A photo of a woman standing
Victoria Cashio said that she has “witnessed an evolution of policies that have expanded the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals in uniform” during her military service. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

How I found my research: Victoria Cashio promotes equality and well-being for people who identify within the gender-diverse community

Cashio, a doctoral student in the School of Social Work, is a behavioral health science officer in the U.S. Army. She has embraced the creativity and sense of community and mutual support that characterizes the research process.

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Victoria Cashio, a second-year doctoral student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work, has served in the U.S. Army for 14 years. She enlisted as a health care specialist and was commissioned as a behavioral health science officer in 2012.

Cashio earned an M.S.W. through the Army-Fayetteville State University program in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and she completed two years of clinical internship in mental health, family violence and substance abuse services at Tripler Army Medical Center and Schofield Army Health Clinic, Hawaii. She also has a graduate certificate of completion in industrial and organizational psychology through Grand Canyon University.

Cashio spoke to VCU News about her research into the experiences of people within the gender-diverse community and how data can be humanizing.

In two sentences, tell us the focus of your research ... and why it is important/impactful for all of us.

My research focuses on promoting equality and well-being for people who identify within the gender-diverse community. The socialization of the gender binary has negative impacts on all of us, but within the transgender-gender-diverse community, these social norms perpetuate stigma, discrimination and resultant health disparities.

What inspired you to pursue this line of research?

Until attending VCU, my social work education and career had been mostly clinically focused. I wanted to pursue an advanced research degree to do work that can help prevent social suffering and promote social justice for marginalized groups and communities. During my military service, I have witnessed an evolution of policies that have expanded the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals in uniform. This progress continues to inspire me, and I am committed to being an ally with the community.

Tell us about a surprise in your research journey.

I was surprised that research can be such a creative process. Since starting my Ph.D. at VCU, my view of research has really expanded. “Data” can be humanizing, whether obtained from personal narratives, creating art or through tools or personal objects that facilitate the communication process. Interdisciplinary research also expands the possibilities for creativity and innovation in research. For example, within the School of Social Work, we have professors collaborating on projects using genetic information, virtual environments, designing more inclusive spaces and video-game-based interventions. It’s all very exciting!

On a more personal level, I never considered how power and privilege can play out in the research process, but it just makes sense. I am definitely more aware of my identity and mindful of using research methods responsibly. In the future, I hope to get more experience in community-based participatory research methods as they seem well aligned with my philosophical orientation and social work values.

A photo of a woman sitting in a chair.
Victoria Cashio believes interdisciplinary research expands the possibilities for creativity and innovation in research.” (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Tell us about an obstacle or challenge you had to overcome in your work.

I only have three years to finish my doctoral program. I think one of the biggest challenges for me has been staying focused on a clear dissertation topic that I can complete within my timeline. The more I’ve learned, the more excited I get. I am continually reminded that this is only the beginning of my research career, and there will be time to answer more questions after I complete this milestone.

Is there a memorable partnership or lesson you've embraced along the way?

I feel incredibly blessed with the mentorship and support I have had in my program of study. I appreciate the message I have received about assembling a team of mentors and peers who can support your unique needs in your educational journey. Just like the saying, it takes a village to raise a child, it’s important to emphasize the value of community and the support of many in achieving your educational goals.

One of the most valuable mentorship experiences I have had is in my graduate research assistantship. My faculty mentor, Dr. Jamie Cage, has been a great model for leading team-based research, maintaining community partnerships and demonstrating the skills and tools to stay organized throughout the research process, which isn’t always clearly defined and always evolving with technological advances.

What do you find fulfilling about the research process?

So far, I really enjoy working with a team. So much goes into the research process, and it is great when you can share the labor and have a variety of perspectives. We all have different experiences and are always learning from one another. Although it is technically “work,” the sense of community and mutual support makes it enjoyable.

What advice would you offer undergrads to kick-start their own research journeys?

I would tell them to take opportunities to do research as early in their educational journey as possible. We have two undergraduate students on our team, and I think it is fantastic that they are learning and doing some of the things I am doing as a doctoral student. I think this early experience can make research seem less intimidating and provide an opportunity to practice more abstract concepts they are learning in the classroom.

“How I found my research” is a new series featuring VCU student-researchers.