Columbine High School. April 20, 1999. It’s a time in U.S. history that most people would rather not revisit. Christopher Mosqueda made it the subject of his master’s theis.
Mosqueda, a second-year school psychology student in the McKay School, is using the infamous Colorado school shooting as a case study to explore risk factors for juvenile violence and examine which of those factors media outlets latch onto. In the case of the Columbine shooters, Mosqueda said that media outlets focused on gang involvement and social ostracization. But the students were not involved in a gang nor were they victims of bullying—they had a lot of friends and were very involved in school activities. In many ways, as Mosqueda described, the Columbine shooters were an exception to the rule.
In his thesis he is also trying to dispel the myth of the “superpredator,” a term coined in the 1990s that described the rise of an especially ruthless (and disproportionately black) generation of juvenile criminals. The idea of the “superpredator” has since been debunked, but as Mosqueda describes, it has led to both harsher punishments in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline. “I think it's important to know that risk factors do not predict violent behavior. . . . a lot of people meet these risk factors of youth violence but that doesn't mean they will become violent.”
Mosqueda’s tenacity at tackling hard issues and correcting misconceptions are likely some of the reasons he was awarded the 2020 Minority Student Scholarship of the Utah Association of School Psychologists (UASP). Each year, the UASP awards scholarships to minority school psychology students in Utah, especially those who are “responsive to the ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds” of Utah schoolchildren. Today, Mosqueda stands as a proud Chicano American, but he wasn’t always as confident in what he calls his “minority side.”
Mosqueda was adopted by a white mother and a Latino father. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, Mosqueda didn't have a lot of exposure to Latinos. Rather, he internalized a lot of racist ideas about Latinos, to the point where he was embarrassed about his ethnic identity. “Lately I've wanted to learn more about that heritage, that side of my culture, because I know next to nothing about it. But it's important to know, especially going into schools where I might be working with minority students.”
Reconnecting with his heritage forced Mosqueda to have a lot of uncomfortable conversations with himself about race and prejudice. As a school psychologist, he hopes to help others have those hard conversations, though his approach is less that of a social justice warrior and more a social justice diplomat: “It’s important not to call people out but to call people in and invite them to learn.”
Mosqueda hopes to address injustices as a school psychologist, but that’s only a small part of what he hopes to do. His drive ultimately comes down to counseling students. “Christopher’s comfortable and confident manner strengthens his ability to connect with youth, particularly defiant and angry youth,” said Melissa Heath, CPSE professor and Mosqueda’s thesis chair. “He . . . will reach students who may feel detached/marginalized and have difficulty communicating with adults and peers.”
This fall, Mosqueda will complete his school psychology internship at Jordan School District in Utah. He’s excited to meet with students whose educations have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I'm really excited to counsel students. I feel like that's a strong suit for myself, just speaking with them, talking through their problems with them, and just being there.”
Writer: Anessa Pennington
Contact: Cynthia Glad 801-422-1922
*Mosqueda is the second McKay School student to receive the award in the past two years. Read about last year’s winner.