Cynthia Fraga Rizo

Cynthia Fraga Rizo is an associate professor within the UNC School of Social Work. She researches intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking to prevent such acts and provide survivors with effective services and interventions.

Cynthia Fraga Rizo
July 7th, 2021

Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A: Depending on the day, I wanted to be a dancer, doctor, lawyer, teacher, or therapist. It was hard for me to pick just one possible profession — I wanted to do it all. Luckily, social work and academia allow me to do it all. Through my various research, teaching, and service engagements, I am able to blend my interests in art, education, and science.

Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

A: Growing up as a Cuban American, various cultural norms challenged my ability to identify the dynamics I witnessed in my community and personal relationships as “interpersonal violence.” It was during my master’s program, when researching intimate partner violence for an assignment, that I began to recognize the parallels between personal experiences and the journal articles I was reading for class.

This prompted me to seek social work practice experiences in the area of interpersonal violence, including a field placement that involved providing direct services to LatinX survivors and their children. I was surprised by the limited research evaluating services and interventions for these groups. This shaped my desire to pursue a PhD in social work and ensure the representation of marginalized voices.

Cynthia Fraga Rizo, her husband, and her two children

Rizo enjoys exploring North Carolina with her husband, Roger, and their children, Sebastian and Sienna.

Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

A: I am working on a project focused on educating young people within youth development centers and residential programs about sex trafficking. We launched the project at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and have had to problem-solve several challenges focused on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the people at these facilities. Collaborative brainstorming with stakeholders allowed us to develop a plan for educating the participants using a hybrid model of in-person and virtual delivery. Key lessons learned from this experience include the importance of remaining flexible and truly engaging with community partners.

Q: Describe your research in 5 words.

A: Enhancing survivor safety and wellbeing.

Q: What are your passions outside of research?

A: Running, hiking, practicing yoga, and spending time with family and friends. Although I find my work to be meaningful and fulfilling, it can also be heavy. Just a couple minutes playing and laughing with my children brings me an immense amount of joy and always reminds me about why I do this work: to help create a safer and more loving world for them.

Research UNCovered delves into the lives of UNC researchers from all disciplines and career levels, showcasing not only their research prowess but personal experiences in academia and beyond. Know someone we should feature? Nominate a researcher.