Natural Hazards Center Graduate Research Assistant Melissa Villarreal was recognized in 2022 with an award from the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder.

NHC Graduate Research Assistant Melissa Villarreal is engaged in dissertation research on housing recovery for Mexican immigrant women in Houston, Texas. Source: Melissa Villarreal, 2021

Melissa Villarreal was awarded the Betsy Moen “Walk the Talk” Award. This award recognizes a graduate student each year in the CU Boulder Sociology Department who epitomizes the legacy of Elizabeth “Betsy” Moen Mathiot. Moen was an associate professor of sociology at CU, and she is known for her legacy of feminist scholarship and social action. The award is given to a student whose research and service reflects this feminist social justice-oriented example.

The Sociology Graduate Committee felt that Villarreal stood out as representing the values and contributions of Moen. In the award notification, they wrote that Villarreal’s “scholarly work uses feminist methodologies to investigate how race, ethnicity, immigration status, and gender pattern post-disaster recovery. Specifically, she brings sociological advances in the study of gender and migration to describe patterns of post-disaster recovery in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which hit her hometown of Houston, Texas early in her graduate career. Her participatory ethnographic work is just the beginning of her engaged scholarship. She is also an active and wide-reaching mentor within the academy and beyond.”

“I am so grateful to have been recognized for my dissertation research,” said Villarreal. “The post-disaster recovery of Mexican immigrant women is crucial for not only social science, but also for policy makers and practitioners who wish to address the root causes of their vulnerability in a way that is not race- or gender-neutral. I am proud that this work is helping to render these women’s experiences visible.”

Villarreal, who is now in her fifth year of doctoral studies, continues this vital research in Houston, Texas with the support of the National Science Foundation and the American Sociological Association. Her article on this research, “Long-Term Housing Recovery Among Mexican Immigrants: How Service Providers Navigate Racialized Anti-Immigrant Disaster Recovery Policies” was recently accepted for publication in the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. She will enter the job market in the fall of 2023 and plans to defend her dissertation in Spring 2024.

Congratulations to Melissa!