Silvia Sandoval Awarded the Roger Miller Dissertation Award

Doctoral candidate Silvia Sandoval received this year’s Roger Miller Dissertation Award for her research on the experiences of transgender people of color in psychotherapy. The award honors Professor Emeritus Roger Miller and supports scholarly dissertation research on at-risk populations.

Sandoval has spent her career working with nonprofits that serve immigrants, people of color and disenfranchised communities. After she earned her M.S.W. at Catholic University, she worked for the Central American Resource Center in Washington D.C. and the Primary Care Clinic of Yale-New Haven Hospital. Sandoval also maintained a private practice, often working with Spanish speaking clients.

Sandoval’s dissertation research grew from her recent work as director of mental health at Lyon-Martin Health Services, a San Francisco primary care clinic specializing in transgender care. Sandoval was surprised when clients who were trans people of color asked to be reassigned to a therapist who was a person of color after finding that white gender nonconforming therapists didn’t fully understand their needs. “The racial saliency is what really was driving them, and the intersecting identities,” she recalled. “It’s one thing to be a white trans person versus a person of color who also happens to be trans. Those are two different experiences and I think that addressing those intersecting identities, or the lack thereof, was what drove them to ask for a different therapist.”

Already a doctoral student, Sandoval began reviewing existing research, and found that most of what existed was quantitative. “It didn’t give me the nitty gritty or the qualitative data that I was looking for; it didn’t tell me about the experiences of trans people of color in therapy and how we could improve that service.”

The Roger Miller Award helped Sandoval recruit research subjects, allowing her to increase the number and the remuneration she paid each. In the end, she had a diverse sample of 27 interviewees and is now in the process of analyzing her data. While it is too early for conclusions, she found one aspect surprising and troubling. “Even though most of the participants are very young, the degree of transphobia they experience is just amazing to me,” she said. “I was expecting the older people in the sample to have had more difficulty, which they did. I wasn’t expecting the younger folks to experience as much difficulty as they have.”

Engaging in this research has reminded Sandoval to also examine her own intersecting identities as a cisgender woman of color and how that impacts her work. “I am very aware of the privilege that I have and that I bring to the interviews being a cis person,” she observed. “Having that awareness and deriving humility from that is critical.”

Sandoval is currently the Behavioral Health Director at Mission Neighborhood Health Center, which serves Latinx and immigrant communities in the Mission District of San Francisco. She plans to continue as a clinician, but after completing her doctorate looks forward to having more opportunities to teach in higher education as well.
Learn more about the Roger Miller Dissertation Award.