Xochitl Salinas, a Clinical Social Work Intern (CSWI) and a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), recently graduated from the School of Social Work. She is a member of the Yurok Tribe and a descendant of the Pit River Tribe and has always been very connected to her Native American heritage with her community as the driving force throughout her life.
Growing up, Salinas was in the foster care system and was assigned an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) coordinator through her tribe who Salinas credits with having a major positive impact on her life. The ICWA is a federal bill that was put in place to protect Indigenous foster youth by making sure the youth is placed with a family member or a family within the tribe to preserve their culture and traditions while they are in the system. From an early age, Salinas aspired to be like her coordinator, but after witnessing the various ways in which social workers can make a difference in people's lives, she decided to become a therapist.
“I was passionate about the ICWA and about my social worker coordinator who followed me through the process,” Salinas said. “When I finally had the opportunity to go back to school, I realized that you could do a lot within social work. I’m still passionate about ICWA and working with Indigenous youth, but now I’m a CSWI and I’m focused on practicing therapy.”
While obtaining her master’s degree, Salinas had the opportunity to lead a Q and A with the president of the University, Brian Sandoval, during Social Work Legislative Day. While she asked him about how legislative bills have various impacts on the student body and how social work students can more get involved, Salinas also wanted an update on the growing number of Indigenous students on campus. She wanted to raise awareness of how the University supports these students and how Indigenous students can continue to make a difference not only at the University but in legislation as well.
During her time on campus as an undergraduate student, Salinas was involved in a social action club called Fused, which brought awareness to social justice issues that impacted students. The club would also organize events and fundraisers for various causes.
“I wanted to do something cool for Native American Heritage Month so, using some of the funds from Fused, I connected with a local artist and raised money for a local Indigenous cause called ‘River Justice,’” Salinas said. “We created an art display with work from different Indigenous artists at the Potentialist during November.”
Giving back to Native students is close to Salinas’ heart. A program on campus held in the summer was a perfect opportunity for her to connect to Native youth and help inspire them to pursue higher education. The program is called Native LEAD, which stands for Learn, Empower, Achieve and Dream, at the University of Nevada, Reno. During the program, Indigenous high school students live in the residence halls on campus for a week and experience college life and coursework. They have an opportunity to connect with the culture and cultural support systems at the University. The Office of Indigenous Relations runs this program and Salinas volunteered to participate by running a workshop.
“I was asked if I wanted to present a wellness activity with the Indigenous youth staying on campus,” Salinas said. “I worked with the kids going through each letter of the TIPP DBT distress tolerance skill: temperature change, intense exercise, pace breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. I explained to the students that they can use these skills when they become distressed or have big emotions. By practicing the TIPP skill we can bring ourselves back to baseline. I was excited to do it and if the program happens again I’d be more than happy to come back and do another wellness activity with the students.”
Salinas is currently working with a wide range of clients and loves being able to connect with every one of them. She meets with people struggling with anything from depression and anxiety to relationship or career challenges. Salinas' early introduction to social work showed her all the good that social work can do. Although she didn't become an ICWA coordinator as she initially envisioned, she finds great fulfillment in her current role helping individuals and making a meaningful difference in their lives, and volunteering with Native youth.