Sociology major Rosmery Medrano got an opportunity to study her hometown – Lawrence, Massachusetts – and her Dominican American culture in a small field research class.
She found it fascinating to observe how cultural and gender norms played out in the city’s parks, where men would gather to play dominoes, baseball and basketball – and women only came to watch their children or wait on the men, she says.
“It was really interesting to focus on my city, which I thought I knew really well, and analyze it from a sociological perspective,” she says. “The thing that really upset me was that the public spaces are a place of leisure, but the women aren’t really partaking in that leisure.”
Still, Medrano was happy to see that the parks were comfortable spaces for ethnic Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Central Americans and other Latinos to relax and hang out.
“We saw how happy the people were, how they could make a little corner of the city their own,” she says.
The field experience was part of an advanced class taught by Asst. Prof. Teresa Gonzales, who has a Ford Foundation fellowship to study how Latino and Black people use public spaces in midsized cities to relax, have fun and affirm their cultures. The goal of Gonzales’ research is to make public spaces more welcoming for people of color.
Medrano’s advisor, Sociology Department Chair and Assoc. Prof. Cheryl Llewellyn, helped her choose the class as her senior capstone experience. During her final semester, Medrano will continue working for Gonzales as a paid research assistant. She’s looking forward to the next phase: interviews with city residents and leaders of community organizations, where her fluency in Spanish will be an advantage.
Medrano is graduating in three years after earning multiple AP and dual-enrollment credits in the honors program at Lawrence High School. She spent her first year of college at UMass Boston as a social psychology major before transferring to UML during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s my first research experience, and the first time I could meet my professors in person and form relationships and connections in person,” she says of the field research class. “And it was a very small class, very tight-knit. We got to learn about each other’s stories and experiences.”
Doing the research with students from different cultures will help her as she pursues a master’s degree in social work, she says.
Medrano plans to become a medical social worker, helping patients with “very difficult diagnoses, like cancer” and their families to navigate difficult decisions and emotions. She has always wanted to help people and found her calling when a person she loves was diagnosed with cancer.
She believes her generation of Dominican Americans will be the ones to challenge traditional gender roles, as young women like her find fulfilling careers outside the home. She already works as a pharmacy technician.
“If I had been born when my mom was born, I would have been one of the rebels,” she says.