Written by: Priya Balakumar
Vera Viran is a New Jersey based Behavior Analyst and Ph.D Candidate. Vera comes from a family of three sisters. Her parents always pushed them to break the boundaries and learn a variety of essential life skills so they could stand up on their own feet one day. Growing up, her dad tried to teach his daughters a variety of skills such as handling tools, doing home repairs, working on cars, etc., so that they would not have to depend on “any man,” as he liked to say. Vera’s family is very close knit, as she also grew up with her maternal grandparents in her home. Vera’s passion for creating a platform for the Indo-Caribbean community stemmed from a young age. Her dad started an annual family fun day called “Guyana Day” in South Plainfield, NJ. His idea stemmed from the village reunions (Alness/Salton, Mahica, etc.), but he wanted a day where everyone could unite and have fun together. Even though it’s called Guyana Day, many attendees are not Guyanese or even Indo-Caribbean.
Over the years, Vera and her family have expanded this community event and even gained the support of their mayor and local council people who show up for the festivities.
Vera grew up in Central New Jersey, which is a primarily Caucasian area. It took Vera about 24 years to completely start identifying as an Indo-Caribbean woman. Over the last two years, her exposure to social media has helped her to connect with people from her cultural background, as well as provide a platform where she could learn more about the history of her ancestors. Vera shares, “Social Media has had a tremendous effect on really highlighting and praising many different cultures; not just Indo-Caribbean culture and that’s the biggest reason why I personally started to feel more comfortable about where my family is from. Not only have I learned more about our culture, but it’s also sparked my interest in digging deeper into my own family history and has been a catalyst in what I choose to further my own academic research in!”
Indo-Caribbean women have often faced more than their fair share of barriers when it comes to higher education and professional settings. However, we are a long line of strong, independent and accomplished women who are helping to open up doors for the next generation. When we asked Vera what she is most proud of being an Indo-Caribbean woman she said, “Our vibrant and eclectic culture. I love that our roots really come from a blend of so many different cultures and it shows in our amazing diversity! As for being an Indo-Caribbean woman specifically, I think one of the generational themes, while it can quickly become dangerous, is our ability to put others before ourselves and also never giving up.”
Over the last few decades, our women have reached such high prestigious positions in various professional fields such as business, politics and medicine.
As a Behavior Analyst, Vera works with young children and adolescents who are diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disabilities including autism, ADHD, learning delays/disabilities, and intellectual disabilities. As a BCBA, she is responsible for designing behavior change protocols in order to reduce problem behaviors such as self-injury, aggression, property destruction and tantrums.This Brown Girl Boss also designs skill acquisition programs to teach socially significant, academic and daily living skills such as toileting, eating, showering, cooking, reading, writing and doing math.
Being from a cultured and diverse background, Vera is able to understand the unique needs of her ethic clients that do not often get the tailored programs that they need. She explains, “The children that I treat come from so many different cultures and backgrounds. The assessments we are provided with very rarely take “non-American” culture into consideration and it’s scary because the assessments essentially provide a roadmap of what types of goals a clinician is going to work on in a given authorization period. For example, some assessments ask the clinician to score whether an individual can use utensils or engages in sustained eye contact or even sleeping independently. Being Guyanese, I know that utensils are totally optional for everything… maybe other than soup. I also know that eye contact in many Asian cultures is not something families necessarily want to teach their child how to engage in, outside of answering a question or speaking to someone of the same age. How many of you slept in your parents’ room/bed deep into elementary school? These are factors that I think are so important to keep in mind as behaviour analysts go into people’s homes. Our job is NOT to train American culture."
"Our job is to respect the culture of others and use science in order to help our learners meet goals that are important to their families and their specific societies and social settings.”
Being able to utilize her own background and experience, Vera has an upper hand in her treatment style by knowing what kinds of questions to ask families in order to really make them feel comfortable. When we asked Vera what advice she would share with young Indo-Caribbean women interested in Behavior Analysis, she says, “Working as a home-based behavior analyst is a very isolating profession and most of the time, you only see your direct staff and client. Communication and collaboration really only happens if the practitioner seeks it out.”
Being able to reach out and network and ask for help when needed is key to success in any field of work.
Vera’s career path is one that is quite unique in the Indo-Caribbean community. As a Behavior Analyst, Vera strives to serve various communities to the best of her abilities. As she pursues her Ph.D, Vera aims to change the statistics of her field. Currently, there are about 44,000 board certified behavior analysts worldwide and of that, a recent survey indicated that 56% of practitioners are white and 85% are female. Vera explains that by being a professional in this field, “It does allow me help and gain access to populations that maybe would not have been considered in need if a non Indo-Caribbean individual were looking at our field.” Vera wants to use her education and skills to help provide services for underrepresented groups of minorities that often are not aware of or do not have easy access to these services.
Vera continues to use her platform by providing services and resources on her personal website. As a leader in her community, she continuously tries to provide guidance and resources to those around her. Vera shares, “I strive and am committed to making myself a resource to others whether it be reviewing my sister’s friends college essays, giving out book recommendations, sharing self-care tips to my peers in high stress jobs, or helping my sister navigate the college world. One of the biggest ways to empower others, in my opinion, is not to lead them to take the path that you went down, but to encourage and support them in learning how to create their own path.” There are so many ways that we as Indo-Caribbean women can give back to our communities. One of the most important and long lasting ways is to help raise and uplift the younger generation so that they can continue the cycle. Vera is set to complete her Ph.D in 2022 with her research focusing on Suicide in Guyana. She looks forward to conducting research more autonomously and also teaching opportunities at the graduate level. Vera is a prime example of a Brown Girl Boss that has pushed the boundaries and showed the world that you can accomplish anything that you put your mind to.