Gabriela Raisl, '17, Psychology

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The 9/11 attacks changed her life completely, but Gabriela Raisl, UW Tacoma psychology graduate and first-generation student, has learned there is more than one way to achieve your dreams.

Gabriela Raisl doesn’t mince words. “My purpose is to be an agitator and to ask questions that are controversial, that need to be asked,” she said. The UW Tacoma senior graduates in June with a degree in psychology. Her next step is undecided. She wants to take some time to figure out how best to help her community. “I really love Tacoma, this is the first place in a really long time that feels like home,” said Gaby.

Her decision to slow down and not take the first job out of college reflects a larger philosophy. “I’m really just going to enjoy this next chapter in my life and find a job that fills my professional goals,” she said. “I don’t want to jump into something just because it’s the next thing.”

Experience has taught Gaby to trust herself. “One of the reasons why people feel they can’t finish school is because we have this idea that it needs to be a certain way,” she said. “It wasn’t until I realized that my life didn’t have to look like this image that I became comfortable in my path.”

Gaby’s journey to UW Tacoma begins in Brooklyn, New York. She spent a large part of her childhood living in what she describes as a “Dominican/Puerto Rican” neighborhood. Life changed on September 11, 2001. Gaby and her little brother were in school when the terrorists attacked. In the chaos that followed, communication became next to impossible. The phone lines were jammed and, for a while, the family couldn’t find each other. “I think that was really traumatic for my parents,” said Gaby.

The family decided to relocate and live with relatives in Miami. “My mom packed the car and the cat and we all just drove to Florida,” said Gaby. The 11-year-old had visions of what her new life would be like. “I thought, ‘I’m going to live at Disney World and the beach,’” she said. “I hadn’t really thought about a different culture, a different way of doing things.”

Gaby, her mother, father and brother moved in with an aunt. “When we got to Florida it became very clear that we weren’t moving into Disney World and that we couldn’t afford to live close to the beach,” she said.

Those early months in South Florida were tough. Gaby’s father struggled to find work. In school, Gabu found it difficult to fit in with her classmates. “In Miami I wasn’t the type of Hispanic that other Hispanic communities wanted to represent the Latina community,” she said. “I lived in this weird world where I didn’t know who I was or where I belonged.”

Eight years passed. Gaby graduated from high school and enrolled at a local community college. She was just beginning to get a sense of herself when the unexpected happen. “My family fell apart,” said Gaby. “My dad wanted a new life. He went to work one day and never came back.”

Gaby had to take multiple breaks from community college to help support both her mother and brother. She found work at a childcare facility and stepped in as a de facto parent to her brother. “I was part of the PTA and chaperoned dances at the school,” she said. “I didn’t want him to be the kid who didn’t have someone there. My mom was there for all my things and I filled that role for my brother.”

A few years later Gaby was out celebrating her birthday with friends when a man approached. He introduced himself. The pair chatted and exchanged phone numbers. “I tried to blow him off but he was very genuine,” she said. They soon began dating and six months later he asked Gaby to move back home with him to Tacoma.

Gaby wanted to leave but worried about her little brother. She ultimately decided to go because he was doing great in school—he has since received a full academic scholarship to Florida State University. “I decided I needed to build my own life and let everyone find their place,” said Gaby.

Gaby started at UW Tacoma in 2015. She had looked into different majors but returned to psychology. “I enjoyed exploring different fields but none of them felt like my major,” she said. “I want to sit in classrooms where people are talking about things I’m interested in and not in ones that are grueling or painful.”

Gaby’s time on campus has been busy. She worked for the university’s Center for Service & Leadership. She also interned for the Office of Advancement. Gaby served on the Race and Equity Steering Committee and helped bring the bias incident reporting tool to fruition. She arguably made her biggest mark behind the scenes developing workshops, including one for International Women’s Month that allowed people to share seven-minute stories about themselves. “I want to create platforms for people to be able to tell their stories and transform how we view certain groups,” she said.

While she may not be jumping into anything, Gaby is considering a future in law or politics. She wants to stay in Tacoma and help develop solutions around inequality. Her view of life is very much “we” centered and that extends to her own college graduation. “This is for my family, for my community, for Dominican girls in Brooklyn.”

Continue Exploring Class of 2017

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Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / June 9, 2017
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu