Husky Health & Well-Being

October 17, 2022

Catching Up With Tyneshia Valdez

10/17/2022 – Resilience Lab Staff Member Victoria Robinson sits down with Astronomy Department HR Manager Tyneshia Valdez to learn more about her involvement with the Lab’s Be REAL program and her wishes for wellness at UW.

Valdez is a graduate of UW with a BA in Intercultural Communication from the Communications Department and a BA in International Studies from the Jackson School. She currently sits on the Black Graduation committee, the PSO DEI Committee, and, in addition to facilitating staff Be REAL groups, leads the DEI committee in the Astronomy Department. She has a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion work and hopes people at all levels of UW can work together to cultivate systemic change.  

Victoria Robinson: Tell us a little bit about how you got started with the Resilience Lab. What were your initial impressions? 

Tyneshia Valdez: I found the Resilience Lab in the summer of 2020, which was a chaotic year. I haven’t thought about this deeply

Tyneshia Valdez

Tyneshia Valdez

 until recently, so I went back and looked through my emails to see how I actually got involved. I was trying to find some resources to support the students, hoping to have regular drop-in hours from a counselor. I was having a hard time even getting a hold of people, let alone setting up regular drop-in sessions in the department. And in my search, I just stumbled across the Resilience Lab. I was digging through the [well-being] website, because there’s so many resources on the website, I was like “ah, I hit the jackpot”.  

I found Be REAL and I reached out. It’s funny to me when I look back now, because it’s such a clouds-parting, sun-comes-down-and-beams-on-you moment. Because it’s not what I was looking for, but it’s exactly what I needed in the moment. It’s just so weird to find something for you when you weren’t looking. [Be REAL] is free, and everyone’s so welcoming.  

One of the only emails I got back in my search for a counselor was from Megan Kennedy, and I’d sent a generic email through a portal on the website and I got a response from a different [Resilience Lab member]. It was just so welcoming and nice.  

I signed up for Be REAL because I wanted to see what I could facilitate for the students myself, how I could help the students, but it turned out to be what I needed in that moment. Again, I found this probably spring or summer quarter of 2020. In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered, and I was trying to navigate why it was hurting me so much, and how to separate my personal life from my work life. We spend so much time at work that we have so little time in the day to be your authentic self.  

There was an added layer of weirdness, because COVID was just ramping up. So I was at home, I was alone, but I was working. I was having to write emails in a work tone while feeling angry and sad and weird and just trying to figure out what I’m doing.  

But I’d never participated in anything, like Be REAL. I didn’t have those tools at the time to dig into myself and radically accept things, to meditate, or pause. Long story short, I wasn’t able to find counseling for the students. But I joined the Be REAL cohort in Fall 2020, and that’s how I got started. 2

VR:  So many people in the Astronomy Department are involved in Be REAL, or with the Lab in general. Tell me a little bit more about how that came about. 

TV: Elisa Quintana is our academic counselor in Astronomy, and it turns out she was looking at the Be REAL program and the Resilience Lab website at the same time as me, but we didn’t know it. So, when I found Be REAL, I said “Have you seen this? You should sign up for this, we should do this”. And she was like “I was just going to tell you about it, I actually already signed up”. She was a part of the summer 2020 [Be REAL] cohort, I was a part of the fall cohort.  

We both took it and checked in with each other when I finished, and we both just loved it. We loved everything about it. We were like “How can we implement this?” We’d heard that it had been taught on campus for one credit for students. We wanted to make sure it was a part of the Astronomy [department]. We told all the staff to take it, you know “This is amazing, you’ll need this. You don’t have to facilitate, you can just take it and learn some tools”. And one of the few perks of COVID is that everyone had time.  

Over the course of the next year, we had three staff take it, and we even talked somebody from the physics department into taking it. And because of the [Be REAL] community of practice, we get to stay bonded, even if other staff aren’t facilitating like Elisa and I are.  

We join the community practice every month, it keeps us bonded, and again, it’s kind of something we didn’t know we needed. We didn’t ever sit down and discuss, “Hey, we all want to support each other’s mental health, we all want to be there for one another”, it [developed] through Be REAL and talking about our experiences. Having that shared language, having the shared resources, we’ve built a community and it’s brought us really close.  

And it keeps us going, this month, there were three activities for Be REAL. So it’s like, “Are we going to this or we’re going to that? Did you check in on this? I’m going to talk about this next month at the community of practice. What do you all think?” 

Having the community of practice keeps me super fresh with the [skills from] Be REAL. I always check in with my staff. I had a drop-in painting session to reduce stress. Be REAL gives me a lot of ideas, and everyone is happy to participate because they know what it feels like to have resources and be able to talk about them. 

VR: Do you feel like this is something that has extended beyond the staff, into the faculty and students in your department?  

TV: I would say yes, not that they probably know it. I haven’t tried a Be REAL group in the department, but I have shown the Resilience Lab website several times to the faculty. Just yesterday, I did quick talk about DEI and resources around campus, so once again, I showed the Resilience Lab website. I told them that the Lab is a quick website where you’re going to find five things that are definitely worth your time, that can support you and your students. 

The way that I give out resources has changed, I’ve become more intentional with my resources, and honestly, it’s easier to do now that I’ve participated with the Lab. I look forward to having these connections with so many people across campus, talking about student wellness as well as our own.  

VR: What are your hopes for well-being at the University of Washington, or into the community? What changes would you like to see? 

TV: I hope that wellness will be taken more seriously and promoted more widely. I can see that the more I talk about mental health in the department that it’s catching, but there’s still some resistance. Why is it important? Why do we need to be consistent? Why should I be changing the posters around campus to promote mental health resources?  

I hope it just becomes a part of the norm that we have these resources. Consistent times where [mental health] is promoted, onboarding, all-staffs, websites, things like that.  

I’ve facilitated [Be REAL] for staff and students at this point, I’m on my third facilitation group. What I find interesting, and heartwarming, and sometimes sad is that no matter what group I’m facilitating for… everyone needs this. Everyone needs these resources, they need an opportunity to discuss serious things, they need a moment to pause, they need a moment to meditate. Everyone deeply needs this. Across these groups, there’s every age range. It’s not that young people need this, or older people need it, or just staff or just undergrads. Everyone needs part of this. And when you zoom out, I think that’s really, really important. What’s going on at UW? How are we supporting people at the University of Washington? And this is a great way to do it.  

I feel like I’m a part of this bubble now, but I hope that it doesn’t stay a bubble, that it’s just a regular thing. Everyone knows Be REAL. Everyone knows what the Resilience Lab is doing. 

VR: Do you think that the intense need is a product of COVID? Or do you think that this is something that that runs a little deeper? 

TV: I think it’s been grown by COVID. The buy-in for mental health resources and Be REAL has grown because of COVID. I think it’s easier to attract people to this. But before COVID, people also needed this. Stress from exams and being on campus all the time, having full workloads and things like that. That’s not new. It’s just harder now.  

VR: Do think that the UW has increased its focus on wellbeing in the past couple of years? 

TV: At the university level, they do promote well-being, but it’s hard when it’s at such a high level. It needs to trickle down to the departments, and then to different groups on campus, and when it trickles down, it trickles down differently. Unfortunately, the flow of information goes to some places, and not to others.  

So, again, my hope is that there’s a more uniform way to find and promote resources. For instance, Title IX trainings, which UW made everybody start taking. It’d be cool if there was something related to mental health that people have to also take. Having to take a class to learn how do you support your department or your college. Things like that.  

UW is trying, there are definitely resources, they’re just all over the place. You have to find them, you have to participate, you have to sign up, and then sometimes they cost money and things like that. 

VR: How do you feel that your involvement with the Resilience Lab has changed your perspective in your daily life? 

TV: It really does keep me fresh on utilizing the tools. When you’re taking the training, it’s so easy to say “Why haven’t I done this? I should keep doing this, I’m going to do this forever.” Then it fades as you get further away from the training. So, for me, I’m constantly having to live in this world [of Be REAL], which makes me constantly think about these practices.  

For example, radical acceptance is something from Be REAL that I’m always trying to work on. And because I’m always talking about it, I’m always thinking about it. And therefore, I’d like to think it helps me in the moment and helps me with my interactions with other people.  

If there was a survey out about Tyneshia from 2018 and Tyneshia from 2022, I would say I am more intentional and thoughtful about soliciting input and listening to people, which in turn, make people feel more welcome and comfortable.  

I talk about resources a lot, and I find it really important… You know, I can’t help everyone, but at least I know someone who knows someone who can help, or I know of something on campus that can help. People aren’t leaving my office empty-handed.  

It’s also been deeply rewarding to work with Megan [Kennedy], Robyn [Long], and Sasha [Duttchoudhury]. They have degrees in


 psychology, social work, and I have a degree in communication, so it’s vastly different. The language that they have is calm and [deliberate], and I’m a very emotional person. What I’m saying is backed by my feelings, which might change moment to moment, but their actions and words are very professional, but also so warm and thoughtful. So, I’ve been learning a lot from them on how to be better about my intentions.  

And then lastly, it’s been rewarding to be a part of a community and know that I have kind of a second home in the Resilience Lab. It’s a place where I’ll always feel welcome. It’s so rare to find a community that just wants you to be happy and healthy. You show up, you talk, and everyone hopes you leave happy and healthy. You don’t have to do any work. You don’t do any homework.  

VR: On the flip side, do you feel like there are pieces that you think could be improved?  

TV: I would say no, which sounds like the easy answer, but I don’t know of anything else on campus that’s doing what the Resilience Lab is doing. Therefore, everything that comes out of there, I think is brilliant. What’s going on? Who else is doing this? Who else is promoting it? Right now, I’m leading a staff Be REAL group, and I think there’s 32 people who signed up for the staff group. And only three or four people are from the same department or area. [The program] is so vast around campus, and now tri-campus. So no, I think it’s a great tool. 

VR: Speaking of your leadership role with the staff Be REAL group this quarter, what have you learned from being in a facilitation role? 

TV: I’ll say it again: this is deeply needed. I’ve been trying to do a Be REAL group this fall with Elisa [Quintana] for undergraduates, and it was very hard to get even six people to sign up from the undergrad Astronomy department. But Be REAL for staff had 32 people fill out the [interest] survey, even more indicated interest after the deadline. 

And we already have a waitlist for winter quarter. Be REAL for staff seems to be bursting at the seams, we don’t even have to promote it the way that I had to do promotion for undergrads. I hope, again, that this is something that will become a little more uniform and talked about across campus. The Disability Resources for Students office has the next largest group of staff taking the course [second to Astronomy]. A couple of people from that office heard about it during onboarding, [and it grew from there.] This makes me feel happy, and that the word and mission is getting out there. 

That’s my hope, that it continues to spread in that way. There are several people who are in their first month at UW that have taken it, there are people that are six years in that are taking it. It’s just a great range.  

And going back to your question of: is this something that was needed because of COVID? Would it have spread so widely before COVID? I think yes. Because staff are often overlooked, and they’re not provided with the same resources. There’s a hierarchy at UW, where students are number one. Which should be the case. But it would be great if there were more things out there for staff, like there’s POD [Professional and Organizational Development] classes, but those are very expensive. And staff have the heaviest workloads, the stressful lives, and they need these types of resources and opportunities to be real 

Everyone always loves it when it hits them in the cohort, like “Oh, it’s called Be REAL. Because we’re going to be real.” Like, yeah, you’re going to have a moment to be your authentic self. 

A couple of people asked if they could cuss, and I said yes, let’s do it. Cuss, say whatever you want in the chat, let’s just be happy and together.  

And it makes me a little sad to think that we have such high participation [from staff] this quarter, because we offered it from 12 to 1pm, [as opposed to 90-minute sessions]. We shortened the session and extend the course from six weeks to nine weeks. We’re doing it during the lunch hour so that staff are able to attend, which means a lot of them are giving up their lunch hour. But they’ve decided that they need these resources, and they need this support, so they’ll eat during Be REAL.  

But I hope that, in the future, someone can join at 1pm or 10am, and they can join for an hour and a half. They don’t have to only give away their one free hour in the day.  

VR: Anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up? 

TV: I guess I would just say I’m a huge advocate for this work. It does make a difference. And there’s a community there that’s not like any other community. It’s worth being around and finding out what’s going on with Be REAL. I think people believe that they have to take it and then facilitate, but no, you don’t have to do that. There are a lot of people who take Be REAL and don’t facilitate. And then on the flip side, there are a lot of people that do facilitate and get something out of that.   

Next quarter, Sasha and I are going to be facilitating a group for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] specifically. It’s funny, we haven’t actually announced that and we already have two people signed up.  

Where can Be REAL go? What can the Resilience Lab do in the future? It seems like the possibilities are endless, because there’s such a deep need on campus. Sasha and I have reached out to a couple of facilitators that did BIPOC student groups, and we received a lot of info from them. We’re going to spend a lot of time getting ready to support the BIPOC staff community at UW and offer this authentic space, which will be a little painful. It’ll be painful because of what is going on in these communities. 

But when has this been offered, outside of affinity groups? I’m excited to see where that goes and see how that catches fire.  Tyneshia Quote

VR: Thank you for your insight. We’re so grateful for you at the Resilience Lab.   

TV: You’re welcome.  

Interested in taking a Be REAL course, or learning how to facilitate Be REAL for your department? Email for more info, or visit our partners at the Center for Child and Family Well-Being to learn more. 

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