Dr. Angelica Perez-Johnston has dedicated her life to serving underrepresented and marginalized students in the higher-education setting. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Psychology (2011) and a master’s degree in Community Counseling (2014) from Edinboro, Perez-Johnston landed at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., where she became the director of the IDEAS (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, & Social Justice) Center.
This month, Perez-Johnston was named a finalist for the 2021 Mena Valdez Award, which recognizes mid-level professionals for their dedication to Latinx inclusion.
Discover how Perez-Johnston has dedicated her career to service in the following Q&A with Edinboro University.
What does it mean to be a finalist for the Mena Valdez Award, which recognizes professionals for Latinx inclusion?
To be a finalist for these awards validates not only my experiences as a bi-cultural woman but also validates the intentional work I do in supporting systemically marginalized students from all backgrounds. It is an honor to be considered but also a direct reflection of my passion and hard work in the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
Why have you chosen to use your platform/career to be an advocate for marginalized students?
I don't believe that I chose this career. This career chose me. My experiences have guided me towards intentional support practices, but I initially intended on being a mental health therapist as a career. The more that my work was directed toward support of systemically marginalized populations, the more my interest was piqued towards DEI work. It has also afforded me many opportunities to explore my own personal intersecting identities and gain greater understanding of my cultural identity and history.
Why is it important to have branches like IDEAS on college campuses today?
Systemically marginalized students need intentional spaces reserved for support, guidance and mentorship. Not only is the IDEAS center designed to be that space, we also afford opportunities for white students and allies to gain greater understanding of the intricacies of white privilege, and what impact allyship can have. The IDEAS Center is designed as a braver space for students to engage in conversation, guidance and understanding.
How important is it for you to maintain this type of connection with college students?
Without students, higher education is nonexistent. The opportunity to engage and connect with students and provide mentorship and educational opportunities provides me a space to identify the unique needs of systemically marginalized students so that I can be the voice of advocacy and ensure that their needs are being addressed.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments in your career?
I received national recognition for Allegheny as a First-Gen Forward Institution, which means we are intentional in providing support to our first-generation college students. I have also created and delivered Cultural Humility workshops for students, faculty and staff to aid in creating a common understanding and language across all campus partners. I have also begun to work with the school district to create mutually supportive networks.
Looking back at Edinboro, how did the university help you prepare for your career?
During my undergraduate career as a Psychology major, I received the mentorship and guidance necessary to encourage me to endeavor in research, including working with my academic advisor to gain publication. This seed grew into the data-informed approaches that I implement in creating strategic planning and also greatly shaped the way in which I created my research for my doctoral dissertation. My graduate experience was shaped by individuals that never stopped believing in me. Dr. (Sue) Norton was crucial in shaping my perceptions of success. Dr. (Adrienne) Dixon saw in me what I didn't see and "knew" I'd eventually get into DEI work before I even fully understood what that meant for me. Dr. (Ron) Craig was my undergraduate advisor. The education I received prepared me not only for being a success within my career but also to gain success in continuing my education and earning my Doctorate in Public Administration.
About Dr. Perez-Johnston
Dr. Perez-Johnston holds a Doctorate in Public Administration from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation focused on the impacts of higher-education policies to support underserved student populations. As a Mexican-American and first-generation college student, Dr. Perez-Johnston appreciates the intersectionality experienced by students and engages students in authentic and meaningful ways. She has presented at several conferences, including the 48th Annual Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education, as well as the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators 2018 Closing the Achievement Gap Conference, where her individual workshop as well as the co-presented, pre-conference workshop were featured presentations for the National Center for First-Generation Students.