PhD Student Angie Lisbeth Cruz Receives the 2020-2021 Kharen Fulton Diversity Graduate Award

February 10, 2021
Angie Cruz, PhD Student

By Karina Antenucci 

Angie Lisbeth Cruz, a PhD student in the political science track within the Health Services Research & Health Policy program, is the recipient of the 2020-2021 Kharen Fulton Diversity Graduate Award. The award honors the legacy of Dr. Kharen Fulton, the longtime director of recruitment, diversity, and admissions at Laney Graduate School, who was committed to the recruitment of diverse candidates to the doctoral program.

“Based on her academic and community work and current activities, there is no doubt in my mind that Angie is a force and an outstanding role model for promoting and addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues at Emory University and beyond,” says Cruz’s advisor, Janet Cummings, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management.

“Kharen Fulton did the work that so many of us aspire to do. She ensured academic success for a lot of communities that have only made Emory better," says Cruz. "I’m honored to be recognized for my diversity work. This award shows me that people are listening to what I’m doing and what students are advocating for."

Prior to attending pre-med undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California, Cruz experienced a life-changing loss of a family member that took a toll on her own mental health and hugely shaped her interest in it. After completing pre-med undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California in 2017, she earned a master's degree in mental health and a health disparities certificate from Johns Hopkins University in 2019 before joining Rollins’ doctoral program that same year.

At Emory, Cruz’s research focuses on mental health, health disparities, and adolescent health, with a strong emphasis on the mental health of Latinx adolescents. “My personal experiences and my family, which is half Mexican and half Guatemalan, largely influenced my passion areas. I was raised in a household that prioritized social justice, equity, and activism. I was taught [by two parents who work as nonprofit leaders] to fight for those in need and to be a fierce advocate for my communities, and that's what I try to do each day and with every DEI initiative I develop,” Cruz says.

One of Cruz’s favorite current projects involves working with Dr. Silke von Esenwein and the nonprofit organization Ser Familia. They are assessing the prevalence of abuse within the population of Latinx youth engaged with the Department of Family and Child Services in Gwinnett County, as well as their familial support and mental health needs. “As a Latina who grew up in Gwinnett County, I feel a personal connection to the population we are working with, and I am eager to continue this work,” she says.

Cruz is also passionate about the work she has been a part of to advance DEI efforts for doctoral students at Emory through various avenues, such as serving as the Latinx Representative on the Laney Graduate Student Government Task Force and on the Doctoral Student Advisory Board in the Dean's Office at Rollins. These efforts include communicating with leadership about student needs, engaging with student organizations to advance increased mental health support for students, and developing initiatives to support future students from underserved communities. “There is always room for improvement, to make systems better and to make sure future students are coming into an equitable and supportive space,” she says. 

In addition to her busy academic and student government schedule, she continues to be active in several community activities, including in support of Club de Niños y Niñas de Centroamérica, a nonprofit organization that she co-founded with her family in 2013 while earning her undergraduate degree.

When asked how she finds time for everything, Cruz notes that she doesn’t. “It’s so difficult to work in social justice spaces and find balance. My friends, family, and mentors are very good at giving the best advice to give myself the same love and grace that I try to give others. It’s OK to rest, sleep, breathe, and it’s essential for our work. I have learned when my mental health is in a great place, I can help others; when it’s not, I can take a step back,” she says.

After graduating from Emory in 2024, Cruz plans to go into academia. She wants to be a leading health equity scholar who works to advance DEI efforts within academic institutions through mentorship, teaching, and service/leadership activities. “No matter what career I pursue, I will always prioritize activism and political engagement. Fighting for populations in need will be a part of everything I do because for me, this work isn't just a career, it's a mindset that our efforts are not finished until everyone has the same opportunities.”