Rachel Diaz: making space to find her place

A first-generation college student, Diaz spent her time on campus as a member of Sabrosura, Yale’s Latin dance team, and studying economic inequality.
Rachel Diaz

Rachel Diaz

Rachel Diaz, a graduating senior in Pauli Murray, came to Yale as a transfer student from a community college in Miami two and a half years ago.

If there was ever a face for imposter syndrome,” said Diaz, a first-generation college student, “I was probably it.”

Yet she found her place on campus as a member of Sabrosura, Yale’s Latin dance team, performing and doing choreography for sold-out shows in the Off Broadway Theater on campus. The sounds of bachata, merengue, and salsa music on a show night reminded her of the sights and sounds of home, she said: “Hearing my language and being around people who grew up with similar lifestyles helped me realize the importance of community.”

In the classroom at Yale, Diaz has studied the intersection of economics and psychology. Her interest in economics was spurred by her desire to understand income disparity in Miami — where in a 30-minute drive, a person could venture from one of the poorest communities to neighborhoods where the homes had yachts parked at private docks, she said.

I study economics because I want to know how to fix this,” she said.

Ebonya Washington, the Samuel C. Park Jr. Professor of Economics, knows Diaz well. Washington said Diaz’s interest in returning to her community to improve health access and outcomes “could not be more relevant.”

She is brimming with ideas, enthusiasm and compassion, and I expect to hear great things from her in years to come,” Washington said.

Passionate about creating spaces for others to feel welcome, Diaz became co-president of Women in Economics, an organization that supports women pursuing economics degrees and aims to introduce more undergraduate women to the field. She was particularly fond of her female economics professors, including Evangelia Chalioti, who would reference clothing retailer Zara and fashion designer Louis Vuitton, as opposed to football or poker, when making analogies.

I loved what this represented and the confused looks of many of the guys around me,” she said.

Looking back at her early days on campus, Diaz recalls a desire to fit in. “I was always so obsessed with wanting to feel like I belonged and like I deserved to be at Yale, especially as a transfer student.”

Eventually, there came a moment when she told herself, “Who cares if you belong or not? You're here.”

So, in her senior year, she did something she describes as “so wacky and so ‘Yale’” — she joined a senior society, Elihu. Like Sabrosura, it became one of the places that reminded her she was right where she was meant to be.

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Media Contact

Bess Connolly : elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu,