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Our Voices: Dr. Marissa Franco

Dr. Marisa Franco is a new assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services at Georgia State University. After attending New York University and receiving her B.A. in Applied Psychology, she received her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Counseling Psychology from the University of Maryland. Dr. Franco’s research focuses on the experiences of individuals with Multiracial identities, particularly experiences of racial invalidation, and how these experiences may impact the mental and physical health of Multiracial people. Throughout her rich academic experiences, she has remained focused on social justice and advocacy. Dr. Franco has received numerous awards in recognition of her work, including the Ethnic Minority Achievement Award from the University of Maryland. We welcome Dr. Franco and are so pleased that she has joined our faculty!

– Dr. Cirleen DeBlaere

Q: Could you tell us a bit about your research interests?

My bread and butter is racial identify invalidation, which is when you impose a racial identity onto someone else or negate their identity by expressing something like “you aren’t really Black” and the psychological implications of that for multiracial folks. One really fascinating form of this that manifested in my dissertation is called identity incongruence confirmation which is when you are racially discriminated against for the race you’re perceived as, not as the race you identify with. So for me, when I was in the North, I was often perceived as Hispanic and I might experience discrimination because of that. So, is that experience similar to racial discrimination? Does it impact people in a different way? How is this kind of discrimination different across multiple identities, like for women or gay folks? How does concealable stigma play a role? Those are just some of the research questions I’m exploring now.

Q: What are you most proud of?

One of my proudest accomplishments is learning to speak Haitian Creole because I wasn’t exposed to it growing up by my Haitian mother. In grad school, my focus was entirely on academics and that’s the primary lens in which I viewed myself. I wanted to be an expert in my field and everything else in my life took a hit. Going to Haiti enabled me to frame my life differently. It was such an illuminating experience. Understanding the Haitian social context gave me more insight into my family and myself.

Q: What else keeps you fueled?

Meditation, yoga, exercise, community, insight-based writing, and travel!

Q: What keeps you engaged in this work?

There are two things. The first being, my research is me search. What I study is rooted in my experiences in real life is. The second thing is when I see change in students. Through my teaching and research, I’m contributing to healing society.

Q: What brings you joy?

Joy happens through relationships, like being with my nieces and friends back home. Joy is also in authenticity and coming as you are. All about Love by bell hooks is brilliant and she says love is about helping people express their inner truths. Love and social justice connect for me; each help people express their truth.

Q: What are your favorite books or other reading materials?

All about Love which I already mentioned, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. These are just a few of the books that feel spiritual for me in that they help me explore inner truths and also challenge what truths are acceptable for Black people. I also love The Atlantic because it helps spread academia to lay people.

Q: How do you relate to your research?

Growing up, my mom didn’t talk to me about what it means to be Black, which is pretty common for multiracial families. She’s Haitian and race is seen very differently there than the US where the one drop rule still applies. Before visiting Haiti when I was in college, I strongly identified as Black. But walking down the street, people would yell, “ Blanc! Blanc!” which means White person or foreigner. Then, I experienced this acute identify shift and it was extremely stressful. I asked my mom, “Why is this happening?” Well, my mom is mixed so she wasn’t seen as Black growing up in Haiti. She answered, “Now you know why I did not teach you to see yourself as Black–because I never was.” So after this experience, I began to identify as multiracial to capture the entirety of myself. To me, part of being Multiracial means being Black but there are also other unique experiences I have related to being Multiracial that I acknowledge as well.

Q: What’s your favorite quote?

“Teach her never to universalize her own standards or experiences. Teach her that her standards are for her alone, and not for other people. This is the only necessary form of humility: the realization that difference is normal.”

– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele

See a short clip of our interview here.