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Humans of the U: Johnny Rodriguez

From nursing to gender and ethnic studies, the unique journey that prepared this senior for the U’s Master of Public Health program.

“I recently found out I was accepted to the Master of Public Health program at the U and I know it’s going to set me up perfectly for my dream career field.

When I was a kid, my family had a lot of health issues, which led me to a firm decision to become a nurse. I believed I would be the one to get services and health care to my family. But when I applied to nursing school, I didn’t get in.

Latino student Johnny Rodriguez poses for photo while reading a book. Background art reads, "We resist." I had to stop and evaluate what was wrong with my application—and realized something. I didn’t care for nursing as much as I had once thought. I was most concerned with the problem of accessibility for minority and marginalized communities. It wasn’t that these people were less healthy, it was that they didn’t have the same resources to take care of their health.

My family is from Mexico, but I only spent 10 months there as a baby after being born in Utah. Nonetheless, my Latinx heritage is important to me and to my work. As a first-generation Latino college student, I knew I had a unique perspective. So, I shifted away from nursing and started to learn about ethnic studies and gender studies.

Eventually, I found a topic that intersected all three of my areas of study—the reproductive justice movement. Once I had a focus, I developed a research project looking at how women specifically in the Salt Lake Valley are accessing contraception based on race and ethnicity.

I started compiling all of the data that was already collected by organizations like HER Salt Lake, with the help of Dr. Claudia Geist, to write a journal article. At the same time, I have been working on a zine (self-published magazine) that explores forced and coerced sterilizations in communities of color. I’ve loved both projects—one very academic and structured and the other in sort of a resistance to that—and both doing important work to spread knowledge.

I will graduate in May with all my pre-nursing requirements, a gender studies degree and an ethnic studies degree. I feel they all complement each other to explore how these communities of people are treated in their reproductive years. Of course, not all women can get pregnant, and not all people who can get pregnant are women. So, there are many factors to consider in this research.

Health transcends race and ethnicity, so sticking with one was only understanding part of the problem. It is important to understand the interactions between both because a person doesn’t just have one identity.

Being a Latino in higher ed is already a great accomplishment and being able to represent the Latino community and people of color has given my work such meaning. I was able to study all of these things at the U thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities graduate school at the U brings.”

Johnny Rodriguez, senior majoring in gender studies and ethnic studies