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About This Episode

Gary Santos Mendoza (he/him/his/el)  joins the show to discuss higher education, mental health awareness, identity and how it all relates to student loans and the student experience.

Gary currently serves as the director of the intercultural resource center at Rutgers University in Newark, NJ. The Intercultural Resource Center is charged with promoting an inclusive campus culture, the center fulfills its mission by advancing social justice and exploring intersectional and diversity issues.

Prior to joining Rutgers, Gary with at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) – Broward Campuses, where for five years he served in a long list of roles, including graduate financial assistant of business and financial and auxiliary services, adjunct instructor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Research Methodology, assistant director of diversity and multicultural affairs, assistant director of campus life, and faculty/staff advisor of alternative spring break. Prior to FAU, Santos Mendoza worked at Florida International University – Biscayne Bay Campus for two years also in various student-serving capacities while earning his master’s degree in higher education administration.

If you like discussing topics like gender identity, mental health, cultural norms, and student loans than this two-part episode is just the episode for you. [This is part one of a two-part episode. Stay tuned for part two next week!]


  • The role of higher education administrators in the lives of students;
  • How your identity is fluid and what that can mean for your perspective towards money; 
  • The impact that cultural and societal norms had on his mental health as a student; and 
  • much, much more…


Enjoying the show? Leave us a rating and review. Every comment helps! Drop in your IG handle so we can thank you personally!


Read Gary’s Related Work Here:

Read Gary’s Other Work Here:

  • Torres-Baez, D., Romero Felix, A., & Santos Mendoza, G. (2021). Surviving the Continued Assault of Cultural Centers: Building Capacity During Crisis. In C.-M. Reneau & M. A. Villarreal (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Leading Higher Education Transformation With Social Justice, Equity, and Inclusion: IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-7152-1
  • Silva-Cruze, K., Cruze, R., & Santos Mendoza, G. (2019). Testimonios Of Entry-Level Latina/o/x Student Affairs Professionals. In U. M. Robinson & M. G. Burke (Eds.), No Ways Tired: The Journey for Professionals of Color in Student Affairs: Volume I – Change Is Gonna Come: New and Entry-Level Professionals (p. 21). IAP.
  • Montelongo, R., Santa-Ramirez, S., Cruze-Silva, K., & Santos Mendoza, G. (2020). Latinx Network Writers Group: Demystifying the writing process for scholar-practitioners [Journal]. Developments-ACPA College Student Educator International. https://developments.myacpa.org/latinx-network-writers-group-demystifying-the-writing-process-for-scholar-practitioners/

Gary Santos Mendoza (00:00): We're not the parents physically, but we're like, I like to think of it in a sense, like we're providing the guidance, we're providing the advisement, providing the nurturing for the students to develop to where their next metamorphosis is supposed to be. But within all of it. Yeah. I like to think we're open to all folks. And I think that's still like the mission of our center.

The Student Loan Podcast Intro (00:22): Welcome to the student loan podcast. Here. You'll find practical advice on tackling student loan debt, paying down your higher education expenses and inspiring stories about paying off student loans, where your hosts, Daphne, Vanessa and Shamil Rodriguez.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:41): Before we begin, we have a message from a very special VIP. Please rate, review and subscribe to The Student Loan Podcast, This is not a professional advice. And we speak from our own personal view and opinions. The student

Daphné Vanessa (00:58): Loan podcast is brought to you by start new, where you can serve your community and get rewarded with tuition and student loan payments to check out of start new is on your campus. Visit start new.com.

Shamil Rodriguez (01:12): Welcome to another episode of the student loan podcast. Today we have Gary Santos Mendoza joining the show to discuss higher education, mental health awareness identity, and how it all relates to student loans and the student experience. Gary shares his personal journey and how it shaped his life and views towards taking out student loans to finance his very own education. He also goes into how his personal journey to deal with cultural and societal norms has helped countless students deal with those very same issues as they navigate the college landscape. Gary currently serves as the director of the intercultural resource center at Rutgers university in Newark New Jersey. So if you'd like discussing topics like gender identity, mental health, cultural norms, and student loans that this two-part episode is just the episode for you.

Shamil Rodriguez (02:00): So without further ado, we're going to turn it over to Gary to tell us a little bit about himself. All right, Gary, go for it.

Gary Santos Mendoza (02:07): How's it going today? Hopefully everyone is doing well, having a good day. So about me, my journey came, um, raised in Harlem in New York city. So for me, uh, identify as Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian identify as a new Yorker, identify as someone that is identify as someone that lives with mental health. I identify as someone that is more or less dealing, um, as a first generation student with all of these identities, how to navigate the world. But most importantly, using the lived experience, which is a big thing in order to navigate the environments that I'm in most definitely where my identities play a role. And most importantly, how do I use all of that into the spaces that I currently am at right now on a personal and professional level? So I mentioned a lot about my identities in the, in the principle of it. And I think it's important to base the conversation on that because a lot of that has really led me to where I'm at right now on a professional level and on a personal level. So three things. So,

Shamil Rodriguez (03:20): So no, that's perfect. That's great. So, you know what let's, before we get into IRC and how that's kind of led your path. Now, let's talk about, uh, where you went to undergrad. What did you study? Because I think the diversity of your journey to where you are today also can speak to how life changes as you become older, right? You may have a vision while you're an undergrad and then that morphs into whatever you are today. And I think that might be helpful for our audience.

Gary Santos Mendoza (03:46): Yes, none of them was definitely. So for me, um, within this, within this whole explanation, I'm going to focus on the three with it. So it's going to be education, mental health and the identity. So all makes sense. So, um, but more or less before then, you know, growing up in Harlem, growing up in a family, in a tenement apartment with my family, you know, two bedroom apartment with six other people, um, kinda got the importance of education within there. Um, that led me from high school that led me to start at St. John's university in, uh, 2005. So the big thing with it is, as we think about it for me, I started going to St John's because it was actually one of my last choices, principally. Um, and it was so weird because I had, I had, so when I was younger, I used to play a lot with technology with computers still.

Gary Santos Mendoza (04:48): I really love that. I love I'm still a techie to the same still techie. So for me, I wanted to, you know, go to college because I wanted to immerse myself within the opportunities of doing technology. You know, like Alec was going to computer science or it was going to be like helping folks, you know, like how to use computers on its own for, because at the early age, I also realized that that was going to be sort of the wave of how you do things. So, and, you know, it was just like, uh, it came naturally to me. So I think my mom with her working like late nights, making dresses in New York city and, you know, navigating to different places to be able to buy me the computer. So I was able to learn from that. Um, but with all of that came the opportunity to go to St John's, which right there was, you know, I had applied to all these other schools.

Gary Santos Mendoza (05:41): I applied to, um, Rochester Institute of technology. I applied to a whole bunch of other schools that focus on that. We're good with computer science and, um, information technology. Um, and at that time it's just, um, I apply to like, um, local schools. So, you know, hunter college, um, you know, Baroque and at the end of it, like it just St John's was the one that resonated. But the big thing about it was that my parents and I go along my parents for St. John's because a lot of that formation came from there. Um, the value of an education was important and instilled in me very early on. So despite the fact that I was staying up till one in the morning, doing work, studying a lot of stuff before getting to college

Shamil Rodriguez (06:22): And making it work,

Gary Santos Mendoza (06:24): Making it work, that that was a big thing. Um, within it then came the time I got to St John's and within that time came, like a lot of things came the opportunity to be out of my house, um, get the college experience because before then I was also in an upward bound program, um, at another institution that they kind of instilled in me, like, what was college or things you needed to focus on, so on and so forth. So I was very happy with that because that also like influenced me going into my education, um, and taking it more seriously. Uh, when I got to St John's, then it was more or less, I got into computer science. And around that time while I was starting, a lot of other things personally started to occur. So for me, it was the beginning of understanding around that time, much more critically my identity.

Gary Santos Mendoza (07:21): Um, I've always said I was gay, but, you know, and that's what came out like in the beginning. Um, but you know, still trying to understand in this day and age, like the different complexities of what does that mean? I'm trying to understand, um, if the word gay best identifies with me being a Latino, because also I do understand the privilege that I also learned that I do have we're having like fair skin, but I also know that there is African indigenous in my blood. So understanding that when I was there, I, you know, the word gay at the time identified well with me, but it doesn't define me at this moment. I'm focusing more on, but within it, I'm gonna use for the basis for the rest of this. So when getting there, it was understanding identity, which in higher education, a lot of the times, um, a lot of students start to concentrate a little bit more into their identity, understanding what do they like, what are their things that attract to them so on and so forth, you know, their essential identity sometimes.

Gary Santos Mendoza (08:23): Um, but then there's not to discredit that there's also gender identity. There's also other things that also happened around the time of birth. Um, it doesn't get talked about as much, um, but from a lot of things that we, that we, that I've read in the higher ed, you know, a lot of it happens around the teens going into the start. So within it, that's when I started to kind of understand my journey more specifically what it was, and that was taking classes, going to lead student organizations. And then when we were done with school going into enjoying social life, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, to make it back to religion class at seven in the morning. So, and, and, and it's, and it's interesting because, um, because being and then also dealing with religion, um, there was, at the time there was such a stance over, you know, you could be who you are, which your identity, but, you know, we would never have you, you can't get married in the church.

Gary Santos Mendoza (09:16): You can't, you know, have the, you can't explore more specifically the other intimacies of what it is to be rather than, you know, if your career you're cool, you know, keep doing good work, but, you know, there's more to life than that. I think in a sense, it kind of just put me in a space that I needed another area in order to explore that. And that's what social bra with the weekends, that's what brought club life. That's what brought, um, hanging out with friends that were and Latinex, um, you know, black and brown folk, bachelor black folk came into play. That's where, um, Asian folk came into play. Like that's where the interesting opportunity to meet different folks that were also also provided an opportunity of safe and brave space, but also, um, kind of support and also people to relate to them at the time.

Gary Santos Mendoza (10:13): So that was very important for me. And that also led me at St. John's because I also acknowledged that my identity brought me to be a first Latino president for our Latino organization while being, um, being part of a fraternity while being, the first one in the fraternity. Um, and at the end of it really switching my major from going to, um, computer science and then going into information technology, because I felt like it was a much better fit, but the one thing that's really also important with this was the student loan conversation. So some long conversation when I started at St John's and trust me, there was so much, I think, like taboo over not taking student loans, there's so much taboo growing up. Don't take out the loan, you know, try to get the grants and try to get the scholarship, trying to get so many things.

Gary Santos Mendoza (11:05): But for me at the time learning all this, it just didn't pay enough. When I went to St. John's, you can take a lot of, all of the grants and scholarships. And I was also checking those packages also when I was applying to some of these schools, um, not only did St John's had the best package, um, but St John's also provided like additional grants and things of that nature that I needed at the time that I seen was the best fit. And I was so stuck with an $11,000 sit alone for one semester. Um, at the time, mind you, my brother and sister both have gotten their bachelor's. Um, and they went to local schools, so they didn't have to give to this extent of what I was dealing with with the money. So I go back to that point, I made before about education being very important.

Gary Santos Mendoza (11:48): And with that mindset and that logic, that's what instilled in me to be like, you know what, at this point, we need to get the suit alone, because it's going to take us somewhere. We don't know where it is, but it's an investment. And that was something my mom had said early on that education is an investment. That's something that's never going to go away. And that's something that you can never go wrong with. So I navigated the four-year successfully on high of college, graduated switch while switching majors, but then also coming to reality that I had to get out so many student loans around that time. I lost a grant at that time as well. Um, because I said education was an important thing, but also, you know, this first time being Latino, you were second home for 18 years. You're out on your own trying to figure out everything. You just enjoying this a little too much, but

Shamil Rodriguez (12:39): We're going through life.

Gary Santos Mendoza (12:40): You're going through life. And it happens. Um, the biggest thing for me was that I was really in a space that it was a lot of exploration, but when we got to that final year, you're in that final semester where I needed to ring back on student organizations, which in a way also helped me and kind of formulated what career path I wanted to go at that time. You know, I had to think seriously, like what I want to do with my, with my major. And also I had a minor in graphic design as well. So I focused on that, but at the age of 22, that was the time that I had a emotional breakdown. It happened the final semester of college. And for me, I remember I got into a fight with one of my fraternity brothers or something, very, very, very trivial.

Gary Santos Mendoza (13:30): Um, but for some reason it affected me very gravely that I always now dealing with something that I had never dealt with before, which was mental health, mental health issue. During that time, part of it was the stresses and anxieties that was about to be on my own part of that also was dealing with the fact that I needed to find a job that haven't found a job. And all these people around me already with their internships were securing work. And part of that also was the student debt because student that kept on increasing and increasing precinct taking out subsidized un-subsidized. I took out a personal loan from a bank. Well, private loan, a private loan was adding up all that with that in. Um, and by that time I was done. I had a moment in which amendments are horrible in which I had, you know, anxiety that's when I found out I had anxiety, um, depression that it happened so later on, but within that it was anxiety, um, obsessive thoughts, those type of things happened.

Gary Santos Mendoza (14:35): Um, and a lot of it was over the fact that I was done with this degree, but I also couldn't enjoy the degree because I was still battling that. And I battled that for silently about a bit for almost a year. Well, before I needed to finally see a therapist to get it figured out. So within that the one saving grace that kept me, that gave me a flow, was an opportunity to do higher ed using my it background at St. John's. And it was a program that was with the department of homeless services in your city. And the Dean who was also my advisor at the time for my student organization, had provided me the opportunity to work for him for the new program. And it's humping, you know, these folks that were housing insecure as we call it instead of homeless housing secure, um, to be able to go into, to help support them as they get their associates, which means they were going to be taught how to use computers, um, how to use technology.

Gary Santos Mendoza (15:30): So that's where my role played into it. But then I ended up being more than that. And they'll talked about my lived experience in college. I ended up talking about student loans. I have that talking about brands, I'm talking about like, what is college life? And then I realized like with that, and then go into a club one day with a friend who told me about higher ed as a path towards a career. So people would be like, oh, I learned it from somebody because I learned at our club, that's where I learned it. And it's so weird because the club life has been so much within me when I was younger, that it was just a place that I found out like, oh, was actually an option. Um, so I made it an option to look more into higher ed after that experience. And then also going into the club that was like, you know, something worth it.

Gary Santos Mendoza (16:15): So after I was done with my role and I was there for like, you know, a little bit over a half a year to a year, um, it was a temporal. I ended up thinking a job to sustain myself, you know, be happy in fact that wasn't in school anymore. And then afterwards, um, while that was going on, still continued to do higher ed with my fraternity, advising, providing, doing events, programs, all that stuff, until that, I get to an opportunity. And I remember leaving Florida gleaning to Florida with only $200. I got from the jobs from the 401k, a car and my stuff. And that is it. And then I also had an interview that same thing, not knowing if I got the job, I had manic sentenced to their higher education program. It at, uh, FIU national. Um, I had made friends, um, before getting over there, but, um, really all we had was an interview.

Gary Santos Mendoza (17:10): I got into the program, but of course I needed a job. So I needed to survive. Um, there was a gentleman and going on from the word gentlemen, there was like, there was an individual gentlemen. So, so limited ladies and gentlemen. So it never used ladies and gentlemen because you're also taking away a whole bunch of other, um, populations, you know, trans in general from your phone big, they don't fly with that. So I take that back. So I met this individual and he gave me an opportunity to an interview at a hustle in order to get that job, because at the time, because, uh, graduated with like a 2.7 from St. John's still graduated is still that my degree, but I was also at that time, you need a 3.0 in order to against grad school. So took the opportunity. And what would that job interview not annoyed by that or not?

Gary Santos Mendoza (18:04): Um, interview went well, I got the job, but at that time, the position that I was going for, it required me to have a 3.0, which would have been a grad assistantship and would have paid for my tuition. So even though I got the job, I still had to take out loans again for the first semester. Wow. I had to prove also to the Dean of students at the time that one, I was worthy of the position and two, that I was a good asset in a candidate. And the program that first semester, I ended up getting a 3.8 and at the end of it, that my tuition paid for it at the end. Um, and it was a little bit, and it was a little bit of a, of a challenge because I felt like there was things around that time that were against me.

Gary Santos Mendoza (18:52): I had figured out the mental health I'd figured out the grad identity, but then also the education, which became the biggest thing that I've learned from the family still stayed within me. And I was like, we're going to find a way to get education going through this master's. And at the end of it, you know, to do that, still getting paid for it. It was great. However, there was also the opportunities of traveling to do internships, traveling to different conferences and all that in free, all that it's money, especially if you're going to be like, I remember working in Chicago, um, a couple of years ago when I was early in my career, you know, doing a housing and it was amazing. A I went to live in a new city. My mother had talked about it so much. Cause that was one of the places she traveled, um, with my dad and mother also raised me, um, in order to do dresses and fittings for models, for Monat for, for wedding ships, because, you know, like you have like fashion week and all that stuff, those adjuncts that for like bridal, for branding, for brand design makers.

Gary Santos Mendoza (19:54): So I heard so much from Chicago about her and I went to Chicago was amazing. Um, and at that time, you know, I still had to take out the loan and I remembered it very well. I was getting paid a stipend for this semester to live in Chicago, free room and board. But of course I was an adult at a certain age that also needed to pay bills at the same time. And sometimes from what I learned early on, as much as I can be in the space of, you know, just working and not, you know, out, you know, figuring things out later and just be like, you know what? I don't need to work like that. Wasn't an option for me. It wasn't an option at St John's. It wasn't an option a year because I had all those responsibilities, credit cards that I got into early, you know, trying to get money to family, those type of things, all that came early and I needed to sustain the job. There were things that I didn't get an opportunity to enjoy a little bit in college because I had to work. And here I had to work as well. And working at a, uh, with a stipend that doesn't keep in mind, all your experience is not going to be enough for you to sustain yourself.

Shamil Rodriguez (21:04): It only covers so much of your expenses.

Gary Santos Mendoza (21:06): Exactly. So I stayed. So I took out the loan right in the spring semester, but I didn't use it. And I saved it until the spring until the summer in which I was able to sustain my, you know, offset the cost when I was in Florida. I mean, when I was at the Chicago, um, and then afterwards came back to Florida because the position was like for a semester finished my degree afterwards, started looking for employment. But at the time I had the boat, went back to New York city until I got my job at Florida Atlantic university. And it was doing diversity equity, inclusion, work, LGBTQ work, uh, campus, life leadership, education development, community service. It was like five, four offices mixed into one. Um, at the time I did it at this place, uh, foot Atlantic university called the Broward campuses, which is basically the partner or satellite campuses out the university.

Gary Santos Mendoza (22:03): And in there is where I got a lot of my experience, a lot of my learning, but most importantly, it provided me a lot of opportunities to create a lot of good things. I still think one big thing for me was the pulse shooting that happened in Orlando because I was living in, I was living in Miami and it happened in Orlando. And, you know, it happens to folks that were me, happens a lot. The probes, it happened to folks. The term gay was also used for some tools. Um, you know, and then there was also, you know, folks that didn't identify by that were allies. Um, that affected me very bad, definitely very much that, you know, we're able to do events, talk to people, make people not forget. But the more that incident shaped me as an educator was more of the fact that some of these folks were college students that were there.

Gary Santos Mendoza (22:55): Some of them were employees, but some of them were also college students or age of college students. So I also put to mind what could have happened here that could have provided more opportunities if not, only to go to a club, but like, what is something that I could do for that second community? It made me think much more critically because we were remembering them, all these people know these names, but for me, it was kind of like, what else am I doing in my career to highlight this population? So for me, that's where the start of the PhD came into question and I got into the program. I applied for it. Um, the grades were good. Um, I was working the full-time job, so I wasn't taking out loans at the time anymore. But what I did understand is while my tuition was still getting paid for it for my job, and I was telling anybody, if you're going to go for your, try to get a big it, try to get it

Shamil Rodriguez (23:47): Paid from you. Oh, absolutely. A hundred percent sit alone, podcast motto. So it was like, try to get it paid for your job. I don't care what

Gary Santos Mendoza (23:57): You need to do. Be like, you got to be like, you got a, you got an uncle or a theme that is part of the requirement of that scholarship or go for it. Cause you know, it's so expensive. So, um, I got in my PhD program and then even with it, I still took out student loans. I still was with mom because at that time I needed to offset the cost because also working in higher education in the state of Florida at the time was not paying a lot either. Now think of it. You have all these student loans, subsidized and unsubsidized that were compounding interest on top of the fact that before I started the PhD program, how so had that private loan from before then on top of all of that, I needed to eventually pay this off. So education for me always looked like an opportunity to not pay for the degree.

Gary Santos Mendoza (24:52): I mean, loan yet still focus for more and more, but genuinely because I wanted the PhD genuinely. I wanted to be back percentage of folks that didn't have Latinos that don't have that PhD degree and most important. It was to get back to my community, my intersectional communities of all my identities, you know, it provided a little bit of relief to not pay, but also realizing that I needed to finish the degree. And I currently at this point, I'm still finishing degree virtually because, you know, I had finished all the classes I'm in writing my dissertation right now, focusing on the, uh, Latin X experience and more or less within the latics experience, what are, what resources make those students successful? Um, you know, that's where my research is going into it. Um, and then within that, I love my position that FAU and I took a graduate assistant position to finish paying off school.

Gary Santos Mendoza (25:51): Um, you know, I left the position with, at FAU because the position was cut. So I was like, I left it, but in a way the school cut it. So, um, you know, and during that time I had been advised by so many mentors and people on the how to move forward with it. But I think it also went back to my family a lot of the time, because you're always going to go some to the people that are safe or people that have known you when you were younger or people that you've known that know you for your, that, that think of you in the best light or that will give you the hardest advice possible. And it was my family at the time, but I also understood that they also led from a deficit model to not understand how to deal with pseudomonas, how to deal with being in college.

Gary Santos Mendoza (26:37): My, my parents had a high school education, that's it? So everyday mental health, me being me exploring it, I think PhD student loans, in a sense, I was navigating it, filling out the paperwork. Mom has paperwork to sign it or at the time just here, you know, put it in your phone, on your bed, done everything, navigating myself. And, um, you know, at that time, my mental health also was still with me, you know, so dealing with it, it wasn't as prominent, but as when I got to back home in Jersey, um, at the time before I sort of chance saw this position at Rutgers, you know, went for it because at the time I felt like, you know what, it would be great to be back home, but that was also a mental health decision. Why did that? Um, because I was getting sad and lonely in Florida, I was there for seven years doing great work, getting promoted, you know, going to conferences in which sort of little money helped pay for that.

Gary Santos Mendoza (27:41): Um, so many things traveling also, cause I wanted to give myself some aspect of life to enjoy. And that was also part of the reason when my PhD that I also wanted to leave Florida was because my mental health needed to be at a place that it can be not only I get the piece, but I get the support and with the job, it was a dream job because the dream job of Oregon diversity equity inclusion, um, at a university like Rutgers, which I had learned from young, but also on top of it, it's one of the campus is one of the most diverse ethnic campuses in the nation. Um, provided a lot of opportunities, perspectives, ideas, so on and so forth and applied for the job. But then I also known the load that was going to help me mentally. If I got back, got the job, came back to Jersey or in a sense, came back to New York and still with me came all my clothes.

Gary Santos Mendoza (28:36): I went from driving in Florida seven years ago from New York to Florida to flying back from Florida back to New York, I think. Yeah, I think I did a champagne glass that day too, because it was like my last time being for a while, starting my new job. Um, but when it came 130 $250,000 of student loan debt with me at the same time. So, and then when I started the job, um, you know, came the first few months of the job, then the pandemic and the pandemic made us stay home. Um, you know, I'm, I'm blessed within the privileges that I had, that I could work from home, stay in my house, have this cute long with all these books at the side, like these frames in the bag, this nice little vaporizer motorized it, that's making my house, but like I'm very blessed to have all these things.

Gary Santos Mendoza (29:29): And the thing about it when I mean by that is that I wasn't being appreciated years ago. It was always any more, any more, any more I need more because that was always instilled in me like with education, like I think it's mine to get some warrants, get some more within that time. Then I also realized during the pandemic that mental health impacted me greatly. And then I was diagnosed from there with anxiety and depression. The depression happened during the pandemic in which I was getting stressed from former polys of my PhD program that was stressing me over. I needed to finish quicker. I needed to do the program quicker, like hearing comments, like you're 30 something and I'm a person of 40, what can you teach me? You have nothing to give back to this world in a sense, it was discrediting my experience.

Gary Santos Mendoza (30:21): Something that I hear everyday for my students, this gender, my gender non-conforming students, sometimes their experiences get invalidated because folks just simply understand or can't find the opportunity to learn about their experience. That's what I was in a way going through not taking away from their experience, but in a way I sort of felt, and for me it was bad on my mental health, even though I was back home, I didn't have that support at that time in my PhD program, from those folks that I had the support with. And at the end of it, then, you know, went to my psychologist, got to figure it out and I needed to go on medication, start a medication. And I think we make a year next week, we make a year beyond my mental health medication, um, something of a taboo in Latino communities, um, because of the fact that like all my dad, you know, go to church, go talk to the preschool, talk to someone in religion.

Gary Santos Mendoza (31:17): That's going to make sure that if you're having these issues with like not only mental health, but you're having problems, psychology, psychologists, therapists, like how we do with it. Um, but within it, um, it w you know, it's, I needed to do it because I value not only the life where I was at and the blessings, but I think it was also things that were in me for the past couple of years that have not been able to deal with that led me to this point. And sometimes I look at it as like, you need to go through some of these experiences because it impacts you, but it also helps to find you where you are. And the student loan issue that I always kept very consistent within this whole narrative and lived the experience. There has been times that this has infuriated me to be with student loans, but it was that same guy at that same time.

Gary Santos Mendoza (32:14): And told me about the loan, the, the loan forgiveness program as well, which also helped within my journey of higher ed, because I worked at a non for profit. Do your 10 years, your student loans get forgiven? That's been the one biggest thing that has been a good from that night, other than also figuring out my career was that what I do every year is apply to show that I'm still working time, mind you, that those times that I worked as a grad assistant, you know, they don't count towards that. It means for full-time work. It means when you have 40 hours in your work and your work schedule, or 37.5, whatever number that, but within that, I have to work. Full-time at an, at an institution for 10 years, and then the loans get, forget it, the public ones. Remember there's still that $20,000 of private loans still there, which that one I've been paying off every month.

Gary Santos Mendoza (33:04): And I think also with that privilege of having family and friends, that one, no, all my identities for me, it was a different experience with my LGBTQ identity being because my family accepted it over time. It wasn't so instant, but, you know, over time they provided their love. And also helping me in a way that if they couldn't help me understand the theory or conceptual framework within my PhD, there a way of helping was financially. And that's something that I also am blessed to have, because that helped me. So within all of that, like now I do the work with students. I work at a public research institution buying records, but also I deal with students that deal with the same things. Should I take out the student loan? Should I not take out the cinema? And as I said, for me in the beginning, like this, I've always been crippled with that, but then I'm also like, I can't let the student loan identity define me because if it would define me, it would have not taken me to so many different places that help enhance my career.

Gary Santos Mendoza (34:09): That gave me the experiences that I needed. And in some way, shape or form the student loan money helped when I went to conferences, it helped at the time because I was presenting nationally at conferences. And I ended up meeting folks that were writing, because I think one big thing when it comes to education is everyone has a lived experience and a lens history. Michelle Obama, I think said it best in her book of becoming, she talks about the fact that everyone has a history or want to have a living history that you may not know about paraphrasing it, you know, Lucy, but within it, it was important because for me, it provided the opportunities that I can talk to people or tell people my narrative and how important and strong that is and why I'm in strong is how you can resonate with someone or how someone can resonate with your word that will give them an inch of, Hey, someone else can do this.

Gary Santos Mendoza (35:09): That's what started with all my articles that I was able to write with diverse at one turn around my lived experience or whatever you are about my poor experience. My recent article that came out, talked about coping with COVID-19 with mental health, and then my book chapters that came out and then me and my partners are working on, but they'll be released in three years, focusing on cultural centers, focusing on identity based centers. And hopefully within that a little bit talking about financials and revenue streams, but within all of that in some way, shape or form, I like to think of it also came out of the student loan money. All of that came from it. And especially the time, the effort, the patients, a cup of tea and coffees at like one in the morning, every night, something that I don't advise most of the time, because you know, your mental health has to be guarded.

Gary Santos Mendoza (35:57): Um, but also being back here, the biggest thing also was, you know, taking medication, mental health has been a big thing now for me to be very front forward with my staff, they should've taken the days off. They should have taken their vacations, but it was on top of it, meditation working out, you know, figuring out ways to also balance most importantly, not let things sometimes like schoolwork overtake your life because there's so many things going on every day that you can miss out on it. And sometimes some folks miss out on it because it's like, I got to get that paper. I got to get that depth. And that is important. You need the credential to the finish for those that are in programs. But if you could find a way to balance that, I think it's the biggest thing. I think that makes your life more richer because you're not just represented by a research.

Gary Santos Mendoza (36:49): I talked about my research, but I just talked about it in one, one sentence. There was so many other lived experiences within my intersectional identities that formed, you know, where I'm at right now. And a lot of that, not being a lot of it based in New York, brought the inspiration for me to do the things that I do, you know, only transforming higher education, but I do it within the aspect of being proud of where I am, where I'm from, how far I've come. The biggest thing actually I have is you see, like in the back of my bookshelf, I have, you know, my family's on my left, family's onto the left. It's, you know, all of these books have been my best friends for this whole PhD program. And every other program is right here. I have more Baskins of the ones I really liked.

Gary Santos Mendoza (37:39): Um, my identity, as you see on the bottom with this, um, with the tie, that's the first LGBTQ related gift that my family. And then lastly, on the back to my left is my building where I grew up. Um, my identities are all over, that are all over the house. And the reason I have it, like affirmation, just to remind myself everyday where I came from, because those things have shaped me to where I'm at right now. And you know, those are little reminders, even if let's say people do words of affirmation, I'm more of a visual learner. So I need to visually see things. My, one of my books, the book that I wrote, the book chapters that I wrote was right there too. Like, it just gives me runners every time when I walk into this room everyday. And I'm just like, oh, I kind of did that. That's kind, kinda cool. So, you know, blessings upon blessings upon blessings.

Shamil Rodriguez (38:40): That's wonderful. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for sharing so much. And there's a lot to go into there. So, Daphne, do you want to kick us off with a question first? Sure. I had a

Daphné Vanessa (38:49): Question about going way back to the beginning. When you discussed the changing of identity from saying you were gay to going into queer, can you share with the audience, the reasons why you made that decision and what that means to you?

Gary Santos Mendoza (39:07): Sure. So when the reason I did that, I made that distinction is because the term gay from my readings and experiences so far is a term that is supposed to be the box. If that makes sense, the invisible box of how you define someone that has an attraction towards, you know, men, you know, emotionally, physically, spiritually lag and stuff. But for me it would mean, you know, being gay is so much more, but it was also a term that I didn't fully accept or fully identify with. So when you're growing up, you're only going to learn what's around you. I was talking about deficit models, so my family didn't know nothing about it. So they're like, what is, what is this? They probably have heard it, but in a negative light of what being gay was, I don't know if that's, that's what they learned.

Gary Santos Mendoza (40:06): I can't can't blame them for that. So for me, going into this space of identifying as means that there's more to me than my, you know, my identity than my, you know, what is my, my sexual orientation. There's also gender identity, gender expression that also mixes in within it. And also within the term of gay, that was also invented in a way by white folk. It doesn't identify with my identity at this current moment, maybe 10, 15 years ago, it was a bit, but it doesn't identify, not identity is fluid in a good way of saying it for those of maybe like we may, the news for it. If you look at yourself or you think of yourself in the different spaces that you are in life, your identities will continue to change. Like for some, you were a single person, you were single.

Gary Santos Mendoza (41:00): Now you're with a partner. Now you have children. Now you see more about not only your racial identity, but your ethnic identity. You see which one's more prominent in different spaces. Identities are very fluid in that sense, but also on top of it, for me, the word gay didn't work anymore. The word seemed much more appropriate because also my gender expression also involves me sometimes painting my nails sometimes worrying, you know, foundations sometimes figuring out ways that maybe a high heels, a big thing to wear one day. Um, you know, I, what I love about it is that also from the definitions that I've learned, you know, means someone that's not heterosexual, but it's not very rigid in its definition. And I think that's something very important because if you think of folks in my Latino community, for example, some folks don't identify with the word gay, some folks find it a way that they don't want to identify with the term period. And that's very consistent in some folk of people of color minoritized populations is that folks do not want to put on terms that don't best explain their experience. And for me, gay, doesn't no longer express, well, my experience, so seems to be the right fit for me. And it also doesn't limit me because it also helps me to continue to evolve and keep learning more about my identity as I get older, but also understand that I don't have to be in a box that it can be

Shamil Rodriguez (42:35): That's it for part one, we'll be back with part two next week. For more information on today's episode, visit the student loan podcast.com/episode 44. That's the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 44.

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