David ZelayaAssistant Professor, Psychology
PSY3250C-C Cultural Psychology, PSY3250C-A Cultural Psychology
In this edition of “Fast Five: Quick Q&As with Members of the Merrimack Community,” we talk to David Zelaya, an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the School of Liberal Arts. His research focuses on how cultural factors affect health outcomes of various populations, especially those with the least support.
Fast Five Q&A with David Zelaya
You study health disparities in marginalized populations. What inspired that research interest?
I’ve always leaned toward social justice. But I moved to New Orleans a few years after Hurricane Katrina hit, and my university was really engaged with the city’s recovery efforts. I think that living in the area so soon after such a big disaster and seeing the needs that arose really sparked my academic interest in the topic.
Do you study any particular groups of people?
One line of research is the health disparities among those living at the margins of the margins of society—that is, individuals who are both racial minorities and also LGBT. Psychological research on racial and ethnic minorities has mostly focused on heterosexuals, and research on LGBT people has primarily dealt with whites. There’s a huge gap in the literature examining those living at the intersection of both those identities.
What are some of the challenges in getting access to health care?
One example we’re looking at is the growing need for Spanish-speaking
psychologists. Any clinic that does offer those services can’t keep up with the demand. I think only about 8% of psychologists identify as Latinx and of that group we don’t know how many actually speak Spanish. And there’s research out there that suggests that when people have to do therapy in a second language the work isn’t the same.
What do you want students to gain from your courses?
I hope they increase their awareness around issues of diversity and multiculturalism. I want them prepared to enter the workforce and encounter people that are different from them. We’re all cultural beings, we’re all living in our own lived experiences, and we should think about what it’s like to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. I think the point is just to be kind to each other.
What do you enjoy outside of teaching and research?
I love exploring all the new restaurants in Boston. East Boston has some great Hispanic cuisine. I particularly recommend El Penol—it’s a really good Colombian restaurant! I also read a lot, mostly memoirs. Some of my favorite authors are Angela Davis, Ta Nehisi Coates, and Audre Lorde.
David is teaching two sections of his popular course Cultural Psychology (PSY3250C-A and PSY3250C-C) during Merrimack’s Summer Session.