was like 86% of psychologists that were tracked by APA, the American Psychological Association were White. Then after that, I forgot the numbers exactly, but consider that only 14% of everyone else. So when you don't see yourself in the profession, you don't see it normalized in your family because of cultural issues or religious issues. Whereas some families might say don't talk out of turn. And in some families, therapy is normalized. There are, I know people who grew up and were in therapy since they were little because their families said this is part of life. You need someone else outside of your family and who's professional to talk about your challenges. That is not the case for every family. And it's actually not accessible if you don't have the finances or you don't have health care coverage to be able to see.

I mean, I was trying to make an appointment with a therapist through my own and I have health insurance and it was a challenge. It took weeks because just trying to connect, who takes my insurance? How much is the copay? How much is it to see? So I can not even imagine for families just don't have that kind of coverage. All those families are working part-time who don't have mental health or even just health, dental health coverage. So I think there's a lot to be done and there’s work in recruiting psychologists of Color, but also in making sure that there's access to care.


Justin: We have you just for a couple more minutes. I want to see if I can just get in these final three questions that we asked guests. The first one is if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?


Sofia: I would say, ‘Give yourself much grace as you would to others.’


Justin: Mmm. Give yourself grace. Beautiful, and then what is the last quote that changed the way you think or feel?


Sofia: I would say one by Maya Angelou, where it's “Once you know better, do better.” Like we can sit in our lack of awareness or I didn't know and it's like, well, now, you know, and that's with anything... Even in a relationship.

Trust me, I'm about to be married. I want to say that I'm going to be, next week is my 20-year wedding anniversary. And if I learned anything, it's once you know what your partner needs, wants you, you should act on that and make sure that you're doing that. I haven't been perfect, but I would say, like, that's where, how we got to 20 years. Just trying to understand, like, what do you need to be your own successful, thriving person and what do I need and paying attention to that.


Audra: What a beautiful gift to share.


Justin: And then finally, what is your favorite thing about kids?


Sofia: My favorite thing is you never know what they're going to do and say. It’s always a surprise.


Justin: It's always an adventure!


Sofia: I was always scared to have kids. I didn't even know I would because I never considered myself a good parent. Like I was always like, can I be like, what do you say to young people? I babysat when I was little, but when it came to my own, I actually had to ask somebody, like, how do you respond to kids? Like, what do you do with them, how do you play with them? And my mom was not a playful person. What am I going to do? And somebody I remember the best advice I got was “you wait for them to tell you what they want.” I was like, “I can do that. That's easy. I can respond.” So I feel like that helped me calm down about whether or not I was going to be a proactive, good parent. It was …


Audra: Another great point.


Justin: Ah, that’s beautiful.


Audra: Sofia, thank you so much, so much for taking the time to talk with us. And we'd really like for this to be a recurring series. We have so much to talk about, as you can tell, like me only I feel like we only got into a little bit at the surface. Like, I really feel like this is such, such an incredible, always incredible conversation with you. But this is really, really powerful work for families. And thank you for everything that you do for the world. The world is so much better off with you in it.


Sofia: Ah, thank you, you’re making me blush. And thank you two so much, for everything that you're doing and the amazing things you're putting together for families, because I think there's such a void. We want to know what to do and it's so helpful to put it in one place that we can really tap into. So thank you for that.


Justin: Thank you for being a part of this team. Yeah.


Audra: Thank you for being on our board. You know, speaking about board positions like thank you and thank you for all of the work that you're going to do to really elevate the resources that we're providing to The Family Thrive.


Sofia: Thank you.


Justin: Alright, my friend.

Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast, if you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple podcast or anywhere you listen to a podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Justin: I'm honored to publish this episode for BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month by BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. And this conversation is with our good friend, an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, Sofia Pertuz, PhD.

I have to admit right off the bat that as a white kid from the white suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, talking about race and ethnicity doesn't come easy for me. Outside of reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” after watching the movie in high school, I never gave race and ethnicity much thought. In college, I learned more about American history and the history of Europeans traveling around the world and killing and stealing from non-White people.

At some point, I realized that whether I like it or not, the way my White ancestors thought about race and ethnicity has led to some pretty bad things in the world. And that realization hasn't really helped me understand how to talk to my kids about race and ethnicity. We can watch the movies and documentaries and watch the news, but I still don't know how to bring that into their lives so they can do better than I've done and do better than our ancestors.

Thankfully, Sofia sat down with me and Audra to get into it. We talk about the difference between race and ethnicity. How Sofia learned that difference, getting bullied as a child. How white parents like me can start talking to our kids about racism. And finally, we dig into Sofia's work and teen mental health and suicide prevention. So without further ado, here's our wonderful conversation with Sofia Pertuz PhD.


Audra: Good morning, Sofia. So good to see you!


Sofia: Good morning. It’s good to see you both, always a thrill.


Audra: Thank you so much for being with us today. We are so, so thrilled to have this conversation with you and such an important conversation. I feel like this is one that I have been really, really looking forward to having on The Family Thrive, that I'd like to be ongoing because we're going to be growing together. And I think this conversation can continue to grow.


Sofia: Oh, I'm excited. What are we talking about?


Justin: So, Sofia, we have known you for such a long time that there I mean, we could talk about so many things going all the way back to Columbia in New York City several decades ago.


Audra: Can I just say, can I just add? So we first met Sofia when, actually, we first met in an interview to, for me. So I had gotten into a master's program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and I had found the Resident Director in Residence Life position and was able to secure an interview. So, went out for a live interview at the time. And that's when I first met Sofia. And I was just in awe of Sofia from the beginning. And she's been such an incredible mentor to me from day one. And this was a high-pressure interview, like they put us in scenarios and we were in teams and they're standing there with clipboards.


Sofia: It was a terrible interview process. The wonderful thing is you came through with flying colors and you were awesome. So I'm so glad that we ended up getting to work together because I think we did some great things.


Audra: It was an experience of a lifetime. We were able to move to Manhattan without having to secure an apartment or deposit or anything like that. So if anybody is listening to this thinking, like, “How is my kid going to go to college and make this happen?” I highly, highly recommend Residence Life. Check it out. And it's some of the best people experience you could ever get.

One of the things that you brought to the team was a good amount of experiences, trainings, and support when it comes to what we called at the time “diversity.” And I think that we're kind of changing the language around that now. I think that we're moving into a space beyond kind of diversity and into a space of belonging. So I'm really excited to talk with you about that.

But I also wanted to share that Sofia, as a mentor to me, taught me so, so much. And one of the things that always fits with me is just your kind supportive guidance in the fact that you're always just so real with me. And I'll never forget this time. There was a time when I emailed not an inappropriate email, but an inappropriate email for the setting, like with higher-ups out of frustration for something I'll never forget, like Sofia told me. And she's like, “Sit down. This is not how this is done. This is not how you get things done. This is not the way to go about it.” And it was one of the biggest life lessons for me.

And one of the things that I learned going into higher education myself, going into leadership development, becoming someone who has built teams myself now, is that one of the very, very best things that we can do when it comes to working with others and mentoring folks is being honest and real and kind. Because if you just try to do the people-pleasing, kind of like, “You're doing a great job, it's ok!” You don't get into the real lessons, nobody grows.


Sofia: Exactly, exactly. And I always think feedback is a gift. And I don't like to give feedback. I think most people don't. But I think when you do get the feedback, sometimes it comes in different ways. It comes very direct. And I believe in being clear. Brene Brown has an expression: “Clear is kind.” I know you’ve heard of her expressions, but the idea is that you should just tell people what you mean and mean what you say because that's the best way for us to understand each other and be, I guess, graceful and kind with each other.


Justin: So, it sounds to me like there's parenting lessons in here as well.


Sofia: Yes...parenting lessons. I have a 17-year-old and a 13-year-old and they have taught me so much.


Justin: Yeah, but that the clarity and the feedback because as parents, we're always giving our kids feedback whether we know it or not. And so how did your experience in these leadership roles in higher education inform your parenting?


Sofia: Well, first I'll say, like, maybe I could talk about what I've always done. Right, so I grew up in the Bronx and I grew up with a mom who, parents, but my mom was the strong one in the family who was the one that laid down the law pretty much about what discipline was like. One thing that I remember is my mom was very strict. She was very direct. You couldn't be more direct than my mom, and I lost her back in April. We lost her in April, unfortunately. But I want to say that I start with her because she taught me all the leadership lessons about that clarity and as mean as she was growing up, I feel like I bring that into my parenting.

I try really hard to battle against the overly mean, right. Like being too direct and my kids, I don't yell like, well, maybe I do. But I’m very direct when I'm asking them to do something or explain to them why I'm disappointed that they didn't do something that I asked them to do. And my daughter would say, “Stop yelling.” I'm like, “Oh, you don't know what yelling is.” My mom, not even just yelling, she would go all out.

What I bring from that, from my mom's being very clear about what she expected and telling us exactly what she is disappointed about. I brought that into my parenting where I just let them know. I'm very clear. I'm very open. And my dad was part of our upbringing, too. But he was more quiet. He did things in a much more, I think I take from that too, where sometimes just a look is enough.


Audra: Oh yes.


Sofia: Setting an example was enough. My dad was a kind of person that was just like, you know what, I'm not going to get upset. His car burned down. He had a car that just like, in a parking lot. I don't know what happened to it, but I guess a fuse or something, it pretty much blew up. We were just looking at the picture the other day and he just looked at it and was like, “Ok, I'll get another one. We'll figure it out.” And then there were many instances like that. He was a cab driver and he had a knife put through, to his throat. And I said, “What did you do?” “I gave them the money.”

Like, he just was always very calm and very like when we had achievements, me and my siblings, I grew up with my five siblings and we were all like on honor roll. We were winning awards. And his response was always like, “Que bien. It's what I expect from you. Of course, you're going to be excellent. You're great people and you're smart people and you're great kids.”

So I feel like I got the balance of both, like my mom's “rawr,” over the top, you know, very high expectations always like really clear. And I would even say, like, mean about it. So we knew, like, we had expectations, we for real knew that. With my dad's “Ok, I expect that I'm not going to go over the top on it. I'm just going to expect that and you know it. And you're all going to be good people and that's it.” So I think I got a little bit of both from both.


Audra: Yeah, that resonates with me as somebody who worked for you, I can really see your dad in that you were so calm under any pressure, under any fire and like really modeled the way for all of us on how to just get into calm and be like, “Ok, what's the problem we’re solving?” Like, really straightforward, nothing to freak out about, we’re solving a problem, even like we had an attempted kidnaping or a kidnapping. Actually, I think there's definitely there was attempted suicide attempts and I think a water tower broke on the roof at one point. And we had the blackout when we first got there. I was, we were there for days, I think, and we had the big blackout.


Sofia: Oh, I was busy having a baby actually. My daughter and I was freaking out. I was like, “Oh, no, I'm not there to take care of the things that I need to do.” My daughter was actually born August 13, 2003.


Justin: Oh my god.


Sofia: And then the next day the power was…


Audra: Oh, my god.


Sofia: I was a mess. They had shut down the hospital. I was downtown in Roosevelt Hospital on, what is it, 60th Street. And they shut everything down. Obviously, there was no power. They were on generators, so there was minimal everything. I just had a C-section, which was alright.


Audra: How does that work? I’ve had C-sections. I don't get it.


Sofia: Oh, no. It was terrible because the doctors were cranky. The nurses were cranky because they were grounded. They were told they couldn't leave. So you have to go with...


Audra: Were there first responders?


Sofia: Yeah.


Justin: Oh no.


Sofia: And to come visit me, my husband, Antonio, had to come from 120th Street all the way down to 60th on foot.


Audra: Yes, that's right.


Sofia: Because he couldn’t drive, there were no lights. And had to go up 11 flights to come see us. It was a mess.


Audra: And for your first baby. What a story.


Sofia: That's what I was doing, is that you were all barbecuing because people were like, well I guess this is going to happen for a couple of days. They were like social things happening, a barbecue in front of Bancroft, the building over there. So I felt like at first I'm worried about my baby, me, and I'm crying. She's crying. It was a mess. But I was like I remember getting some reports from people like, “Oh, it's pretty cool. The staff is holding it down, they’re going around with flashlights, they're giving out candles, they're doing what they have to do to do the emergency stuff.” So I felt good that I was like, “They don't need me.” And that's probably the best thing you could do with parenting too. Right?


Justin: I raised them so well.


Sofia: I did the best I could. Like I, my daughter’s graduated from high school. She's about to go to college and a five-year college administrator. I'm absolutely terrified because I was the dean of students. So I thought…


Justin: Oh, you know it all.


Audra: You know too much.


Sofia: And yet I know nothing because I don't know how I'm going to react when it's my child and I'm going to just trust that I did the best I could and that I'm sending this human out into the world who is going to do good things. Who's going to be a good person.

And you know what? If she does bad things and she's a terrible person, it comes with the territory. It's like we have to take it and do the best we can with everything that is in front of us, because not every one of us can be perfect. And I want her to know that. I want them, both my kids, to know we're going to make mistakes. I have made some doozies. As they get older, I share more about the history.


Justin: Up until now, you've been perfect.


Sofia: I’ve been perfect. Like sometimes I start to reminisce and I'm like, “Oh, back in my day I used to go to the club.” And she’s like “So what time did you get home?” Like, nope. “How old were you?” I don't know. I don't remember.


Justin: Thirty… So Sofia. I want to get into this diversity and inclusion part of your life. How did you get into the whole diversity and inclusion world and then what makes you passionate about it?


Sofia: Well, first I would say everyone is in the diversity and inclusion world because everyone is handling different people, different personalities. I think you're asking it from a professional sense, right?


Justin: Yes.


Sofia: So, I started my career in higher education and I remember going away to college. I pretty much went away and stayed in college for the rest of my life until two years ago.


Justin: Preach.


Audra: Reminds me of someone I know.


Sofia: College and how it all started, I think was I had grown up Catholic. I grew up in the Bronx like I said earlier. I was born in Dominican Republic, was brought to the US when I was a baby. I was barely one. And I remember just watching how my family was where we lived.

We lived in a place that there were mostly Puerto Rican and Black families. We were the only Dominican family. As the only Dominican family, we were treated differently. And I remember having some standards around like who to hang out with, who not to, and all that stuff. And so that's got me thinking about, wait a minute, what's different and why are we treating each other differently and why am I being attacked?

I would actually be walking in my neighborhood and I would be attacked by some Black girls who were like, what are you? Touching my hair, pulling my hair because my hair is Black hair. It was curly, kinky at the time. So when they see kind of a light skin, you kind of look, I don't know what you look like. I don't know what you are. I actually was attacked by people who were trying to understand what I was. So I think that's probably how I started, because I don't want anyone to ever feel attacked just by being who they are.

But I would say that my real start career-wise in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, would be when I was an RA. I went to college, I became an RA and I would be that RA going around doing programs like, “Let's do programing on how to respect each other.” And I did a lot of programming on, it was the time of AIDS Awareness, HIV, AIDS Awareness, STDs when we called them STDs.


Audra: Yeah.


Sofia: I would do programs called “Condoms and Games” or “How to be a Better Lover” on just respecting each other and how to be mindful of each other's boundaries and stuff like that. So it was kind of like some of it was gender, some of it was sexuality. And having gone to Catholic school most of my life, my mom would have been shocked to know what kinds of presentations and programs I would do.


Audra: Right. I mean, how courageous of you as an undergrad RA to dive right in. I mean, I think it's incredible. What were you studying at the time?


Sofia: Organizational Communications. I gravitated towards any class where I can be talking. I love…


Justin: Do we get to talk here?


Sofia: Is it math or not? No. I love math, but that's how I started. So I was an RA and then when I was about to finish school, I was talking to my hall director and I said, “I'm not sure what I want to do next, but maybe I could do what you're doing. You seem to really enjoy working with students and kind of working through challenges and crises. I kind of like that.”

And she said, “well, you have to get your Master's.” So I went all the way to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to find a job in New Jersey. So my real start was Seton Hall University. I love them. I got a Grad Assistantship before I even applied to a Master's program. They were like, “Which program are you with?”


Audra: Wow.


Justin: That’s awesome.


Sofia: I don't even know all of these things, so I look up there...


Audra: No, it's amazing.


Sofia: I'm learning it was the Master's in Educational administration supervision and they only had a Ph.D., not a Masters. So I kind of created my first higher Ed Masters degree because I was piecing it together and they allowed me. And this is back to like, the idea of diversity. There was a chair of the department who was just amazing, gave me so much grace, and said, “Wait, but you got into the K through 12 program. Why would you want to do higher ed?” I said, “I always wanted to do higher ed and I saw the classes were there, so I figured we could work something out.” That's where I channel my mom.


Audra: Oh, yes.


Justin: Nice.


Sofia: That’s where I channel my mother again. And I can't think of why we can't do that. Let's figure it out. And we did. And I ended up staying there for my PhD too. I finished it decades later.

But what resonates to me throughout my whole career is that I had people along the way who didn't see me as Latina and didn't see me as a Black woman, didn't see me as a woman, just saw me as a scholar, as a student, as an employee, as an administrator. So I would say that working in higher ed and working in student affairs especially, seeing humanity in its rawest form, was really where I've gotten a lot of my, I guess, open-mindedness and thoughts about how diversity can work if you really just shift your perspective and your own awareness.


Justin: So you have already said a couple of terms that I think we use them regularly throughout our lives, but not many of us have a chance to step back and examine these words. So I'm wondering if you can take us through a couple of definitions. So, first of all, can you walk us through what the differences between “race” and “ethnicity.”


Sofia: Sure, I'll speak to it from my own perspective in my own identity. But race is a socially constructed concept that people from different colors and what they appear can be labeled a certain way. So that's why you'll see on the US Census form, are you, well, I see that. Are you Hispanic or not? And then you pick there and then from there you pick race. And then there's Asian, Caucasian, White, there's Black. And to be honest, back before I went to college, if you had asked me what my race was, I would have just said, “Oh, I'm Dominican” or “I'm Hispanic,” because that was the language at the time. Now we see Latinx, Latino.

So I didn't learn that I was Black as a race until I went to college. And other people told me, “You know, you're Black, right?” I'm like, “What? My mom didn't tell me I was Black. What are you talking about?” Meanwhile, my family and many of my grandparents, my parents are darker than me. So when I came back home and told my mom, “Oh, by the way, we're Black, you can't say negative things.” And like in my family, sometimes there were some issues with like if you marry, don't marry someone Black because you're going to bring down the whole culture. There were serious issues like that within the culture, which I hate to admit it, but that's what race is. That idea of what you look like and the identity with it. So now I proudly say I'm Black. Like I said, if you had asked me at 14 what was my race, I wouldn't know how to answer that question. So it's also an evolving concept and self-identity thing.

Ethnicity. I would define it as a community-oriented identification. So like if I say my race is Black, then I say my ethnicity is Latina or Latinx or Hispanic. If that's the community of other people that have similar traits or similar commonalities with food, commonalities with language, I also speak Spanish.

Then if you ask me what my nationality is, I was Dominican because I was born in the Dominican Republic. But once I came to the United States and became a citizen, my nationality technically is American or United States. So there's like layers of who you are.


Justin: Layers, yeah.


Audra: You know what? I'd really like to put a pin in and go back to in this as well, because that was a beautiful I mean, I love the way that you share this through the personal lens. Like, for example, I had no idea that it sounds like from the kind of like Dominican heritage in your family, like you struggle with some racism, even going back into your own heritage. I did not know this is a part of your story. You talk about race as a social construct. And I think that that is a really, really powerful point that I don't know how many of us like, that's really something to dig into. So we're saying that race isn't a…


Justin: Biological fact.


Audra: Right. I mean, I think when you look at the sort of genetics involved, there's like a barely perceptible something that gives your skin a different color and that's it. And what is constructed around all of that is the social construction part. And it reminds me of, you remember Professor Mitchell at ASU? So we were taking this class…


Justin: Late ‘90s.


Audra: Late nineties. We go to our professor, one of our favorite classes ever, a Black faculty member. And we're like, oh, my god, we're studying postmodernism structuralism. And we have learned that race is a floating signifier and our minds are blown up. We're so excited by this. And he looks at us and he goes, “Doesn't matter much when I get punched in the face.”


Sofia: Right. Exactly. That's the problem, right? Other people's perceptions are, it doesn't matter what you think you are, because at the end of the day, you still get judged by what you look like. And that's part of the issue with race that you can say all you want like, “Oh, no, I don't see color. I don't believe in categorizing people.” And it's like, well, that's not even natural. That's not human. We as humans, we categorize people.


Justin: Nor is it a social reality that we live in. Like we live in a culture that is so just soaked in race consciousness for better or for worse.


Sofia: Exactly. I have two books that I want to suggest if I can.


Justin: Oh yes, yes.


Sofia: So one of the books that I read early on in my career that I felt was one of the clearest in terms of trying to explain all this stuff and why it's so important to talk about it was Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum and she actually did an update 20 years later, which was awesome because it was like language changes and evolves over time.

The other one about the social construction piece, I think that I haven't read a book in a while that really made me think like this: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson that came out.


Justin: I heard an interview with her.


Sofia: It just puts it in perspective in a way that is almost, I wouldn't say shocking. I don't think I get shocked that much. But it was very like, wow, how do I not know this? I'm a diversity and inclusion practitioner trainer and yet there are things that it made me think about things in a different way about just humanity, the reality of humanity.


Audra: Is there anything off the top of your head that occurred to you in that way that surprised you?


Sofia: Yes, I think it made me think about like some unconscious ways that, for example, I went to Chile and I'm walking around the streets and I pretty much was ignored because a lot of people where I was navigating space were White. And even though they could be considered as part of the ethnicity of Hispanic or Latino, I felt invisible. And I walked around and I kind of enjoyed it. But I thought, “Why am I feeling so invisible?” And people are not acknowledging me. And then I realized, well, I look darker than everybody else. And I think I even had braids at the time when I went.

So that book made me think about like White women in past times who had maids, servants and some of the women of color in their lives were people who were of service to them. So there was this whole section about that and how sometimes that's such a consciousness that you don't even realize is there.

And maybe I've had experiences that I've had some challenges with White women in my life who I felt like we're not equals, are we? At the end of the day, I'm thinking we are. And then something happens in the interaction if we're working together, something that I'm like, you still think you're better than me or you have power over me or you're talking to me in a way that you think I'm less than. And the thing about my perspective is, I don't think you realize you're doing it so…


Audra: She doesn't even realize it. Yeah, absolutely.


Sofia: The book put it in perspective. It said basically some people are raised with these people in their lives who are of service to them and they bring that into their lives later in the workplace. And I was like, “That explains so much about so many interactions I’ve had.”


Audra: Such a powerful point. It reminds me too of, you remember Orla's research on orig wife syndrome.


Sofia: Yes.


Audra: We see that with men in the workplace being like, “Well, you're going to pick up the food, right? And you're going to do the agenda and you're going to do…” It's just an example of that embedded sexism.

And I feel like that is a really, really powerful way to talk about White Supremacy culture. And at least in my own work is to understand the deep embeddedness of this. And it is part of the work for me as a White woman is bringing it into my own consciousness. That's my work. What has been sort of laid in there, like culturally and even socially, historically along the line. But that's my work to do. And it's really powerful to hear you speak of your experiences with this.


Sofia: You probably didn't get this education or awareness until you probably went to college, I’m guessing.


Justin: Oh, yeah, absolutely.


Sofia: If you had a great high school teacher who brought you through the Richard Wright and all the really cool literature there. Otherwise, now there's this fight about let's not teach people this negativity of critical racism…


Justin: College was central for me, for a White kid from the suburbs who only hung out with other White kids and only knew other White kids. College was essential in learning this. I had no idea.

And so this idea of unconscious bias is so crucial because I had no idea that I even had these biases until I went to college and learned about this, learned the history, and then learned about this idea of unconscious bias. And then it ties into something that's even broader than this. The idea in therapy and self work that most of our work is about bringing the unconscious into the conscious. And so this is just one really important aspect of just a bigger life work that we all have to do.


Sofia: Absolutely.


Justin: Sofia, so there are so many words here that I just want to make sure parents listening to this get oriented. So we got race, we have ethnicity. We just mentioned unconscious bias. Are there any other key terms that as parents start to think through this stuff and they think about how to talk to their kids about this, what other terms should parents know?


Sofia: I would say if you wanted to go from the positive perspective, it's ally, what it means to be an ally, and to look out for others. And even if you're not part of a culture or a way of being that you can still advocate. So being an advocate for social justice in general. So I would say social justice is another term that I've always loved.

So diversity is who's there, who's not, people, right? Numbers. Inclusion is who is able to contribute and be part of that number. So it's not enough to just bring a number of people that are different together. It's how are you all engaging and does everyone feel like they can equally contribute. And the possibility of outcomes equal for everybody. Diversity, inclusion, equity. And I put it in that order because you hear diversity, equity, inclusion, and that's only because we don't want it to spell “die.”


Justin: Oh, I never thought about that.


Sofia: So I say equity after inclusion, because equity really is the hard work of looking at what is wrong, what is different, what is not happening that's not bringing that…


Justin: Systemically.


Sofia: Because equality is everyone gets the same thing, but equity is everyone gets what they need to be successful and thrive. So I'm going to bring this to parenting for a second. I have two kids, two young people that I am responsible for. They are so different, different personalities, different needs. If I treated them equally then I would be a terrible parent because I’m not being responsive to what each of them needs to be able to thrive. So I've had to really work hard to figure this out over time, right?


Justin: I love that.


Sofia: And you never get it completely right. But I'm going to frame it in saying it's just being responsible, paying attention. So when it comes to diversity, everybody's like, “This is so hard.” And they sit through maybe like a long day of a workshop. And it's like, “You know what's hard? Living this every day and having to respond to other people because of the way you've been treated or looked at or the injustices that might happen to you personally because other people don't understand they're doing it.”

So diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, as in what are the actions you're taking to actually make change and create opportunity for other people. But that takes, let's bring in another term ‘anti-racism.’ I also like to say ‘anti-bias,’ because I think racism obviously is a major issue in this last year, especially. A lot of parents were like, “How do I talk to my kids about this?”


Audra: Right.


Sofia: And someone like me who is already a Person of Color, it is like, how do I not? I have to. My kids are already navigating the world in a way that's unjust. So I'll give you an example. When my son was in PreK, the teacher called us in because they do these testing things to see you know, can he touch his nose? Can he touch his knees? Can he follow direction, I guess is the whole premise there. So we got to meet with the teacher and she's like, “I just want to talk to you about your son, maybe has some issues.” And I said, “Oh, what's the problem?” “Well, maybe it's a language barrier issue.” I said, “That's interesting because my son doesn't speak Spanish and that's my bad.”

I'm trying to understand what's happening. She's like, “Well, when I was giving him instruction, he was looking at me strange. I told him to touch his nose. I told him to bend down and put his hand up. And he just looked at me really strange the whole time. I was trying to figure out if he understood me.” And I said, “Oh, let me figure out what's going on here.” So I go back to my son and I said, “What happened? The teacher said you were looking at him funny.” He says, “I was just trying to figure out why she's telling me to touch my nose in school. What's the point?”

He was just confused. But basically, she chalked it up to, one: that he was Latino and one: that he was a kid of color and that somehow there was a developmental delay with him because he was looking at her strange…


Justin: Where it was the opposite. He was like, “What are you doing? Why?”


Sofia: “What is this? Why are you telling me to touch my nose? Like, it's silly because I'm, aren't I supposed to learn about letters and numbers?” Like, what are you...


Audra: Sofia, that sounds exhausting. I mean, you were pulled into a meeting. A working mom is the last thing that you needed to be pulled into a meeting. And then you have to go and have this conversation and to then face this sort of like, I don't know. Did it feel almost like it's bias? Did it feel like scrutiny to some degree? Judgment? I mean, it sounds exhausting.


Sofia: All of it. And it's not the first instance. There's been others where I've had teachers just, I'm trying to figure out if that teacher is mistreating my child because of who they are or are they just mean. And I mean, I don't know. I'm just trying to, and that's the exhausting piece, right?

Like, always trying to figure out, it could just be that she's just mean to him because she doesn't like his personality or her personality. But if you're trying to figure it out all the time, because I know that my experience is I'm always trying to figure out. Did I not get that promotion because of who I am? Did I not…


Justin: That's super fascinating. I've never thought, like, if there's some instance where one of our kids is, we perceive them as being treated unfairly or unkind. I just immediately chalk it up to that person's a jerk and that's who they are. And there's no so-


Audra: Yeah, we don’t go through any of that.


Justin: And just the like, psychological and emotional burden that I don't have to carry. That and, so this is super interesting.  


Audra: That’s White privilege, isn’t it?


Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So this is what helped me start to understand White privilege and why it's so hard for most White people to understand White privilege is that, it's what you don't have to deal with.

It's the times you didn't get pulled over. You know, it's the time you didn't get followed. And this is like all the stuff that you never have seen in your life. And so it's hard to see White privilege when you're White because it's all the stuff you didn't have to deal with.


Sofia: Exactly. But as we learned this last year, when we talk about anti-racism, anti-bias, it's not what is happening and pointing out all the problems. It’s: what am I doing to make things better? Am I trying to notice those things, am I going to look out for others who are already experiencing these?

Like, I was having a conversation with someone about antisemitism and the growing number of polls and epithets, I mean, it's just horrible and Islamophobia. And I think of every ism, every otherness. I think of what things I'm not and am I doing something? Am I...

So back to what do I talk to my kids about this? We're always having conversations about my poor kids. They have language probably that other kids may not have because I'm all right. So we're always talking about like, who are we missing? Who are we not looking out for, who are we not standing up for when it comes to LGBTQ+ advocacy? They've always heard me say positive things about what we need to be doing more of. We go to a Pride Parade. As a queer woman myself, like I am constantly trying to figure out how do we use language that is not coded in negativity all the time?

Because I think sometimes we say things that you don't know what your child’s identity is. You don't know that. And there are things that they might hear when they're five, six, seven, eight years old. Whether it's forming their opinions and thoughts, they might hear a parent say a negative thought about somebody because of their identity. And they might say, “Oh, now I can't be who I am. Now I can't tell Mom who I am because I heard that negativity.” Or if they say racist stuff about a culture and they like somebody from that culture, guess what? They're not going to be able to talk to their parent about that because they're going to say, “Oh, my parent is not going to accept me now.”


Audra: It doesn't feel safe.


Sofia: It doesn't feel safe. So we're always trying to, I'm not saying I'm perfect. We're not, I'm sure I say things that they're like, “Why did you say that?”

Like, one thing that happened is my, we were in the car and my daughter was little. I try not to tell too many more recent stories because there's a lot. But when she was like five, I was handing her the phone and my husband's uncle was calling and he was speaking in Spanish and she took the phone and he was trying to say just ‘happy birthday.’ So she handed back the phone and she goes, “I don't understand what he's saying.” And we're like “What?” “I don't know. He's saying something in Spanish. I'm not from there.”

And I freak out and I'm like “Not from where?” I was not driving, if I had been driving, I think I would have been like errrrrr. “How did I not instill pride for my culture?” So then we had a whole conversation about like, “Oh, you don't have to know Spanish to be Hispanic or to be Latina.” So it was a very interesting moment where you think you're embedding or instilling certain values and pride, but you're not if you're not actively engaging in and talking about it.


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Audra: Sofia, it sounds like what I'm hearing is there's a wonderful opportunity to infuse joy and positivity when you're talking about our relationship with the world, with others, with how we're showing up for others, the things that we're noticing that there could be, it sounds, like there's a really powerful effect in our own modeling, not only for ourselves, probably, but also for our kids in being able to bring this positive and joyful language to the home when speaking of others and other cultures and our observances and things like that.


Sofia: Absolutely. And my family is a big family. We have 15—I think I hope to have the number right every time I turn around there's a new one—but we have 15 cousins that all hang out together. And if you saw the picture of them, they all look so different. They're all different shades. They all have different personalities. And it's so wonderful to have them all together and playing together because I'm like, this is what I would love to see in the world.


Audra: That was beautiful.


Sofia: That play together and don't have any concern of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality is not an issue. It's like we're just having a good time and we're having fun.


Justin: We're humans having a good time.


Audra: Can I talk with you? Because I think one step in this direction of achieving this vision that you speak of, this beautiful vision. It's what I love to see in the world as well. And it's a vision where we love our color and that inherent beauty in our differences and all of that. We love that. It's not the color blind thing. It's like the profound, the beauty of profound diversity and difference. And it seems like a step in that direction is this inner work, especially for White folks and White women like myself, is this inner work.

But then on top of that, that inner work leads to the desire to show up. We want to show up more every day, get up off the couch of White privilege where things are comfortable and move into the space of doing outward work. And I think that's moving into the space of allyship. And I really want to model that for my kids.

The other side to this, some of what I have been seeing, too, is significant emotional labor that we throw on people of Color and as White women, White women, women of Color to bear witness to this ship, to hear from us, to see us all of this, like I want to do this work. I've been trying to do this work with my kids, totally imperfectly as well. So I want to know from you, if you won't, if you don't mind talking about it, like, do you have this experience of that burden of White kind of like allyship moving forward as we are growing? Are we a burden? I guess essentially, are we a burden on people of Color as we're growing?


Sofia: I'm going to answer, like I said, clear is kind: yes.


Justin: Yes, clear is kind.


Sofia: And yeah, it depends on context. Right. Like, I have chosen a career of being in the field of diversity, equity, inclusion, which means that it's my job to point out injustices or see where there might be some issues. But it's also an exhausting job because sometimes some of the people that are the more vocal about their allyship are the ones that are sometimes the worst when their actions are not aligning.

So my thought on allyship is don't wait for the recognition. I think some people really would love to and that's a conditioning thing to look at what I did, I read this book. I'm doing this amazing thing and I know people who will constantly tell me the work they're doing behind the scenes, but will actually sit in a meeting with me and not call out an injustice in the moment. And that's great that you're reading all these great books that you went to that book club, that you put that blog together. But if you're not showing up for me as a colleague, as a friend, I'm not sure if it's worth your time to continue to read those things.

So I would say, like what on an ongoing basis do you do, what decisions to make? Do you surround yourself with people of Color and not in tokenized ways, but we're partners together. I'm going to share my resources, my power, and my influence with this person so that you are taking the actions that are behind this, beyond just the learning. So I wouldn't say it's a burden. It's more like an awareness that needs to happen around really showing up.


Audra: Yeah. What it means to get into the work. You know, that's something that really struck me in the past year, especially after the murder of George Floyd, was coming to understand, like I remember thinking, “I don't have anything to give. What do I have to offer?” Like what do I have, like, in terms of…

And it was just like an overnight switch of like, wait a minute, you know, there are so many different things I can do in our daily lives and through our businesses, through our nonprofit to support people of Color, especially for me to support women of Color, and to be able to show up in a way that I didn't think I had resources, I do have resources. And it was coming to understand that I do have opportunities if I just kind of flip the switch and start thinking about how I can start to show up. To me, it was just a huge difference. I was stuck in the phase before of like I don't really know what to do to show up. That's my work. And I do think everybody has that opportunity inside themselves in their own lives as their own work to do. But we all have spaces where we can show up.

I have an example of a woman I've worked with who, you know, I remember she came to me in the nonprofit world and said, “Hey, can I talk with you about the nonprofit?” And I remember thinking, “Oh, my god, I’m pushing water up a mountain. I have nothing to give. I have nothing to offer with that.” And I started to dig in and realize, especially in this past year, no, I do. I have connections that I have because of my privilege. And these are connections to be shared, to be shared with you. You know, it's just like small, small things like that I think especially for White women, there is a lot of, “Oh, my god, there's so much of it to do.” So it resonates with me not trying to perform this, but just doing the work.

The other side of it, most of the people I know in my network are White women. So I do feel like there is a role for sort of like, sharing the work. But it's a fine line, I feel like between because it is about you doing the work and knowing that yourself and growing yourself. But then you also want to encourage the other White people in your life.


Sofia: Exactly, and I love the idea of that action could look like what you were saying, being a good mentor to people. But beyond mentorship and giving your information and being able to help someone out is also sponsorship. What doors are you opening and who are you introducing people to and living in a world of abundance and not of scarcity. Like, oh, if I open that door somehow that's going to be a problem for me. It's like, no, no, no. We have different missions, different things that we could be doing and then we can partner on some things and strengthen something that we're working on.


Justin: So, Sofia, I would be remiss if I don't just ask this really specific question because I want parents listening to the podcast to just get this little piece from you. Do you have any advice for White parents, like us, to talk to our kids about race, ethnicity, social justice, diversity, inclusion, equity?


Sofia: Yes, I would say don't wait. It's not a special conversation that ‘Let me wait till they turn 13’ and now I'm going to have a…


Justin: It's like ‘the talk.’


Sofia: Yes, think about the talk that Black parents have to have with their young men of Color or even Hispanic parents, Latino parents. That conversation of: you show up differently in the world. You're going to be mistreated. And, yeah, that's a conversation later. You're not going to scare a five-year-old and say, “Ok, the world is horrible to you because of what you look like.”

But I would say, like, don't shush when conversations are happening around there. I think a lot of folks will not say the word “Black” even because they're like I was, somebody shushed me because I pointed out somebody was Black or I was watching TV and something came up. You have to have those conversations early, really early. And it doesn't have to be a whole sit-down explanation. It could be as practical as making sure that your children's books are diverse, that there are different representations in your household around different cultures. That when you're watching movies, you're not only focusing on movies, are trying to seek out movies that have a more broader representation. Unfortunately, that's harder to find.

And it's funny because I was just watching Netflix and I go to Amazon Prime, I go to all these things and they're like the Black Experience and, or during Asian American and Pacific Islander, the Asian Experience, which is great. Group them for me and that's awesome. But they should just be family stories. They should just be like comedy and they're all there. But I think doing that as a parent goes a long way to really showing young people the different ways that people live.


Justin: So what I'm hearing is a more subtle like it's not sitting down. And, you know, “Son, let's talk about race and ethnicity.” But that it is this ongoing, subtle way of bringing diversity into the home through books or movies or TV shows.


Audra: Also our role modeling, it seems like we're like, learning, unlearning, doing our work and being vocal about that, you know what I mean? Sharing at the table what we're learning. I know having slightly older kids now, one of the cool things has been like there's a lot of movies we can watch together, a lot of, you know, a lot of opportunities there that have been really, really awesome for us to be a part of, our journey has been—and we've had significant privilege to be able to do this—but we chose to live in a more diverse place than where we were living before.

And a big part of that was a consciousness around like how our kids were growing up. And we didn't want to kind of perpetuate the way that we grew up, right. And it was, we had the really great opportunity to move into a place that is significantly more diverse and has automatically just brought up more opportunities for conversation, just sort of embedded in the home.

But it sounds like too, with little kids, like what you were talking about, like I totally we're of the generation growing up when a little kid would be like, “Look, Mommy, that person has brown skin. Look, Mommy, that person,” you know. Like kids are observers, right? Like you said, we're built to see difference. And we grew up in the generation of the parent being like “Shhhh. That is not nice.”


Sofia: We do not talk about it. Yeah. And it's like...


Audra: Why is that not nice? It's beautiful. Right? Isn't it beautiful that we all have profoundly different skin colors? Do you want to talk more about that?


Sofia: Exactly. Like I remember when my son saw two men holding hands. “Look, they're holding hands.” I'm like, “Yeah, they are a couple.” Like me and your Papi, just so it’s normalized. And I remember when he was taking a Taekwondo class and I was in that class too, a different class, not the kid one, the adult one.


Justin: You are crushing it in that kid’s class.


Sofia: How this shows up later, it's normalized, right. This is what couples look like, the different representation of that. During a class, he had, Master Lee had all the kids lined up. And he's like, “you need to have hair neat, uniform clean.” It was like one of the tenets of the thing, that you had to come in looking me. You can look a mess. And he would say, don't you want to look- he's rubbing the head of a girl and said, “Don't you want to look good for your boyfriend?” Like he's genderizing it. It actually was my daughter who goes, “Mommy doesn't Master Lee know that boys can be with boys and girls with girls? How does he not know that?”


Justin: You might be good at martial arts, but you need some social skills.


Sofia: Exactly. So but, you know, there's so many settings, this stuff like that gets normalized. So because I was having conversations with my child early on at five years old, she recognizes like, something's not right. So you don't have to that's that critical thinking skill.

There are people around this to have different ways of thinking, different ways of navigating the world, and they don't have to be the same as you. So you just need to know for yourself what is right and what is wrong and then compare and say, oh, look, he messed up. He doesn't know that, but it's like he doesn't. So that's ok. Or he doesn't want or maybe he's not, in that moment just didn't give the example. So I don't know what it was. Let's not make assumptions. Assume the best.


Audra: Yeah. And as a parent we can, we're all, I mean from our generation anyway, and with the way many of us were raised, we're going to struggle with like a binary kind of view, for example. And, you know, you can change along the way.

Like, I remember having this awareness when we're talking about, well, like someday you might have a girlfriend, boyfriend sort of situation to the kids, like, and all of the diversity in that. So we're like, it could be boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever. And I had a proud moment recently where Maesie helped Max do that Grand Theft Auto presentation and everything. He hired her to help with the presentation. And she was like, “Mommy, he didn't have all the pronouns, like we needed to have more diversity in the pronouns.” So I definitely added that for him and talked to him about that.

And I think you're right, it is just these efforts to normalize. And I think many of us do have to raise our own awareness in order to insert that into these conversations. But it is a really, really powerful way to start bringing diversity and really belonging into the home.


Sofia: Yes, it starts at home.


Justin: So, Sofia, you have worked for the JED Foundation, which does amazing work around teen and young adult mental health and suicide prevention. Can you tell us a little bit about what you learned there, what you learned as a parent? Just a little bit about your work there. And I know that you're transitioning so…


Audra: And maybe even the transition to the JED Foundation and then, because that is really interesting, to coming out of higher education.


Sofia: Oh, well, I was in higher ed for 24½ years when I got recruited for a role at the JED Foundation. And you already mentioned the mission, which was amazing to me because after being in higher ed and observing young people just struggling and I always loved working in colleges because it was the transition time that you realize like, wow, some people have eye-opening experiences for the first time in college that I've never experienced this. So first time away from home, first time on my own, first time meeting people different than me. And that comes with a lot of mental health weight from I thought I knew everything and now I'm shocked or my eyes are open.

And sometimes that's really positive and cool. For some, it's negative and really feels like what did I miss? Right. And that comes with a lot of struggles mentally. And it's also an age where some people are realizing for the first time that they have a mental disorder or an illness. That's something that was not diagnosed previously.

So there's a lot of resource sharing and connecting to practitioners and mental health providers in a way that I feel like, “Ok, this is your moment. Let's figure this out so that you can set yourself up for success from now on.” So to me, the transition to JED, I was at first like, “Oh, I'm not sure I've been in higher ed so long. My next role, I was the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students and in my mind and the trajectory of my career, I'm going to be a Vice President of Student Affairs.”

And then when the role came up and I was recruited, the idea of putting together the diversity, equity, inclusion and thinking about disparities and who's not getting what they need in terms of health, mental health help and resources, and putting that together with mental health and mental health together was to me like, wow, it was the equity and mental framework that was put together between the JED Foundation and The Steve Fund that really when I read the 10 recommendations, there's a lot of others in there, but basically like making mental health a priority, listening to your students to get their feedback about what they need, diversifying and training and making sure that your staff is culturally responsive, you can go on and on.

But to me, they were like, “Ok, I can really see myself really helping to move this along and helping the organization think about it from a more connected perspective.” So that was my transition to JED. And I've been there two-and-a-half years.

And one thing that I've learned is I'm a higher ed professional. I'm also a D.I.E. practitioner. So the mental health piece was not one that I knew it more from a first responder situation, handling crises and working through situations on different campuses. But I felt like at this time they need the clinical perspective now, and there are many really amazing researchers, psychologists who this is their world and trying to do the practical research around this.

So I kind of feel like my role at JED, I was there two-and-a-half years and I'm still staying on to help with a couple of projects that I'm really excited about. One of them is called Proud and Thriving, supporting the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people in higher ed, in high school and in colleges. So I'm taking on new roles, focusing back on primarily diversity, equity and inclusion. I'm going to be the Managing Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion for Billie Jean King Enterprises. And….


Audra: All right!


Justin: That’s awesome.


Sofia: So I know it's a hard transition because I'm like, you know, once you're at a place that you really feel like you're making a difference and the JED Foundation is doing some amazing things and I'd love to talk about some things I learned there, even for my own family.

But when I was recruited to do this position for Billie Jean King, she is an icon, a champion for equality, for gender equity, for equity for women in general, equality for sports and even beyond sports. Just making sure that everyone is respected and is given their fair chance, fair opportunities and their due in terms of finances. All of it, because I think that helps to even the playing field literally for future generations.

So making sure that young women get connected and get what they need to move forward and thrive. So I'm excited. I start in the next couple of weeks, very soon. And I'm excited because we'll be able to work with different organizations to help them strategize and think about what could they be doing differently or what can they continue to be doing that's helping their employees and their communities thrive and really respect differences. And not just that, but figure out how those differences can actually help everyone be better people, to put out better products, put out better services. So that's what I'm going to be doing. I'm excited.


Audra: Oh, it's beautiful. What an incredible mission, too. And the fact that, you're so entrepreneurial, that's one thing that I really, really love about you. You’re in another founding role. I mean, I think one thing that we didn't talk about is that you founded an organization, too. You have a group of eight thousand women on Facebook who are completing, they’re Latinas completing doctoral degrees.


Sofia: Yes.


Audra: This is in addition to everything else you're doing. I mean, you talk about moving, pushing the needle and bringing, I think, bringing women into the spaces where we need them most. Especially bringing Latinas into the spaces where we need them most is incredible.

So this seems like totally just makes sense for me, for you, because you're a founder. You're an entrepreneur. I think you see need and you move into addressing it. Super exciting.


Sofia: Yeah.


Justin: Yeah. And you'll be starting in the next couple of weeks. And so we are excited to have you back on pretty soon so you can tell us about all the work that you're into there. This is such an exciting position. And we're so we're just so thrilled for you.


Audra: Yeah, I'm really, really interested to know more about you as this starts to come up and we talk next time about how we can move forward into a space of not only celebrating our differences, but like treasuring and protecting it.

To me, it's a whole nother level between acknowledging and then kind of like really celebration to then moving into the space of protection. And this is our future, the growth of our country, our economy, our I think moving into the space of creating a safer world. We need to move into that space of protection and treasuring almost.


Sofia: The idea of safety, psychological safety, safety in general, so that everyone can just be themselves and not be afraid of speaking their own truth and just being who they are and not being afraid of navigating space and wondering, is someone going to be treating me differently, mistreating me? I would love to see that. That's my goal. In every space, everyone can navigate it fully as themselves.


Audra: How does this movement towards safety relate to, from your perspective, some of the unique mental health challenges faced by BIPOC folks in this country and also probably more generally what you can extrapolate from that and how that relates to safety, and what we can do.


Sofia: I'll speak to BIPOC mental health month. It used to be, I think it was 2008, I could be wrong. What Bebe Moore Campbell had her name was attached to National Minority Mental Health Month, Awareness Month, and a few organizations last year with the movement of really pointing out that there are some people in minority communities, or minority numerically. I know that's not a term that is embraced anymore because it really has been used in negative ways as opposed to the numerical sense minority has and less then. So I personally don't use Minority Mental Health Month for that reason. But I also recognize that not everybody understands what BIPOC is the Black, Indigenous and People of Color, which is a term that we heard more.

It's not a new term, but we heard more in the last year because it pointed out this unique, I would say, challenges for Black, Indigenous and people who visually look in ways that if you think about White supremacy and White and then I don't use that term lightly, I'm very careful when I see the idea of Whiteness as the norm. And that's the way I define it.

Like who is other than what is seen as the norm? And there was a congressional task force that got formed to talk about Black youth mental health and specifically Black youth suicide, that while the numbers of suicides overall in the last year, which is excellent news, has gone down. And I don't have the numbers off the top of my head. But the numbers for young Black youth, Latinx youth and Indigenous youth has not gone down, it’s actually going up. Because I think when you're watching violence and injustices and see like, is there hope for me in this future?

And I actually when I see the numbers of who is getting advanced, what the C-suites are looking like, what boards are looking like, and you're still not there after all this time. And, you know, forget about People of Color, even women are not there. So then what kind of hope do you feel like you have in your future when you feel like so many doors are not opening up for you?

So I would say that when it comes to mental health, that's that part of that stress. So there's a lot of resilience, which I think is awesome. We use that term a lot like, “Oh, you're so resilient.” But when you're constantly feeling like messaging around your identity is negative. Of course you build resilience because you're like, I have to get through this and you have people around you, families, back to the when you talk to your kids about this, I think families of Color have always had to combat against what the world is seeing with what the media is saying about People of Color. So they do help their children build that resilience.

But when it lives in reality, as you grow up and you start seeking out those opportunities beyond your family safety network, I think that's when it really hits hard and hits home. So that's what I think causes a lot of a lot more mental health concerns. And those disparities in terms of psychologists and mental health providers.

If you look at psychologists, last I looked I think was from 2018. If you look at it was like 86% of psychologists that were tracked by APA, the American Psychological Association were White. Then after that, I forgot the numbers exactly, but consider that only 14% of everyone else. So when you don't see yourself in the profession, you don't see it normalized in your family because of cultural issues or religious issues. Whereas some families might say don't talk out of turn. And in some families, therapy is normalized. There are, I know people who grew up and were in therapy since they were little because their families said this is part of life. You need someone else outside of your family and who's professional to talk about your challenges. That is not the case for every family. And it's actually not accessible if you don't have the finances or you don't have health care coverage to be able to see.

I mean, I was trying to make an appointment with a therapist through my own and I have health insurance and it was a challenge. It took weeks because just trying to connect, who takes my insurance? How much is the copay? How much is it to see? So I can not even imagine for families just don't have that kind of coverage. All those families are working part-time who don't have mental health or even just health, dental health coverage. So I think there's a lot to be done and there’s work in recruiting psychologists of Color, but also in making sure that there's access to care.


Justin: We have you just for a couple more minutes. I want to see if I can just get in these final three questions that we asked guests. The first one is if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?


Sofia: I would say, ‘Give yourself much grace as you would to others.’


Justin: Mmm. Give yourself grace. Beautiful, and then what is the last quote that changed the way you think or feel?


Sofia: I would say one by Maya Angelou, where it's “Once you know better, do better.” Like we can sit in our lack of awareness or I didn't know and it's like, well, now, you know, and that's with anything... Even in a relationship.

Trust me, I'm about to be married. I want to say that I'm going to be, next week is my 20-year wedding anniversary. And if I learned anything, it's once you know what your partner needs, wants you, you should act on that and make sure that you're doing that. I haven't been perfect, but I would say, like, that's where, how we got to 20 years. Just trying to understand, like, what do you need to be your own successful, thriving person and what do I need and paying attention to that.


Audra: What a beautiful gift to share.


Justin: And then finally, what is your favorite thing about kids?


Sofia: My favorite thing is you never know what they're going to do and say. It’s always a surprise.


Justin: It's always an adventure!


Sofia: I was always scared to have kids. I didn't even know I would because I never considered myself a good parent. Like I was always like, can I be like, what do you say to young people? I babysat when I was little, but when it came to my own, I actually had to ask somebody, like, how do you respond to kids? Like, what do you do with them, how do you play with them? And my mom was not a playful person. What am I going to do? And somebody I remember the best advice I got was “you wait for them to tell you what they want.” I was like, “I can do that. That's easy. I can respond.” So I feel like that helped me calm down about whether or not I was going to be a proactive, good parent. It was …


Audra: Another great point.


Justin: Ah, that’s beautiful.


Audra: Sofia, thank you so much, so much for taking the time to talk with us. And we'd really like for this to be a recurring series. We have so much to talk about, as you can tell, like me only I feel like we only got into a little bit at the surface. Like, I really feel like this is such, such an incredible, always incredible conversation with you. But this is really, really powerful work for families. And thank you for everything that you do for the world. The world is so much better off with you in it.


Sofia: Ah, thank you, you’re making me blush. And thank you two so much, for everything that you're doing and the amazing things you're putting together for families, because I think there's such a void. We want to know what to do and it's so helpful to put it in one place that we can really tap into. So thank you for that.


Justin: Thank you for being a part of this team. Yeah.


Audra: Thank you for being on our board. You know, speaking about board positions like thank you and thank you for all of the work that you're going to do to really elevate the resources that we're providing to The Family Thrive.


Sofia: Thank you.


Justin: Alright, my friend.

Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast, if you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple podcast or anywhere you listen to a podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Justin: I'm honored to publish this episode for BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month by BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. And this conversation is with our good friend, an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, Sofia Pertuz, PhD.

I have to admit right off the bat that as a white kid from the white suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, talking about race and ethnicity doesn't come easy for me. Outside of reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” after watching the movie in high school, I never gave race and ethnicity much thought. In college, I learned more about American history and the history of Europeans traveling around the world and killing and stealing from non-White people.

At some point, I realized that whether I like it or not, the way my White ancestors thought about race and ethnicity has led to some pretty bad things in the world. And that realization hasn't really helped me understand how to talk to my kids about race and ethnicity. We can watch the movies and documentaries and watch the news, but I still don't know how to bring that into their lives so they can do better than I've done and do better than our ancestors.

Thankfully, Sofia sat down with me and Audra to get into it. We talk about the difference between race and ethnicity. How Sofia learned that difference, getting bullied as a child. How white parents like me can start talking to our kids about racism. And finally, we dig into Sofia's work and teen mental health and suicide prevention. So without further ado, here's our wonderful conversation with Sofia Pertuz PhD.


Audra: Good morning, Sofia. So good to see you!


Sofia: Good morning. It’s good to see you both, always a thrill.


Audra: Thank you so much for being with us today. We are so, so thrilled to have this conversation with you and such an important conversation. I feel like this is one that I have been really, really looking forward to having on The Family Thrive, that I'd like to be ongoing because we're going to be growing together. And I think this conversation can continue to grow.


Sofia: Oh, I'm excited. What are we talking about?


Justin: So, Sofia, we have known you for such a long time that there I mean, we could talk about so many things going all the way back to Columbia in New York City several decades ago.


Audra: Can I just say, can I just add? So we first met Sofia when, actually, we first met in an interview to, for me. So I had gotten into a master's program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and I had found the Resident Director in Residence Life position and was able to secure an interview. So, went out for a live interview at the time. And that's when I first met Sofia. And I was just in awe of Sofia from the beginning. And she's been such an incredible mentor to me from day one. And this was a high-pressure interview, like they put us in scenarios and we were in teams and they're standing there with clipboards.


Sofia: It was a terrible interview process. The wonderful thing is you came through with flying colors and you were awesome. So I'm so glad that we ended up getting to work together because I think we did some great things.


Audra: It was an experience of a lifetime. We were able to move to Manhattan without having to secure an apartment or deposit or anything like that. So if anybody is listening to this thinking, like, “How is my kid going to go to college and make this happen?” I highly, highly recommend Residence Life. Check it out. And it's some of the best people experience you could ever get.

One of the things that you brought to the team was a good amount of experiences, trainings, and support when it comes to what we called at the time “diversity.” And I think that we're kind of changing the language around that now. I think that we're moving into a space beyond kind of diversity and into a space of belonging. So I'm really excited to talk with you about that.

But I also wanted to share that Sofia, as a mentor to me, taught me so, so much. And one of the things that always fits with me is just your kind supportive guidance in the fact that you're always just so real with me. And I'll never forget this time. There was a time when I emailed not an inappropriate email, but an inappropriate email for the setting, like with higher-ups out of frustration for something I'll never forget, like Sofia told me. And she's like, “Sit down. This is not how this is done. This is not how you get things done. This is not the way to go about it.” And it was one of the biggest life lessons for me.

And one of the things that I learned going into higher education myself, going into leadership development, becoming someone who has built teams myself now, is that one of the very, very best things that we can do when it comes to working with others and mentoring folks is being honest and real and kind. Because if you just try to do the people-pleasing, kind of like, “You're doing a great job, it's ok!” You don't get into the real lessons, nobody grows.


Sofia: Exactly, exactly. And I always think feedback is a gift. And I don't like to give feedback. I think most people don't. But I think when you do get the feedback, sometimes it comes in different ways. It comes very direct. And I believe in being clear. Brene Brown has an expression: “Clear is kind.” I know you’ve heard of her expressions, but the idea is that you should just tell people what you mean and mean what you say because that's the best way for us to understand each other and be, I guess, graceful and kind with each other.


Justin: So, it sounds to me like there's parenting lessons in here as well.


Sofia: Yes...parenting lessons. I have a 17-year-old and a 13-year-old and they have taught me so much.


Justin: Yeah, but that the clarity and the feedback because as parents, we're always giving our kids feedback whether we know it or not. And so how did your experience in these leadership roles in higher education inform your parenting?


Sofia: Well, first I'll say, like, maybe I could talk about what I've always done. Right, so I grew up in the Bronx and I grew up with a mom who, parents, but my mom was the strong one in the family who was the one that laid down the law pretty much about what discipline was like. One thing that I remember is my mom was very strict. She was very direct. You couldn't be more direct than my mom, and I lost her back in April. We lost her in April, unfortunately. But I want to say that I start with her because she taught me all the leadership lessons about that clarity and as mean as she was growing up, I feel like I bring that into my parenting.

I try really hard to battle against the overly mean, right. Like being too direct and my kids, I don't yell like, well, maybe I do. But I’m very direct when I'm asking them to do something or explain to them why I'm disappointed that they didn't do something that I asked them to do. And my daughter would say, “Stop yelling.” I'm like, “Oh, you don't know what yelling is.” My mom, not even just yelling, she would go all out.

What I bring from that, from my mom's being very clear about what she expected and telling us exactly what she is disappointed about. I brought that into my parenting where I just let them know. I'm very clear. I'm very open. And my dad was part of our upbringing, too. But he was more quiet. He did things in a much more, I think I take from that too, where sometimes just a look is enough.


Audra: Oh yes.


Sofia: Setting an example was enough. My dad was a kind of person that was just like, you know what, I'm not going to get upset. His car burned down. He had a car that just like, in a parking lot. I don't know what happened to it, but I guess a fuse or something, it pretty much blew up. We were just looking at the picture the other day and he just looked at it and was like, “Ok, I'll get another one. We'll figure it out.” And then there were many instances like that. He was a cab driver and he had a knife put through, to his throat. And I said, “What did you do?” “I gave them the money.”

Like, he just was always very calm and very like when we had achievements, me and my siblings, I grew up with my five siblings and we were all like on honor roll. We were winning awards. And his response was always like, “Que bien. It's what I expect from you. Of course, you're going to be excellent. You're great people and you're smart people and you're great kids.”

So I feel like I got the balance of both, like my mom's “rawr,” over the top, you know, very high expectations always like really clear. And I would even say, like, mean about it. So we knew, like, we had expectations, we for real knew that. With my dad's “Ok, I expect that I'm not going to go over the top on it. I'm just going to expect that and you know it. And you're all going to be good people and that's it.” So I think I got a little bit of both from both.


Audra: Yeah, that resonates with me as somebody who worked for you, I can really see your dad in that you were so calm under any pressure, under any fire and like really modeled the way for all of us on how to just get into calm and be like, “Ok, what's the problem we’re solving?” Like, really straightforward, nothing to freak out about, we’re solving a problem, even like we had an attempted kidnaping or a kidnapping. Actually, I think there's definitely there was attempted suicide attempts and I think a water tower broke on the roof at one point. And we had the blackout when we first got there. I was, we were there for days, I think, and we had the big blackout.


Sofia: Oh, I was busy having a baby actually. My daughter and I was freaking out. I was like, “Oh, no, I'm not there to take care of the things that I need to do.” My daughter was actually born August 13, 2003.


Justin: Oh my god.


Sofia: And then the next day the power was…


Audra: Oh, my god.


Sofia: I was a mess. They had shut down the hospital. I was downtown in Roosevelt Hospital on, what is it, 60th Street. And they shut everything down. Obviously, there was no power. They were on generators, so there was minimal everything. I just had a C-section, which was alright.


Audra: How does that work? I’ve had C-sections. I don't get it.


Sofia: Oh, no. It was terrible because the doctors were cranky. The nurses were cranky because they were grounded. They were told they couldn't leave. So you have to go with...


Audra: Were there first responders?


Sofia: Yeah.


Justin: Oh no.


Sofia: And to come visit me, my husband, Antonio, had to come from 120th Street all the way down to 60th on foot.


Audra: Yes, that's right.


Sofia: Because he couldn’t drive, there were no lights. And had to go up 11 flights to come see us. It was a mess.


Audra: And for your first baby. What a story.


Sofia: That's what I was doing, is that you were all barbecuing because people were like, well I guess this is going to happen for a couple of days. They were like social things happening, a barbecue in front of Bancroft, the building over there. So I felt like at first I'm worried about my baby, me, and I'm crying. She's crying. It was a mess. But I was like I remember getting some reports from people like, “Oh, it's pretty cool. The staff is holding it down, they’re going around with flashlights, they're giving out candles, they're doing what they have to do to do the emergency stuff.” So I felt good that I was like, “They don't need me.” And that's probably the best thing you could do with parenting too. Right?


Justin: I raised them so well.


Sofia: I did the best I could. Like I, my daughter’s graduated from high school. She's about to go to college and a five-year college administrator. I'm absolutely terrified because I was the dean of students. So I thought…


Justin: Oh, you know it all.


Audra: You know too much.


Sofia: And yet I know nothing because I don't know how I'm going to react when it's my child and I'm going to just trust that I did the best I could and that I'm sending this human out into the world who is going to do good things. Who's going to be a good person.

And you know what? If she does bad things and she's a terrible person, it comes with the territory. It's like we have to take it and do the best we can with everything that is in front of us, because not every one of us can be perfect. And I want her to know that. I want them, both my kids, to know we're going to make mistakes. I have made some doozies. As they get older, I share more about the history.


Justin: Up until now, you've been perfect.


Sofia: I’ve been perfect. Like sometimes I start to reminisce and I'm like, “Oh, back in my day I used to go to the club.” And she’s like “So what time did you get home?” Like, nope. “How old were you?” I don't know. I don't remember.


Justin: Thirty… So Sofia. I want to get into this diversity and inclusion part of your life. How did you get into the whole diversity and inclusion world and then what makes you passionate about it?


Sofia: Well, first I would say everyone is in the diversity and inclusion world because everyone is handling different people, different personalities. I think you're asking it from a professional sense, right?


Justin: Yes.


Sofia: So, I started my career in higher education and I remember going away to college. I pretty much went away and stayed in college for the rest of my life until two years ago.


Justin: Preach.


Audra: Reminds me of someone I know.


Sofia: College and how it all started, I think was I had grown up Catholic. I grew up in the Bronx like I said earlier. I was born in Dominican Republic, was brought to the US when I was a baby. I was barely one. And I remember just watching how my family was where we lived.

We lived in a place that there were mostly Puerto Rican and Black families. We were the only Dominican family. As the only Dominican family, we were treated differently. And I remember having some standards around like who to hang out with, who not to, and all that stuff. And so that's got me thinking about, wait a minute, what's different and why are we treating each other differently and why am I being attacked?

I would actually be walking in my neighborhood and I would be attacked by some Black girls who were like, what are you? Touching my hair, pulling my hair because my hair is Black hair. It was curly, kinky at the time. So when they see kind of a light skin, you kind of look, I don't know what you look like. I don't know what you are. I actually was attacked by people who were trying to understand what I was. So I think that's probably how I started, because I don't want anyone to ever feel attacked just by being who they are.

But I would say that my real start career-wise in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, would be when I was an RA. I went to college, I became an RA and I would be that RA going around doing programs like, “Let's do programing on how to respect each other.” And I did a lot of programming on, it was the time of AIDS Awareness, HIV, AIDS Awareness, STDs when we called them STDs.


Audra: Yeah.


Sofia: I would do programs called “Condoms and Games” or “How to be a Better Lover” on just respecting each other and how to be mindful of each other's boundaries and stuff like that. So it was kind of like some of it was gender, some of it was sexuality. And having gone to Catholic school most of my life, my mom would have been shocked to know what kinds of presentations and programs I would do.


Audra: Right. I mean, how courageous of you as an undergrad RA to dive right in. I mean, I think it's incredible. What were you studying at the time?


Sofia: Organizational Communications. I gravitated towards any class where I can be talking. I love…


Justin: Do we get to talk here?


Sofia: Is it math or not? No. I love math, but that's how I started. So I was an RA and then when I was about to finish school, I was talking to my hall director and I said, “I'm not sure what I want to do next, but maybe I could do what you're doing. You seem to really enjoy working with students and kind of working through challenges and crises. I kind of like that.”

And she said, “well, you have to get your Master's.” So I went all the way to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to find a job in New Jersey. So my real start was Seton Hall University. I love them. I got a Grad Assistantship before I even applied to a Master's program. They were like, “Which program are you with?”


Audra: Wow.


Justin: That’s awesome.


Sofia: I don't even know all of these things, so I look up there...


Audra: No, it's amazing.


Sofia: I'm learning it was the Master's in Educational administration supervision and they only had a Ph.D., not a Masters. So I kind of created my first higher Ed Masters degree because I was piecing it together and they allowed me. And this is back to like, the idea of diversity. There was a chair of the department who was just amazing, gave me so much grace, and said, “Wait, but you got into the K through 12 program. Why would you want to do higher ed?” I said, “I always wanted to do higher ed and I saw the classes were there, so I figured we could work something out.” That's where I channel my mom.


Audra: Oh, yes.


Justin: Nice.


Sofia: That’s where I channel my mother again. And I can't think of why we can't do that. Let's figure it out. And we did. And I ended up staying there for my PhD too. I finished it decades later.

But what resonates to me throughout my whole career is that I had people along the way who didn't see me as Latina and didn't see me as a Black woman, didn't see me as a woman, just saw me as a scholar, as a student, as an employee, as an administrator. So I would say that working in higher ed and working in student affairs especially, seeing humanity in its rawest form, was really where I've gotten a lot of my, I guess, open-mindedness and thoughts about how diversity can work if you really just shift your perspective and your own awareness.


Justin: So you have already said a couple of terms that I think we use them regularly throughout our lives, but not many of us have a chance to step back and examine these words. So I'm wondering if you can take us through a couple of definitions. So, first of all, can you walk us through what the differences between “race” and “ethnicity.”


Sofia: Sure, I'll speak to it from my own perspective in my own identity. But race is a socially constructed concept that people from different colors and what they appear can be labeled a certain way. So that's why you'll see on the US Census form, are you, well, I see that. Are you Hispanic or not? And then you pick there and then from there you pick race. And then there's Asian, Caucasian, White, there's Black. And to be honest, back before I went to college, if you had asked me what my race was, I would have just said, “Oh, I'm Dominican” or “I'm Hispanic,” because that was the language at the time. Now we see Latinx, Latino.

So I didn't learn that I was Black as a race until I went to college. And other people told me, “You know, you're Black, right?” I'm like, “What? My mom didn't tell me I was Black. What are you talking about?” Meanwhile, my family and many of my grandparents, my parents are darker than me. So when I came back home and told my mom, “Oh, by the way, we're Black, you can't say negative things.” And like in my family, sometimes there were some issues with like if you marry, don't marry someone Black because you're going to bring down the whole culture. There were serious issues like that within the culture, which I hate to admit it, but that's what race is. That idea of what you look like and the identity with it. So now I proudly say I'm Black. Like I said, if you had asked me at 14 what was my race, I wouldn't know how to answer that question. So it's also an evolving concept and self-identity thing.

Ethnicity. I would define it as a community-oriented identification. So like if I say my race is Black, then I say my ethnicity is Latina or Latinx or Hispanic. If that's the community of other people that have similar traits or similar commonalities with food, commonalities with language, I also speak Spanish.

Then if you ask me what my nationality is, I was Dominican because I was born in the Dominican Republic. But once I came to the United States and became a citizen, my nationality technically is American or United States. So there's like layers of who you are.


Justin: Layers, yeah.


Audra: You know what? I'd really like to put a pin in and go back to in this as well, because that was a beautiful I mean, I love the way that you share this through the personal lens. Like, for example, I had no idea that it sounds like from the kind of like Dominican heritage in your family, like you struggle with some racism, even going back into your own heritage. I did not know this is a part of your story. You talk about race as a social construct. And I think that that is a really, really powerful point that I don't know how many of us like, that's really something to dig into. So we're saying that race isn't a…


Justin: Biological fact.


Audra: Right. I mean, I think when you look at the sort of genetics involved, there's like a barely perceptible something that gives your skin a different color and that's it. And what is constructed around all of that is the social construction part. And it reminds me of, you remember Professor Mitchell at ASU? So we were taking this class…


Justin: Late ‘90s.


Audra: Late nineties. We go to our professor, one of our favorite classes ever, a Black faculty member. And we're like, oh, my god, we're studying postmodernism structuralism. And we have learned that race is a floating signifier and our minds are blown up. We're so excited by this. And he looks at us and he goes, “Doesn't matter much when I get punched in the face.”


Sofia: Right. Exactly. That's the problem, right? Other people's perceptions are, it doesn't matter what you think you are, because at the end of the day, you still get judged by what you look like. And that's part of the issue with race that you can say all you want like, “Oh, no, I don't see color. I don't believe in categorizing people.” And it's like, well, that's not even natural. That's not human. We as humans, we categorize people.


Justin: Nor is it a social reality that we live in. Like we live in a culture that is so just soaked in race consciousness for better or for worse.


Sofia: Exactly. I have two books that I want to suggest if I can.


Justin: Oh yes, yes.


Sofia: So one of the books that I read early on in my career that I felt was one of the clearest in terms of trying to explain all this stuff and why it's so important to talk about it was Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum and she actually did an update 20 years later, which was awesome because it was like language changes and evolves over time.

The other one about the social construction piece, I think that I haven't read a book in a while that really made me think like this: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson that came out.


Justin: I heard an interview with her.


Sofia: It just puts it in perspective in a way that is almost, I wouldn't say shocking. I don't think I get shocked that much. But it was very like, wow, how do I not know this? I'm a diversity and inclusion practitioner trainer and yet there are things that it made me think about things in a different way about just humanity, the reality of humanity.


Audra: Is there anything off the top of your head that occurred to you in that way that surprised you?


Sofia: Yes, I think it made me think about like some unconscious ways that, for example, I went to Chile and I'm walking around the streets and I pretty much was ignored because a lot of people where I was navigating space were White. And even though they could be considered as part of the ethnicity of Hispanic or Latino, I felt invisible. And I walked around and I kind of enjoyed it. But I thought, “Why am I feeling so invisible?” And people are not acknowledging me. And then I realized, well, I look darker than everybody else. And I think I even had braids at the time when I went.

So that book made me think about like White women in past times who had maids, servants and some of the women of color in their lives were people who were of service to them. So there was this whole section about that and how sometimes that's such a consciousness that you don't even realize is there.

And maybe I've had experiences that I've had some challenges with White women in my life who I felt like we're not equals, are we? At the end of the day, I'm thinking we are. And then something happens in the interaction if we're working together, something that I'm like, you still think you're better than me or you have power over me or you're talking to me in a way that you think I'm less than. And the thing about my perspective is, I don't think you realize you're doing it so…


Audra: She doesn't even realize it. Yeah, absolutely.


Sofia: The book put it in perspective. It said basically some people are raised with these people in their lives who are of service to them and they bring that into their lives later in the workplace. And I was like, “That explains so much about so many interactions I’ve had.”


Audra: Such a powerful point. It reminds me too of, you remember Orla's research on orig wife syndrome.


Sofia: Yes.


Audra: We see that with men in the workplace being like, “Well, you're going to pick up the food, right? And you're going to do the agenda and you're going to do…” It's just an example of that embedded sexism.

And I feel like that is a really, really powerful way to talk about White Supremacy culture. And at least in my own work is to understand the deep embeddedness of this. And it is part of the work for me as a White woman is bringing it into my own consciousness. That's my work. What has been sort of laid in there, like culturally and even socially, historically along the line. But that's my work to do. And it's really powerful to hear you speak of your experiences with this.


Sofia: You probably didn't get this education or awareness until you probably went to college, I’m guessing.


Justin: Oh, yeah, absolutely.


Sofia: If you had a great high school teacher who brought you through the Richard Wright and all the really cool literature there. Otherwise, now there's this fight about let's not teach people this negativity of critical racism…


Justin: College was central for me, for a White kid from the suburbs who only hung out with other White kids and only knew other White kids. College was essential in learning this. I had no idea.

And so this idea of unconscious bias is so crucial because I had no idea that I even had these biases until I went to college and learned about this, learned the history, and then learned about this idea of unconscious bias. And then it ties into something that's even broader than this. The idea in therapy and self work that most of our work is about bringing the unconscious into the conscious. And so this is just one really important aspect of just a bigger life work that we all have to do.


Sofia: Absolutely.


Justin: Sofia, so there are so many words here that I just want to make sure parents listening to this get oriented. So we got race, we have ethnicity. We just mentioned unconscious bias. Are there any other key terms that as parents start to think through this stuff and they think about how to talk to their kids about this, what other terms should parents know?


Sofia: I would say if you wanted to go from the positive perspective, it's ally, what it means to be an ally, and to look out for others. And even if you're not part of a culture or a way of being that you can still advocate. So being an advocate for social justice in general. So I would say social justice is another term that I've always loved.

So diversity is who's there, who's not, people, right? Numbers. Inclusion is who is able to contribute and be part of that number. So it's not enough to just bring a number of people that are different together. It's how are you all engaging and does everyone feel like they can equally contribute. And the possibility of outcomes equal for everybody. Diversity, inclusion, equity. And I put it in that order because you hear diversity, equity, inclusion, and that's only because we don't want it to spell “die.”


Justin: Oh, I never thought about that.


Sofia: So I say equity after inclusion, because equity really is the hard work of looking at what is wrong, what is different, what is not happening that's not bringing that…


Justin: Systemically.


Sofia: Because equality is everyone gets the same thing, but equity is everyone gets what they need to be successful and thrive. So I'm going to bring this to parenting for a second. I have two kids, two young people that I am responsible for. They are so different, different personalities, different needs. If I treated them equally then I would be a terrible parent because I’m not being responsive to what each of them needs to be able to thrive. So I've had to really work hard to figure this out over time, right?


Justin: I love that.


Sofia: And you never get it completely right. But I'm going to frame it in saying it's just being responsible, paying attention. So when it comes to diversity, everybody's like, “This is so hard.” And they sit through maybe like a long day of a workshop. And it's like, “You know what's hard? Living this every day and having to respond to other people because of the way you've been treated or looked at or the injustices that might happen to you personally because other people don't understand they're doing it.”

So diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, as in what are the actions you're taking to actually make change and create opportunity for other people. But that takes, let's bring in another term ‘anti-racism.’ I also like to say ‘anti-bias,’ because I think racism obviously is a major issue in this last year, especially. A lot of parents were like, “How do I talk to my kids about this?”


Audra: Right.


Sofia: And someone like me who is already a Person of Color, it is like, how do I not? I have to. My kids are already navigating the world in a way that's unjust. So I'll give you an example. When my son was in PreK, the teacher called us in because they do these testing things to see you know, can he touch his nose? Can he touch his knees? Can he follow direction, I guess is the whole premise there. So we got to meet with the teacher and she's like, “I just want to talk to you about your son, maybe has some issues.” And I said, “Oh, what's the problem?” “Well, maybe it's a language barrier issue.” I said, “That's interesting because my son doesn't speak Spanish and that's my bad.”

I'm trying to understand what's happening. She's like, “Well, when I was giving him instruction, he was looking at me strange. I told him to touch his nose. I told him to bend down and put his hand up. And he just looked at me really strange the whole time. I was trying to figure out if he understood me.” And I said, “Oh, let me figure out what's going on here.” So I go back to my son and I said, “What happened? The teacher said you were looking at him funny.” He says, “I was just trying to figure out why she's telling me to touch my nose in school. What's the point?”

He was just confused. But basically, she chalked it up to, one: that he was Latino and one: that he was a kid of color and that somehow there was a developmental delay with him because he was looking at her strange…


Justin: Where it was the opposite. He was like, “What are you doing? Why?”


Sofia: “What is this? Why are you telling me to touch my nose? Like, it's silly because I'm, aren't I supposed to learn about letters and numbers?” Like, what are you...


Audra: Sofia, that sounds exhausting. I mean, you were pulled into a meeting. A working mom is the last thing that you needed to be pulled into a meeting. And then you have to go and have this conversation and to then face this sort of like, I don't know. Did it feel almost like it's bias? Did it feel like scrutiny to some degree? Judgment? I mean, it sounds exhausting.


Sofia: All of it. And it's not the first instance. There's been others where I've had teachers just, I'm trying to figure out if that teacher is mistreating my child because of who they are or are they just mean. And I mean, I don't know. I'm just trying to, and that's the exhausting piece, right?

Like, always trying to figure out, it could just be that she's just mean to him because she doesn't like his personality or her personality. But if you're trying to figure it out all the time, because I know that my experience is I'm always trying to figure out. Did I not get that promotion because of who I am? Did I not…


Justin: That's super fascinating. I've never thought, like, if there's some instance where one of our kids is, we perceive them as being treated unfairly or unkind. I just immediately chalk it up to that person's a jerk and that's who they are. And there's no so-


Audra: Yeah, we don’t go through any of that.


Justin: And just the like, psychological and emotional burden that I don't have to carry. That and, so this is super interesting.  


Audra: That’s White privilege, isn’t it?


Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So this is what helped me start to understand White privilege and why it's so hard for most White people to understand White privilege is that, it's what you don't have to deal with.

It's the times you didn't get pulled over. You know, it's the time you didn't get followed. And this is like all the stuff that you never have seen in your life. And so it's hard to see White privilege when you're White because it's all the stuff you didn't have to deal with.


Sofia: Exactly. But as we learned this last year, when we talk about anti-racism, anti-bias, it's not what is happening and pointing out all the problems. It’s: what am I doing to make things better? Am I trying to notice those things, am I going to look out for others who are already experiencing these?

Like, I was having a conversation with someone about antisemitism and the growing number of polls and epithets, I mean, it's just horrible and Islamophobia. And I think of every ism, every otherness. I think of what things I'm not and am I doing something? Am I...

So back to what do I talk to my kids about this? We're always having conversations about my poor kids. They have language probably that other kids may not have because I'm all right. So we're always talking about like, who are we missing? Who are we not looking out for, who are we not standing up for when it comes to LGBTQ+ advocacy? They've always heard me say positive things about what we need to be doing more of. We go to a Pride Parade. As a queer woman myself, like I am constantly trying to figure out how do we use language that is not coded in negativity all the time?

Because I think sometimes we say things that you don't know what your child’s identity is. You don't know that. And there are things that they might hear when they're five, six, seven, eight years old. Whether it's forming their opinions and thoughts, they might hear a parent say a negative thought about somebody because of their identity. And they might say, “Oh, now I can't be who I am. Now I can't tell Mom who I am because I heard that negativity.” Or if they say racist stuff about a culture and they like somebody from that culture, guess what? They're not going to be able to talk to their parent about that because they're going to say, “Oh, my parent is not going to accept me now.”


Audra: It doesn't feel safe.


Sofia: It doesn't feel safe. So we're always trying to, I'm not saying I'm perfect. We're not, I'm sure I say things that they're like, “Why did you say that?”

Like, one thing that happened is my, we were in the car and my daughter was little. I try not to tell too many more recent stories because there's a lot. But when she was like five, I was handing her the phone and my husband's uncle was calling and he was speaking in Spanish and she took the phone and he was trying to say just ‘happy birthday.’ So she handed back the phone and she goes, “I don't understand what he's saying.” And we're like “What?” “I don't know. He's saying something in Spanish. I'm not from there.”

And I freak out and I'm like “Not from where?” I was not driving, if I had been driving, I think I would have been like errrrrr. “How did I not instill pride for my culture?” So then we had a whole conversation about like, “Oh, you don't have to know Spanish to be Hispanic or to be Latina.” So it was a very interesting moment where you think you're embedding or instilling certain values and pride, but you're not if you're not actively engaging in and talking about it.


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Audra: Sofia, it sounds like what I'm hearing is there's a wonderful opportunity to infuse joy and positivity when you're talking about our relationship with the world, with others, with how we're showing up for others, the things that we're noticing that there could be, it sounds, like there's a really powerful effect in our own modeling, not only for ourselves, probably, but also for our kids in being able to bring this positive and joyful language to the home when speaking of others and other cultures and our observances and things like that.


Sofia: Absolutely. And my family is a big family. We have 15—I think I hope to have the number right every time I turn around there's a new one—but we have 15 cousins that all hang out together. And if you saw the picture of them, they all look so different. They're all different shades. They all have different personalities. And it's so wonderful to have them all together and playing together because I'm like, this is what I would love to see in the world.


Audra: That was beautiful.


Sofia: That play together and don't have any concern of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality is not an issue. It's like we're just having a good time and we're having fun.


Justin: We're humans having a good time.


Audra: Can I talk with you? Because I think one step in this direction of achieving this vision that you speak of, this beautiful vision. It's what I love to see in the world as well. And it's a vision where we love our color and that inherent beauty in our differences and all of that. We love that. It's not the color blind thing. It's like the profound, the beauty of profound diversity and difference. And it seems like a step in that direction is this inner work, especially for White folks and White women like myself, is this inner work.

But then on top of that, that inner work leads to the desire to show up. We want to show up more every day, get up off the couch of White privilege where things are comfortable and move into the space of doing outward work. And I think that's moving into the space of allyship. And I really want to model that for my kids.

The other side to this, some of what I have been seeing, too, is significant emotional labor that we throw on people of Color and as White women, White women, women of Color to bear witness to this ship, to hear from us, to see us all of this, like I want to do this work. I've been trying to do this work with my kids, totally imperfectly as well. So I want to know from you, if you won't, if you don't mind talking about it, like, do you have this experience of that burden of White kind of like allyship moving forward as we are growing? Are we a burden? I guess essentially, are we a burden on people of Color as we're growing?


Sofia: I'm going to answer, like I said, clear is kind: yes.


Justin: Yes, clear is kind.


Sofia: And yeah, it depends on context. Right. Like, I have chosen a career of being in the field of diversity, equity, inclusion, which means that it's my job to point out injustices or see where there might be some issues. But it's also an exhausting job because sometimes some of the people that are the more vocal about their allyship are the ones that are sometimes the worst when their actions are not aligning.

So my thought on allyship is don't wait for the recognition. I think some people really would love to and that's a conditioning thing to look at what I did, I read this book. I'm doing this amazing thing and I know people who will constantly tell me the work they're doing behind the scenes, but will actually sit in a meeting with me and not call out an injustice in the moment. And that's great that you're reading all these great books that you went to that book club, that you put that blog together. But if you're not showing up for me as a colleague, as a friend, I'm not sure if it's worth your time to continue to read those things.

So I would say, like what on an ongoing basis do you do, what decisions to make? Do you surround yourself with people of Color and not in tokenized ways, but we're partners together. I'm going to share my resources, my power, and my influence with this person so that you are taking the actions that are behind this, beyond just the learning. So I wouldn't say it's a burden. It's more like an awareness that needs to happen around really showing up.


Audra: Yeah. What it means to get into the work. You know, that's something that really struck me in the past year, especially after the murder of George Floyd, was coming to understand, like I remember thinking, “I don't have anything to give. What do I have to offer?” Like what do I have, like, in terms of…

And it was just like an overnight switch of like, wait a minute, you know, there are so many different things I can do in our daily lives and through our businesses, through our nonprofit to support people of Color, especially for me to support women of Color, and to be able to show up in a way that I didn't think I had resources, I do have resources. And it was coming to understand that I do have opportunities if I just kind of flip the switch and start thinking about how I can start to show up. To me, it was just a huge difference. I was stuck in the phase before of like I don't really know what to do to show up. That's my work. And I do think everybody has that opportunity inside themselves in their own lives as their own work to do. But we all have spaces where we can show up.

I have an example of a woman I've worked with who, you know, I remember she came to me in the nonprofit world and said, “Hey, can I talk with you about the nonprofit?” And I remember thinking, “Oh, my god, I’m pushing water up a mountain. I have nothing to give. I have nothing to offer with that.” And I started to dig in and realize, especially in this past year, no, I do. I have connections that I have because of my privilege. And these are connections to be shared, to be shared with you. You know, it's just like small, small things like that I think especially for White women, there is a lot of, “Oh, my god, there's so much of it to do.” So it resonates with me not trying to perform this, but just doing the work.

The other side of it, most of the people I know in my network are White women. So I do feel like there is a role for sort of like, sharing the work. But it's a fine line, I feel like between because it is about you doing the work and knowing that yourself and growing yourself. But then you also want to encourage the other White people in your life.


Sofia: Exactly, and I love the idea of that action could look like what you were saying, being a good mentor to people. But beyond mentorship and giving your information and being able to help someone out is also sponsorship. What doors are you opening and who are you introducing people to and living in a world of abundance and not of scarcity. Like, oh, if I open that door somehow that's going to be a problem for me. It's like, no, no, no. We have different missions, different things that we could be doing and then we can partner on some things and strengthen something that we're working on.


Justin: So, Sofia, I would be remiss if I don't just ask this really specific question because I want parents listening to the podcast to just get this little piece from you. Do you have any advice for White parents, like us, to talk to our kids about race, ethnicity, social justice, diversity, inclusion, equity?


Sofia: Yes, I would say don't wait. It's not a special conversation that ‘Let me wait till they turn 13’ and now I'm going to have a…


Justin: It's like ‘the talk.’


Sofia: Yes, think about the talk that Black parents have to have with their young men of Color or even Hispanic parents, Latino parents. That conversation of: you show up differently in the world. You're going to be mistreated. And, yeah, that's a conversation later. You're not going to scare a five-year-old and say, “Ok, the world is horrible to you because of what you look like.”

But I would say, like, don't shush when conversations are happening around there. I think a lot of folks will not say the word “Black” even because they're like I was, somebody shushed me because I pointed out somebody was Black or I was watching TV and something came up. You have to have those conversations early, really early. And it doesn't have to be a whole sit-down explanation. It could be as practical as making sure that your children's books are diverse, that there are different representations in your household around different cultures. That when you're watching movies, you're not only focusing on movies, are trying to seek out movies that have a more broader representation. Unfortunately, that's harder to find.

And it's funny because I was just watching Netflix and I go to Amazon Prime, I go to all these things and they're like the Black Experience and, or during Asian American and Pacific Islander, the Asian Experience, which is great. Group them for me and that's awesome. But they should just be family stories. They should just be like comedy and they're all there. But I think doing that as a parent goes a long way to really showing young people the different ways that people live.


Justin: So what I'm hearing is a more subtle like it's not sitting down. And, you know, “Son, let's talk about race and ethnicity.” But that it is this ongoing, subtle way of bringing diversity into the home through books or movies or TV shows.


Audra: Also our role modeling, it seems like we're like, learning, unlearning, doing our work and being vocal about that, you know what I mean? Sharing at the table what we're learning. I know having slightly older kids now, one of the cool things has been like there's a lot of movies we can watch together, a lot of, you know, a lot of opportunities there that have been really, really awesome for us to be a part of, our journey has been—and we've had significant privilege to be able to do this—but we chose to live in a more diverse place than where we were living before.

And a big part of that was a consciousness around like how our kids were growing up. And we didn't want to kind of perpetuate the way that we grew up, right. And it was, we had the really great opportunity to move into a place that is significantly more diverse and has automatically just brought up more opportunities for conversation, just sort of embedded in the home.

But it sounds like too, with little kids, like what you were talking about, like I totally we're of the generation growing up when a little kid would be like, “Look, Mommy, that person has brown skin. Look, Mommy, that person,” you know. Like kids are observers, right? Like you said, we're built to see difference. And we grew up in the generation of the parent being like “Shhhh. That is not nice.”


Sofia: We do not talk about it. Yeah. And it's like...


Audra: Why is that not nice? It's beautiful. Right? Isn't it beautiful that we all have profoundly different skin colors? Do you want to talk more about that?


Sofia: Exactly. Like I remember when my son saw two men holding hands. “Look, they're holding hands.” I'm like, “Yeah, they are a couple.” Like me and your Papi, just so it’s normalized. And I remember when he was taking a Taekwondo class and I was in that class too, a different class, not the kid one, the adult one.


Justin: You are crushing it in that kid’s class.


Sofia: How this shows up later, it's normalized, right. This is what couples look like, the different representation of that. During a class, he had, Master Lee had all the kids lined up. And he's like, “you need to have hair neat, uniform clean.” It was like one of the tenets of the thing, that you had to come in looking me. You can look a mess. And he would say, don't you want to look- he's rubbing the head of a girl and said, “Don't you want to look good for your boyfriend?” Like he's genderizing it. It actually was my daughter who goes, “Mommy doesn't Master Lee know that boys can be with boys and girls with girls? How does he not know that?”


Justin: You might be good at martial arts, but you need some social skills.


Sofia: Exactly. So but, you know, there's so many settings, this stuff like that gets normalized. So because I was having conversations with my child early on at five years old, she recognizes like, something's not right. So you don't have to that's that critical thinking skill.

There are people around this to have different ways of thinking, different ways of navigating the world, and they don't have to be the same as you. So you just need to know for yourself what is right and what is wrong and then compare and say, oh, look, he messed up. He doesn't know that, but it's like he doesn't. So that's ok. Or he doesn't want or maybe he's not, in that moment just didn't give the example. So I don't know what it was. Let's not make assumptions. Assume the best.


Audra: Yeah. And as a parent we can, we're all, I mean from our generation anyway, and with the way many of us were raised, we're going to struggle with like a binary kind of view, for example. And, you know, you can change along the way.

Like, I remember having this awareness when we're talking about, well, like someday you might have a girlfriend, boyfriend sort of situation to the kids, like, and all of the diversity in that. So we're like, it could be boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever. And I had a proud moment recently where Maesie helped Max do that Grand Theft Auto presentation and everything. He hired her to help with the presentation. And she was like, “Mommy, he didn't have all the pronouns, like we needed to have more diversity in the pronouns.” So I definitely added that for him and talked to him about that.

And I think you're right, it is just these efforts to normalize. And I think many of us do have to raise our own awareness in order to insert that into these conversations. But it is a really, really powerful way to start bringing diversity and really belonging into the home.


Sofia: Yes, it starts at home.


Justin: So, Sofia, you have worked for the JED Foundation, which does amazing work around teen and young adult mental health and suicide prevention. Can you tell us a little bit about what you learned there, what you learned as a parent? Just a little bit about your work there. And I know that you're transitioning so…


Audra: And maybe even the transition to the JED Foundation and then, because that is really interesting, to coming out of higher education.


Sofia: Oh, well, I was in higher ed for 24½ years when I got recruited for a role at the JED Foundation. And you already mentioned the mission, which was amazing to me because after being in higher ed and observing young people just struggling and I always loved working in colleges because it was the transition time that you realize like, wow, some people have eye-opening experiences for the first time in college that I've never experienced this. So first time away from home, first time on my own, first time meeting people different than me. And that comes with a lot of mental health weight from I thought I knew everything and now I'm shocked or my eyes are open.

And sometimes that's really positive and cool. For some, it's negative and really feels like what did I miss? Right. And that comes with a lot of struggles mentally. And it's also an age where some people are realizing for the first time that they have a mental disorder or an illness. That's something that was not diagnosed previously.

So there's a lot of resource sharing and connecting to practitioners and mental health providers in a way that I feel like, “Ok, this is your moment. Let's figure this out so that you can set yourself up for success from now on.” So to me, the transition to JED, I was at first like, “Oh, I'm not sure I've been in higher ed so long. My next role, I was the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students and in my mind and the trajectory of my career, I'm going to be a Vice President of Student Affairs.”

And then when the role came up and I was recruited, the idea of putting together the diversity, equity, inclusion and thinking about disparities and who's not getting what they need in terms of health, mental health help and resources, and putting that together with mental health and mental health together was to me like, wow, it was the equity and mental framework that was put together between the JED Foundation and The Steve Fund that really when I read the 10 recommendations, there's a lot of others in there, but basically like making mental health a priority, listening to your students to get their feedback about what they need, diversifying and training and making sure that your staff is culturally responsive, you can go on and on.

But to me, they were like, “Ok, I can really see myself really helping to move this along and helping the organization think about it from a more connected perspective.” So that was my transition to JED. And I've been there two-and-a-half years.

And one thing that I've learned is I'm a higher ed professional. I'm also a D.I.E. practitioner. So the mental health piece was not one that I knew it more from a first responder situation, handling crises and working through situations on different campuses. But I felt like at this time they need the clinical perspective now, and there are many really amazing researchers, psychologists who this is their world and trying to do the practical research around this.

So I kind of feel like my role at JED, I was there two-and-a-half years and I'm still staying on to help with a couple of projects that I'm really excited about. One of them is called Proud and Thriving, supporting the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people in higher ed, in high school and in colleges. So I'm taking on new roles, focusing back on primarily diversity, equity and inclusion. I'm going to be the Managing Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion for Billie Jean King Enterprises. And….


Audra: All right!


Justin: That’s awesome.


Sofia: So I know it's a hard transition because I'm like, you know, once you're at a place that you really feel like you're making a difference and the JED Foundation is doing some amazing things and I'd love to talk about some things I learned there, even for my own family.

But when I was recruited to do this position for Billie Jean King, she is an icon, a champion for equality, for gender equity, for equity for women in general, equality for sports and even beyond sports. Just making sure that everyone is respected and is given their fair chance, fair opportunities and their due in terms of finances. All of it, because I think that helps to even the playing field literally for future generations.

So making sure that young women get connected and get what they need to move forward and thrive. So I'm excited. I start in the next couple of weeks, very soon. And I'm excited because we'll be able to work with different organizations to help them strategize and think about what could they be doing differently or what can they continue to be doing that's helping their employees and their communities thrive and really respect differences. And not just that, but figure out how those differences can actually help everyone be better people, to put out better products, put out better services. So that's what I'm going to be doing. I'm excited.


Audra: Oh, it's beautiful. What an incredible mission, too. And the fact that, you're so entrepreneurial, that's one thing that I really, really love about you. You’re in another founding role. I mean, I think one thing that we didn't talk about is that you founded an organization, too. You have a group of eight thousand women on Facebook who are completing, they’re Latinas completing doctoral degrees.


Sofia: Yes.


Audra: This is in addition to everything else you're doing. I mean, you talk about moving, pushing the needle and bringing, I think, bringing women into the spaces where we need them most. Especially bringing Latinas into the spaces where we need them most is incredible.

So this seems like totally just makes sense for me, for you, because you're a founder. You're an entrepreneur. I think you see need and you move into addressing it. Super exciting.


Sofia: Yeah.


Justin: Yeah. And you'll be starting in the next couple of weeks. And so we are excited to have you back on pretty soon so you can tell us about all the work that you're into there. This is such an exciting position. And we're so we're just so thrilled for you.


Audra: Yeah, I'm really, really interested to know more about you as this starts to come up and we talk next time about how we can move forward into a space of not only celebrating our differences, but like treasuring and protecting it.

To me, it's a whole nother level between acknowledging and then kind of like really celebration to then moving into the space of protection. And this is our future, the growth of our country, our economy, our I think moving into the space of creating a safer world. We need to move into that space of protection and treasuring almost.


Sofia: The idea of safety, psychological safety, safety in general, so that everyone can just be themselves and not be afraid of speaking their own truth and just being who they are and not being afraid of navigating space and wondering, is someone going to be treating me differently, mistreating me? I would love to see that. That's my goal. In every space, everyone can navigate it fully as themselves.


Audra: How does this movement towards safety relate to, from your perspective, some of the unique mental health challenges faced by BIPOC folks in this country and also probably more generally what you can extrapolate from that and how that relates to safety, and what we can do.


Sofia: I'll speak to BIPOC mental health month. It used to be, I think it was 2008, I could be wrong. What Bebe Moore Campbell had her name was attached to National Minority Mental Health Month, Awareness Month, and a few organizations last year with the movement of really pointing out that there are some people in minority communities, or minority numerically. I know that's not a term that is embraced anymore because it really has been used in negative ways as opposed to the numerical sense minority has and less then. So I personally don't use Minority Mental Health Month for that reason. But I also recognize that not everybody understands what BIPOC is the Black, Indigenous and People of Color, which is a term that we heard more.

It's not a new term, but we heard more in the last year because it pointed out this unique, I would say, challenges for Black, Indigenous and people who visually look in ways that if you think about White supremacy and White and then I don't use that term lightly, I'm very careful when I see the idea of Whiteness as the norm. And that's the way I define it.

Like who is other than what is seen as the norm? And there was a congressional task force that got formed to talk about Black youth mental health and specifically Black youth suicide, that while the numbers of suicides overall in the last year, which is excellent news, has gone down. And I don't have the numbers off the top of my head. But the numbers for young Black youth, Latinx youth and Indigenous youth has not gone down, it’s actually going up. Because I think when you're watching violence and injustices and see like, is there hope for me in this future?

And I actually when I see the numbers of who is getting advanced, what the C-suites are looking like, what boards are looking like, and you're still not there after all this time. And, you know, forget about People of Color, even women are not there. So then what kind of hope do you feel like you have in your future when you feel like so many doors are not opening up for you?

So I would say that when it comes to mental health, that's that part of that stress. So there's a lot of resilience, which I think is awesome. We use that term a lot like, “Oh, you're so resilient.” But when you're constantly feeling like messaging around your identity is negative. Of course you build resilience because you're like, I have to get through this and you have people around you, families, back to the when you talk to your kids about this, I think families of Color have always had to combat against what the world is seeing with what the media is saying about People of Color. So they do help their children build that resilience.

But when it lives in reality, as you grow up and you start seeking out those opportunities beyond your family safety network, I think that's when it really hits hard and hits home. So that's what I think causes a lot of a lot more mental health concerns. And those disparities in terms of psychologists and mental health providers.

If you look at psychologists, last I looked I think was from 2018. If you look at it was like 86% of psychologists that were tracked by APA, the American Psychological Association were White. Then after that, I forgot the numbers exactly, but consider that only 14% of everyone else. So when you don't see yourself in the profession, you don't see it normalized in your family because of cultural issues or religious issues. Whereas some families might say don't talk out of turn. And in some families, therapy is normalized. There are, I know people who grew up and were in therapy since they were little because their families said this is part of life. You need someone else outside of your family and who's professional to talk about your challenges. That is not the case for every family. And it's actually not accessible if you don't have the finances or you don't have health care coverage to be able to see.

I mean, I was trying to make an appointment with a therapist through my own and I have health insurance and it was a challenge. It took weeks because just trying to connect, who takes my insurance? How much is the copay? How much is it to see? So I can not even imagine for families just don't have that kind of coverage. All those families are working part-time who don't have mental health or even just health, dental health coverage. So I think there's a lot to be done and there’s work in recruiting psychologists of Color, but also in making sure that there's access to care.


Justin: We have you just for a couple more minutes. I want to see if I can just get in these final three questions that we asked guests. The first one is if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?


Sofia: I would say, ‘Give yourself much grace as you would to others.’


Justin: Mmm. Give yourself grace. Beautiful, and then what is the last quote that changed the way you think or feel?


Sofia: I would say one by Maya Angelou, where it's “Once you know better, do better.” Like we can sit in our lack of awareness or I didn't know and it's like, well, now, you know, and that's with anything... Even in a relationship.

Trust me, I'm about to be married. I want to say that I'm going to be, next week is my 20-year wedding anniversary. And if I learned anything, it's once you know what your partner needs, wants you, you should act on that and make sure that you're doing that. I haven't been perfect, but I would say, like, that's where, how we got to 20 years. Just trying to understand, like, what do you need to be your own successful, thriving person and what do I need and paying attention to that.


Audra: What a beautiful gift to share.


Justin: And then finally, what is your favorite thing about kids?


Sofia: My favorite thing is you never know what they're going to do and say. It’s always a surprise.


Justin: It's always an adventure!


Sofia: I was always scared to have kids. I didn't even know I would because I never considered myself a good parent. Like I was always like, can I be like, what do you say to young people? I babysat when I was little, but when it came to my own, I actually had to ask somebody, like, how do you respond to kids? Like, what do you do with them, how do you play with them? And my mom was not a playful person. What am I going to do? And somebody I remember the best advice I got was “you wait for them to tell you what they want.” I was like, “I can do that. That's easy. I can respond.” So I feel like that helped me calm down about whether or not I was going to be a proactive, good parent. It was …


Audra: Another great point.


Justin: Ah, that’s beautiful.


Audra: Sofia, thank you so much, so much for taking the time to talk with us. And we'd really like for this to be a recurring series. We have so much to talk about, as you can tell, like me only I feel like we only got into a little bit at the surface. Like, I really feel like this is such, such an incredible, always incredible conversation with you. But this is really, really powerful work for families. And thank you for everything that you do for the world. The world is so much better off with you in it.


Sofia: Ah, thank you, you’re making me blush. And thank you two so much, for everything that you're doing and the amazing things you're putting together for families, because I think there's such a void. We want to know what to do and it's so helpful to put it in one place that we can really tap into. So thank you for that.


Justin: Thank you for being a part of this team. Yeah.


Audra: Thank you for being on our board. You know, speaking about board positions like thank you and thank you for all of the work that you're going to do to really elevate the resources that we're providing to The Family Thrive.


Sofia: Thank you.


Justin: Alright, my friend.

Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast, if you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple podcast or anywhere you listen to a podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

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