Category Archives: Education

Hablando de ellas: Experiences of Latina K-12 Public School Administrators with Race and Gender

sign says "Our country's future economy depends on our children's education now"

Our Future. Photo by Flickr User Andy Blackledge. Feb 15, 2015. CC BY-NC 2.0

By Dr. Lisandra Tayloe 

Latinas are relatively scarce in leadership positions in K-12 public schools.  Nonetheless, as my recently concluded dissertation study (2016) indicated, fractional representation does not equal nonexistence but, rather, exclusion and neglect. In my study, I examined barriers to career advancement, the effects of barriers, successful strategies to overcome challenges, and the roles of race and gender on leadership ascension and practice from the perspective of K-12 Latina public school administrators.

Utilizing a mixed methods approach that included 30 survey responses and 4 interviews with two public school principals and two assistant principals in the state of Florida, I gathered information from Latina administrators of varied ethnicities, including Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, and Venezuelan. Their ages and leadership experiences varied too, ranging from 29-62 years of age and 1-26 years of educational leadership experience. Continue reading

On the Colonial Legacy of U.S. Universities and the Transcendence of Your Resistance

By Prof. Oriel María Siu

Oriel María Siu is Assistant Professor and the founding Director of Latino Studies at the University of Puget Sound.

Oriel María Siu is Assistant Professor and the founding Director of Latino Studies at the University of Puget Sound.

(This is a copy of the Keynote speech I gave at the University of Puget Sound’s Graduates of Color Ceremony in May 2015. I dedicate it to all students of color at this and any other institution of higher learning in the U.S.)

As people of color, you were never meant to be at a university. I was never meant to teach at one. And your family and I were never meant to be here celebrating your graduation today.

The establishment of universities you see, were a direct result of the European colonization of the Americas and later white settler expansion all over the globe, a process begun in 1492. From the beginning, universities served as a crucial tool for the introduction and retention of a white Eurocentered power structure in these occupied territories. In the Americas, universities were created and run by British and Spanish settlers and later by their descendants for the purpose of founding and retaining the colonial order of things. The founding years of the first universities in this continent should therefore be no surprise; they directly paralleled the English and Spanish processes of colonization north, center, and south: the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (1538), Universidad de San Marcos of Perú (1551), Real y Pontificia Universidad de México, today the UNAM (1551), and Harvard University (1636), to name but a few.

Through savage processes of forced displacement, genocide, racialization, and the enslavement of Natives and Africans, whites self-proclaimed themselves superior to other people upon entering the Americas. From 1492 to 1592 –or the first 100 years of the occupation alone– it has been estimated that Europeans decimated more than 90 million indigenous people in the Americas, making it the bloodiest holocaust in the history of human kind (other estimates place this number above the 100 million people mark). Aside from this genocide, more than 11 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic, with death rates so high during that atrocious Middle Passage that many lives were lost at sea. Engendered by a system of slavery and the decimation and removal of Native life, the colonial order of things in the Americas consisted of the formation of a particular economic system; one which controlled, confiscated and reserved productive Native lands for the use of the white settler; one which ensured the flow of exploitable, cheap and free labor for the occupiers’ benefit; and one which ensured little to no upward mobility for the colonized. Universities, as I was saying, were crucial to the retention and functioning of this colonial order.

As spaces for the creation and retention of systems of thought, universities contributed to the eradication of indigenous educational institutions and to the displacement, invalidation, destruction, and subalternization of indigenous and African ways of knowing. In the minds of missionaries and “men of letters” –as scholars were called back then–, indigenous knowledges were dictates of the devil and thus had to be disciplined, punished and eliminated. These knowledges and epistemologies neither corresponded to the history of the so-called West the colonizers imposed here in the Americas nor were they recognized as valid or beneficial to the colonial system. Native knowledges did not support racial, class nor gender hierarchies –all organizing principles of colonial America. As Duwamish Chief Seattle said to the settlers that later appropriated his name and this land in the Northwest, Native ways did not see land as belonging to people as the white man understood it, but rather that people belonged to the land. As sites for the development and preservation of ideology, universities thus became the mechanism through which these indigenous knowledges were made inferior and obsolete by the white colonial settlers, replaced instead with Eurocentric lenses of the world. These new lenses were channeled through the academic disciplines that universities engendered –Math, Sciences, Humanities and Philosophy– disciplines all designed to rationalize the Eurocentric white power structure in place still to this day.

From Types of Mankind (1854) by J.C. Nott, and Geo. R. Gliddon. In arguing for the superiority of whites, scientists claimed that the world’s “races” had different “origins” and were therefore different “species”. Photo by APS Museum. CC BY-NC 2.0

From Types of Mankind (1854) by J.C. Nott, and Geo. R. Gliddon. In arguing for the superiority of whites, scientists claimed that the world’s “races” had different “origins” and were therefore different “species”. Photo by APS Museum. CC BY-NC 2.0

Universities were essential to the development of scientific racism. For more than two centuries, from the 1500s to the 1800s, colleges and universities throughout the United States and the Americas supported research and implemented curricula that argued for the enslavement of black people, the superiority of the white man, and the inferiority of Natives and their ways of knowing. Scholars such as Josiah Clark Nott, Robert Knox, George Robins Gliddon, and Samuel George Morton among many others lived to prove that the racial inferiority of people of African, Pacific Islander, Asian, Caribbean, and Indigenous descent, justified conquering them, enslaving them, exterminating them, exploiting them, segregating them, and/or occupying their land. Be this within the newly created U.S. borders, or south of the U.S. borders, or in Africa, or in Asia, or the Pacific Islands, all regions colonized by Europe and/or the U.S. during the 17th, 18th, 19th 20th, and 21st centuries. In arguing white superiority, these scholars measured the skulls of diverse populations, put forth theories of polygenism supporting the classification of human populations as distinct races stemming from different origins, and spoke of the “primitive psychological organization” of slaves. Their research and the value given to it by way of the university institution made it possible to create the logic for the colonization and occupation of vast territories and peoples during the forming years of European and US imperialism world-wide.

Universities both in the North and South of the United States participated in the economy of slavery. As scholar Craig Steven Wilder’s work most recently demonstrates (Ebony and Ivey, 2013), in the South many colleges owned and used enslaved blacks to build and maintain university campuses. Fully at the disposal of the universities that owned them, campus slaves were forced to commit their labor to the campus which held them. They served the students, the faculty, and the administrators. Slaves took care of administrators’ and faculties’ children, rang campus bells, prepared meals, cleaned students’ shoes, made beds, obtained the wood for fires, and tended farmland owned by administrators and universities. In some instances, students, administrators and faculty even paid special fees to their respective university to be able to bring their personal slaves to campus. Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Brown, and Princeton among many other prestigious universities of the North, were no. These institutions suitably accepted into their student body the sons of wealthy slave-owners, including sons of wealthy slave-holder elites from the Caribbean (Wilder)[i]. Both directly and indirectly, universities all throughout the nation supported the economy of slavery, benefited from it, and played a crucial role in retaining the racist and racial order of things in the newly created white settler nation.

Engraving from 1827, University of Virginia. Female slave carrying baby. Zoomed in image of Rotunda and Lawn, B. Tanner engraving from Boye’s Map of Virginia from the University of Virginia Library Materials.

The sons of plantation owners who studied in Europe were seen as experts on Natives and enslaved Blacks because of their close contact with them (Wilder)[ii]. Insisting on the economic benefits of slavery while also furthering the case for U.S. genocidal politics at home, these slave-owners’ sons wrote entire dissertations and gave lectures on the physical and intellectual inferiority of these groups (Wilder)[iii]. Their work’s objective was to dehumanize their subjects or rather objects of study. Their lectures not only helped validate and explain the system of racist economic, social, and political rule in place in the U.S., it also argued for its perpetuation.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Blacks and other people of color in the U.S. as well as Jews and non-Protestant Christians were still not admitted into universities. Black colleges and universities were created for this very particular reason in the 1800s. Throughout the U.S. students of color were not legally allowed into higher education until the second half of the 20th century. That is approximately 50 years ago.

The very university from which you graduate today was founded in 1888, just a few years into the occupation of the Puget Sound area by its white settlers. Even though the area began to be “visited” by English “explorers” in the late 1700s, permanent European settlement was achieved in this region in 1852 when a Swedish man by the name of Nicholas De Lin discovered there was lots of money to be made by exploiting the area’s lumber. The Nisqually and Puyallup regional tribes fought back and in 1855 the settlers were forced to flee, being able to return only after Native populations of the area were put in a nearby reservation by the U.S. government, leaving the Puget Sound area free for its exploitation by the returning settlers. Founded in 1888, our university is directly and indirectly a product of this occupation.

But just as these academic institutions have historically wanted to make you and your bodies of color invisible, there is also a long history of struggle for visibility, inclusion and the right to existence that precedes you; one that also dates back to more than 500 years ago; from Native and slave rebellions, to organized walk-outs, hunger strikes, sit-ins, street protests, to people writing our own excluded histories and creating spaces within academia so that you and I could learn about our own histories and struggles as well as recuperate lost ancestral knowledges. Many students and educators before you even paid with their lives for you to be able to be here today; for you and I to be here today and to celebrate you. During the 1960s young women and men fought the police, racist administrations, went to jail and sacrificed spending time with their own families to create the possibility for you to be able to get the very degree that will soon be in your hands. Your immediate communities and families have also sacrificed a great deal and gone through many difficult moments in life in order to make this day a reality for you. I sincerely congratulate them on this day, only your parents know all the struggles they have endured to make this day possible for you.

During your time at the University of Puget Sound all of you graduates have pushed and struggled and studied late nights and long days to arrive here and you made it to graduation. But always remember that you are exceptions. Despite us now having an educational system that is color-blind in theory, Blacks, Latinos, and Natives specifically, continue to be under-represented among those making it to college and graduating with bachelor degrees. In high schools, Latino and African American students nationally are disproportionately represented at every stage of the school-to-prison pipeline and only 53% of Native students graduate from high school [iv]. In today’s corporatized university system moreover, students of color are shouldering the most student debt, disproportionately higher numbers having to drop out of college because of the economic burden that academia now represents. You graduating from here today is that much more symbolic because of all of this.

But I want you to know you have a long road ahead of you. Twenty years ago a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree held a lot of weight; it was an accomplishment. Today it is still an accomplishment but it does not carry the weight that it once did. So therefore I urge you to go further; I urge you to go get your Masters and your PhDs, to continue your education in one form or another. And I challenge you once you’re out of these spaces to create opportunities for those in your communities of origin. Too many in our communities who make it to far places too easily forget their origins; choosing to distance themselves from their communities and their own community’s history of struggle and survival. I urge you to not be one of them.

I wanted also to tell you you’re definitely not graduating from this institution with just a Bachelor’s degree. By now you all have a PhD in surviving and knowing these dominant white spaces of power that you will continue to navigate after graduation; these are places that will continuously try to shape and mold you and your spirit; dictate who you should be; what you should think; where you should go in life. The University of Puget Sound, while not always the most welcoming space for students and people of color, does in my mind do something beautiful. It challenges you and in doing so prepares you for what is to come ahead. Consciously or unconsciously you’ve met this challenge. While here, the dissident, non-conformist, rebel in you learned how to create what bell hooks would call our own communities of resistance to spaces that in subtle and not so subtle ways too often told you: “you don’t belong here”. That resistance may have looked different for every one of you. For some of you it looked like student activism on social justice related issues, building solidarities between students of color, while for others it may have been selecting particular friendships; or choosing your mentors or simply knowing when to seek spaces away from whiteness. While here, consciously or unconsciously you managed to create for yourself communities that helped you find your way through the daily micro and macro aggressions, the assumptions, the presumptions, the comments inside and outside the classroom, the burden of having to explain yourselves and your experiences –all the time–, the loneliness, the alienation, and yes, the depression. While here, the dissident, non-conformist, rebel in you pushed you to create communities that allowed you your voice whenever you needed to speak, yell and cry; to create communities that also allowed for your silence whenever you didn’t feel like speaking, yelling or crying. While at Puget Sound, the dissident, non-conformist survivor of 500 years of colonization in you also learned to question that which you have been taught in the classroom; that which you read in color-blind texts presenting themselves as universal knowledge.

So you leave here knowing when to separate useful knowledge from that which will not serve you, but further estrange you and worse, assimilate you into what the dominant culture wants of you, thinks of you, and desires of you. There is therefore very little I could advise you today in this art of survival you all know very well and have PhDs in by now. The art is actually now more than 500 years old, passed on to us by our ancestors, our parents, and the collectivity of our resisting spirits.

What advice I can offer however is to not ever let the resister and creator in you be silenced; if you spoke too soft here, amplify that voice; if you found your voice here, solidify and strengthen it. If you feel you are still in the search of your voice, be compassionate and honest with yourself, your interests, and your passions. Dream big and in following those dreams be as persistent as you can be and do not give up or let others take you in different directions.

Be creative. The world that awaits you out there is at times too ugly, too vicious; too inhuman. It is a world replete with racism, fear of your bodies, a world continuously in crisis and at war; a world submerged in a neoliberal economy that thrives on the imprisonment of bodies of color, war, forced migrations, the continued destruction of our mother earth, and the commodification of absolutely everything including love. This is a world that too often will seem to leave little to no air to breathe. So please go out and create your own breathing spaces. Continue in the creation of resisting, loving communities because you didn’t and don’t ever get anywhere on your own. As our Native sisters and brothers will always remind us, we are all connected to communities that transcend time. We’re connected to the first ancestors who walked the earth; to their struggles and their deeds. But we’re also connected to those who are not yet here, those generations who will be born tomorrow and thereafter; those who will walk this earth in the future long after we’re gone. Our job in the middle is to bridge the gap, take on the inheritance from our ancestors and our past, add our own deeds, our struggles, and leave this a better place for those that will follow. The responsibility, to say the least, is tremendous.

So make yourself and your communities visible. Resist becoming invisible; and resist becoming that which others and dominant spaces want you to become; resist it with all of your passion, your love and your humanity. Stay connected and grateful to those who’ve helped you and loved you along the way and those who will continue to be there for you. And give back.

Above all, don’t ever forget we were never meant to be here celebrating you today. Love you all.


[i] Information based on Craig Steven Wilder’s excellent book on the subject of universities and slavery, Ebony and Ivey (2013). I highly recommend this read.

[ii] From Wilder’s book Ebony and Ivey (2013).

[iii] From Wilder’s book Ebony and Ivey (2013).

[iv] “Tolerance in Schools for Latino Students: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline”

From The Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, May 1 2015.

Oriel María Siu is Assistant Professor and the founding Director of Latino Studies at the University of Puget Sound. She earned her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles; her Masters from the University of California, Berkeley; and her BA degrees in Chicana/o Studies and Latin American Literatures from California State University, Northridge where as an undergraduate she was involved in the establishment of the first Central American Studies Program in the nation. Her research and teaching interests include contemporary Central American cultural productions from the diaspora, de-colonial border thinking, Latina/o cultural productions and diasporas, and narratives of race and racisms in the US. She has published several articles on these topics and is currently working on her book on novels from the Central American diaspora. Siu is also a mother and a dancer. She is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras and lives in Seattle, Washington.

Unveiling the Secret to Tenure Expectations

picture of Tanya Golash-Boza

Professor Tanya Golash-Boza

Tanya Golash-Boza (2015 Mujeres Talk Contributing Blogger)

Imagine this: Your first year on the tenure-track, you sit down with your department chair and ask him what the expectations for tenure are. He hands you a written document that indicates that you have to publish six articles, and that you must be first author on at least four. He provides you with a list of acceptable journals and makes it clear that this is the hurdle you have to cross for tenure. You meet with other senior colleagues in your department and across the university, and everyone agrees on the research component of the tenure expectations. You know exactly what you need to do and the only thing left to figure out is how to do it.

This situation, for better or for worse, is remarkably uncommon. Most new faculty members are never told exactly what they need for tenure. Senior colleagues are reluctant to give an exact number of how many articles you need to publish, whether you need articles in addition to a book, which journals are considered important, whether or not you need a major grant, and whether or not book reviews, conference presentations, and book chapters in edited volumes count for anything. Your senior colleagues are most likely to tell you that the tenure expectations are individualized and that a wide variety of portfolios can make an excellent tenure case. They will likely tell you that they are looking for a research profile that demonstrates excellence and an upward trajectory.

As a new faculty member at a research institution, I found this very frustrating. I thought to myself: why can’t they just tell me what I need to do so that I can do it? If you are in this sort of situation, where you are not clear on what the expectations are, one thing is certain: it is in your interest to find out anyway. How do you do that?

It turns out that there are a number of ways for you to figure out what a solid tenure case would look like. You just need to approach this as you would any other research project: ask around, investigate, and look at a variety of cases. Here are four strategies for you to figure out what your research portfolio should look like.

A pen resting on top of an open journal with writing faintly apparent.

On the importance of asking for clarity regarding tenure expectations. Photo by Sebastien Wiertz. CC BY 2.0

  • Ask around at your institution. In your first semester, you should meet with your department chair and with your faculty mentor. Ask both of them to give you advice on what the publication expectations are. They might be vague, but they will communicate something to you. You also can ask other colleagues around the institution, especially if you can find people who have served on the campus Promotion and Tenure committees.
  • Look at the CVs of people recently promoted in your department. If there is anyone who has been promoted in the past five years in your department, you should look at their CV and figure out what they needed to get tenure. Tenure expectations are a moving target, so the more recent candidates are a better comparison case than your older colleagues. You may even be able to ask recently tenured colleagues to share their tenure materials with you so that you can see exactly how they put their case together.
  • Look at the CVs of people recently promoted at other comparable institutions. Most departments post their faculty members’ CVs online. And, since promotion and tenure require updating the CV, most recently tenured faculty have updated CVs online. Look at several CVs of people who were recently tenured in your field and figure out what they had that allowed them to make a compelling tenure case. If no one has been tenured recently in your own department, this strategy can be particularly helpful.
  • Develop your own expectations, and share them with a trusted mentor. After you have compiled all of this information, use it to make explicit expectations for yourself. Suppose, after this research, you determine that you would need a book published at a university press, two single-authored articles in top tier peer-reviewed journals, one co-authored peer-reviewed articles, and at least six conference presentations. Take this information back to your department chair and your mentor and ask them if that would make a reasonable tenure case in your department. Tell them that you have set these goals for yourself, and that you would like their feedback on your goals. Their responses should be enlightening.

This last step is very important. Senior faculty are often reluctant to tell you exactly what you need because they don’t want to be wrong, but also because they do not want you to limit your options. If, however, you decide for yourself what your goals are and make it clear that you want their feedback, they likely will be willing to provide it.

The quest for tenure can be stressful, and the lack of clear expectations makes it more so. Figuring out what the expectations are yourself can be one step towards achieving clarity for yourself, and, in the process, to relieving some of the stress.

Tanya Golash-Boza is a Mujeres Talk 2015 Contributing Blogger. Her academic blog site, Get a Life, PhD, has been online since 2010 and offers “how to” advice for college professors on topics such as how to write a book proposal, revise an academic article, or organize work time in a semester. Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza also leads two other academic blog sites, Social Scientists for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Are We There Yet? World Travels with Three Kids. An Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California Merced, Golash-Boza is the author of four books: Due Process Denied (2012), Immigration Nation (2012), Yo Soy Negro: Blackness in Peru (2011), and Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach (2014). She has also written for Al Jazeera, The Nation, and Counterpunch. She has  a new book out in December: Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism.

The Program in Latina/o Studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Professor Rochelle Gutiérrez at UNC Chapel Hill October 2011 - Talk entitled, "Desarrollando Nepantler@s: Rethinking the Knowledge Needed to Teach Mathematics."

Professor Rochelle Gutiérrez at UNC Chapel Hill October 2011 – Talk entitled, “Desarrollando Nepantler@s: Rethinking the Knowledge Needed to Teach Mathematics.”

Featured as part of Mujeres Talk “Building Latina/o Studies In the 21st Century” Series. For more information please contact us at

by Dr. María DeGuzmán

“What is the state of your Latina/o Studies program and what are best practices for nurturing Latina/o Studies in your institution?” These are the essential questions that inform this account of Latina/o Studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the first program of its kind in North Carolina and in the Southeast. The second Latina/o Studies program to be founded shortly after the one at UNC Chapel Hill was Duke’s and the third one, Vanderbilt’s. When it comes to “best practices,” the local institutional context is key, and, yet, there are general principles to be extracted from the local context despite the idiosyncrasies of that context. When I began my tenure-track job at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1999, Latina/o Studies per se did not exist at UNC or at any other institution of higher learning in North Carolina. Our program defines Latina/o Studies on our website as the transdisciplinary study of ethno-racially and linguistically diverse Latinas/os both in the U.S. and as they move between rest of the Americas or transnational spaces. Our definition includes those of Iberian heritage living and working in the U.S. alongside those of Latin American heritage and Mexicans who were made citizens of the U.S. in the 19th century and Puerto Ricans in 1900. We see the relationship between Latina/o Studies and Latin American Studies in this way:

[While focusing on the United States,] Latina/o Studies is not confined within those borders either to the extent that its subjects of study (and the very creators of the field itself) are in motion and in flux, coming and going, continually crossing borders and boundaries. In this respect, it does share some of the transnational and transcultural scope, momentum, and issues of Latin American Studies but with its own foci, its own perspectives, that owe a great deal to Ethnic Studies and the knowledge produced in and through various intersecting civil rights movements. Latina/o Studies does not duplicate the work of Latin American Studies; it draws on it and complements it. Ideally, this scholarly relation works in reverse, too. Check out more information about the relation of Latin American and Latina/o Studies in the era of transnationalism and globalization in Critical Latin American and Latino Studies, edited by Juan Poblete.

What did exist at UNC Chapel Hill were a number of scholars working in Latin American Studies in a variety of departments—African, African American, and Diaspora Studies, Anthropology, Geography, Romance Languages, and so forth. Some of these scholars were concentrating on questions of immigration to the United States that extended to the experiences of immigrants once in U.S. territory. There were also colleagues in other departments (including my own, then the Department of English and now the Department of English & Comparative Literature) who were cognizant of the importance of responding to the exponential population growth of “Hispanics” in the United States and particularly in North Carolina. As I explained in an article titled “Emerging Geographies of a Latina/o Studies Program” (about the program at UNC Chapel Hill) published in Southeastern Geographer (Vol. 51, No. 2, Summer 2011):

According to U.S. Census and American Community data provided by Odem and Lacy (2009) from 1990 to 2006 North Carolina experienced a 678.4 percent increase in its “Hispanic” population—from 76,745 people to 597,382 or more than half a million people (xii). To fully take into account the “undocumented” one would have to increase those figures considerably—a calculation that might bring the North Carolina Latina/o population to over a million people or approximately one in eight people in North Carolina ten years into the 21st century. As the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina system, UNC – Chapel Hill had and continues to have both an intellectual and an ethical obligation to acknowledge and respond to the changing demographics of North Carolina and the Southeast more generally which, as a whole, according to Odem and Lacy (2009, p. xii), has amounted to at least a 345.1 percent increase of the “Hispanic” population between 1990 and 2006.  [DeGuzmán, Southeastern Geographer, p. 308]

Certainly, one of the strongest rationales for establishing the Program in Latina/o Studies at UNC Chapel Hill was:

the exponential and myriad growth since the 1980s of Latina/o populations in the Southeast and North Carolina not only from Mexico, but also from Central America, and, of course, from other parts of the United States (such as California) as well as from places in South America such as Argentina, Colombia, and Ecuador, to name a few. [DeGuzmán, Southeastern Geographer, p. 308]

How was the UNC Latina/o Studies Program actually created given the local institutional context I have described briefly? The Program grew out of a speakers’ series that I requested as part of my job package. I did not want to be the isolated scholar teaching Latina/o Studies to undergraduates and a small handful of graduate students each semester. So, I requested seed money to begin what I named the UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series. The money was granted and my first speaker arrived to campus fall 1999. Since that fall the UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series has hosted over fifty-eight people contributing to Latina/o Studies and/or culture—novelists, poets, playwrights, performance artists, visual artists, and/or academics. In terms of Latina/o Studies, the speakers series has explored a wide range of topics and has helped to diversify people’s understanding of what Latina/o Studies is and how it is related to, is composed of, and informs American Studies; Indigenous Studies; African, African American, and Diaspora Studies; Asian American Studies; Caribbean Studies; Central American Studies; Southern Studies; Feminist and LGBTQ Studies; Jewish Studies; Media Studies; research and teaching in education; law; healthcare; government; journalism; public policy; and so many other areas. The events of the UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series drew people from all over campus and beyond who were interested in Latina/o studies and affairs. By keeping track of attendance at the UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series I learned who on campus was invested in fomenting Latina/o Studies.

It was through the Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series that a core group of people became aware of how their scholarship and their interests could be brought together under the rubric of “Latina/o Studies” with a specific focus on what was happening within U.S. geographical boundaries. I asked professors from this group of people who regularly attended the speakers’ series events if they would like to propose Latina/o Studies courses or could adjust the courses they were teaching to dedicate at least fifty percent of their course material to the experiences and cultural productions of Hispanics living within the geographical boundaries of the United States. A sufficient number of professors were willing to either create new courses or transform already existing courses so that we were able to propose an undergraduate minor in Latina/o Studies, a minor that was approved March 2004 and inaugurated September 20, 2004 with the visit of Professor Frances Aparicio. With this inauguration the Minor & the UNC Latina/o Studies Speakers Series became the Program in Latina/o Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. Since fall 2004 other speakers series have been introduced under the aegis of the Program: The Teatro Latina/o Speakers Series as well as speakers series associated with a variety of working groups on Latina/os & Health, Latina/os & Education, Literature of the Americas, and Jewish Latina/o Cultural Production. Thus, a little more then ten years later, at least two and sometimes three speakers series and several working groups operate as part of our Latina/o Studies Program. We have a core group of faculty who are passionate about examining Latina/o historical and contemporary presence in the United States; the experiences of Latina/os in the U.S. educational system; the health and educational consequences of Latina/o migration (particularly to the U.S. South) and Latina/o migration as it shapes and is shaped by public policy; the cultural productions of Caribbean Latina/o writers and visual artists; Latina/o music, theater, and performance art; the relation of Latina/o literature to other kinds of media—photography, film, journalism; Afro-Latina/o histories and cultures; and Jewish Latina/o cultural production among other areas of research, pedagogy, and programming.

Since its inception (including the establishment of the first speakers series that is still continuing) the Program in Latina/o Studies has been housed in the UNC Chapel Hill Department of English & Comparative Literature (formerly the Department of English). At UNC Chapel Hill a minor has to be housed in one particular department even if it is transdisciplinary, which ours is, as Latina/o studies programs generally are. Our Latina/o Studies Program offers courses drawn from over ten different departments, among them Anthropology; African, African American, and Diaspora Studies; Dramatic Arts; English & Comparative Literature; Geography; History; Music; Public Policy; Religious Studies; Romance Languages; and the School of Journalism & Mass Communication. As founding director of the Program in Latina/o Studies I made the decision, in consultation with other faculty, to house the minor and the overall program in the Department of English & Comparative Literature because I wanted these studies to be considered an integral part of the study of U.S. culture and of literature written in English though not necessarily, of course, confined to English. The fact that the Department of English became the Department of English & Comparative Literature has strengthened the logic of domiciling Latina/o Studies in this department, as Latina/o Studies is, by definition, fundamentally comparative. The comparative nature of Latina/o Studies pervades all aspects and angles of its investigations—from the study of race and ethnicity, to national origin, to class, to geography, to historical contexts, to politics, to philosophy, aesthetics, and spirituality, to bilingualism and, furthermore, multilingualism as scholars must take into account not only Spanish and English but many variations on their combination in addition to indigenous languages as well as, potentially, other Romance Languages such as Portuguese and French.

The UNC Program in Latina/o Studies that grew out of the UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series has been in existence since 2004. Over the course of eleven years it has expanded in terms of its programming, the number of faculty involved, and the number and range of courses offered. At the department level it is both an undergraduate and a graduate program, but at the College of Arts & Sciences level it is still an undergraduate program. Graduate students can take whatever graduate level Latina/o Studies courses are offered. Graduate students from the Department of English & Comparative Literature can declare Latina/o Studies as one of their fields. However, we still do not have a College of Arts & Sciences-wide graduate program in Latina/o Studies. The establishment of such a program is one of our goals. Another related goal is to foment a Southeastern Consortium of Latina/o Studies. The Program in Latina/o Studies at UNC – Chapel Hill has already been collaborating on programming and course credit with Duke University’s Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South. A larger Southeastern consortium in Latina/o Studies would have the potential to open regular channels of communication among the various Latina/o Studies programs in the region and to create a synergistic constellation of scholarly production, creative endeavor, professional opportunities, and database resources.

As for best practices, I would say the following: 1. Make sure to keep your Latina/o Studies program “alive” and visible each semester through speakers’ series, working groups, and other kinds of venues that attract a variety of participants—faculty and graduate students from a range of departments, undergraduates, administration, staff, alumni/ae, donors, and interested members of the greater community. 2. Have a clear mission and a strong intrinsic reason for the location or institutional positioning of Latina/o Studies whether it is housed in a particular department or is “free standing” as its own department. Both scenarios present opportunities, challenges, limitations, and frustrations, especially in public universities currently struggling to find adequate funding. 3. Generate activities (i.e., speakers series) and participate in organizing structures (regional consortiums and national associations) that place your program in a network of programs and keep it visible beyond the immediate institutional and/or local frames of reference. 4. Be pro-active in engaging administrators, students, and the wider community in which your Latina/o Studies Program is situated about the specific contributions that your program is making to the education and professional preparation of your institution’s undergraduates and graduate students and to the professional development and support of the faculty associated with your program. 5. Keep the offerings of the program fresh and open to new ideas by experimenting with more micro-scale programming that can be managed by graduate and undergraduate students who would like to professionalize themselves through involvement with the planning, advertising, and hands-on management of audio-visual documentation of your events, the creation and maintenance of internet presence (via a website or other digital media tools), speakers series, working groups, conferences, panel presentations, film screenings, and art shows. 6. Advertise and document everything that your program in Latina/o Studies does—via websites, a listserv, judiciously employed social media, and word of mouth. 7. Engage your university’s libraries (including art and film libraries) and archives whenever possible to be sure that the libraries are keeping pace with the scholarly endeavors in Latina/o Studies on your campus and that the university archivists are informed about the institutional value of your program and that they are willing to help you preserve documents and other materials pertaining to the creation and development of your program. 8. If you find yourself attempting to foment Latina/o Studies in a geographical area with very few Latina/os or at a school with a low minority population, consider who your best allies might be in terms of already existing colleagues, programs, curricula, and departments and encourage them to explore Latina/o experiences and cultural productions within the rubric of what they are already doing. 9. In your own teaching, devise ways of introducing the perspectives and critical tools generated by Latina/o Studies to whatever material you may be teaching—even when you are asked to teach courses that are not explicitly Latina/o Studies courses. In other words, treat Latina/o Studies not only as subject matter, but also as a critical lens or, rather, an array of critical lenses through which you, your colleagues, and your students can examine any subject. I have taught a number of otherwise rather traditional U.S. literature surveys this way. In fact, I am teaching one such class now. I call it “Night Optics of the U.S. Novel.” The first novel on our list is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night (1934) and we are analyzing it through the lenses of critical paradigms furnished by Latina/o Studies (for example, the challenge offered by Latina/o Studies to black/white binary conceptions of race and ethnicity in the United States). A Latina/o Studies-inflected approach to a U.S. classic like Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night is yielding some impressive insights among the students and I look forward to their essays on this and the other novels we are reading for this class. I highly recommend making Latina/o Studies relevant to whatever you find yourself having to teach. This method allows you to introduce students to Latina/o Studies in a manner that de-ghettoizes it and that encourages all students, regardless of major and/or minor, to find use value in the contributions of Latina/o Studies.

María DeGuzmán is Professor of English & Comparative Literature and founding Director of Latina/o Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of two books: Spain’s Long Shadow: The Black Legend, Off-Whiteness, and Anglo-American Empire (University of Minnesota Press, August 2005) and Buenas Noches, American Culture: Latina/o Aesthetics of Night (Indiana University Press, June 2012). She has published many articles on Latina/o cultural production, and she writes and teaches about relationships between literature and various kinds of photographic practice. She is also a conceptual photographer who produces photos and photo-text work, both solo and in collaboration with colleagues and friends. She has published essays and photo-stories involving her photography. Her images have been chosen as the cover art for books by Cuban American writer Cristina García and the poet Glenn Sheldon and for books by academic scholars. Her photography has been exhibited in galleries in the U.S. and abroad. She is also a music composer. Her music explores storytelling with and beyond words and the creation of strongly atmospheric “scenes” through various kinds of acoustical experiments with instrumental as well as vocal music. She is enhancing already existing courses and developing new courses by combining the study and practice of literature, optics, and acoustics. You can listen to samples of her music at:

Works Cited:

DeGuzmán, María. “Emerging Geographies of a Latina/o Studies Program.” In Southeastern Geographer. Volume 51, Number 2, Summer 2011: 307–326.

Odem, M. E. and Lacy, E. (eds). Latino Immigrants and the Transformation of the U.S. South. Athens: The University of Georgia, 2009.

UNC Chapel Hill Program in Latina/o Studies Website: Last visited 2 September 2015.

Focus on Dr. Daisy Cocco De Filippis

Dominican Blue Book

President Daisy Cocco De Filippis was born in Santo Domingo. Her parents moved to the United States when she was 13 years old. She served for many years as professor of Spanish and Latin-American Literature at The City University of New York (York College). De Filippis is currently president of Naugatuck Valley Community College—the first Dominican president of a community college in the United States.

President De Filippis holds a Ph.D. in Spanish Language and a M. Phil. in Spanish Literature from the Graduate School and University Center of CUNY, as well as an M.A. in Spanish Literature and a B.A. in Spanish and English Literatures summa cum laude from Queens College, CUNY. A published author and literary critic, her scholarly work is recognized internationally as pioneering the field of Dominican women studies and Dominican authors in the U.S.

Prior to coming to NVCC, Dr. De Filippis served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY). Dr. De Filippis began her career at York College as an adjunct lecturer in 1978, advancing to become a professor of Spanish and ultimately being appointed associate dean for academic affairs.

As president of NVCC, Dr. De Filippis has been honored by the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, the Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity and the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission. She was also invited to speak at the Waterbury mayoral inauguration in 2012 and named Dominican Mayor of the Day in 2013. She has previously been the recipient of, among many other honors and awards, the Woman of the Year Award from the Association of Dominican-American Supervisors (2006), the Order of Merit, Duarte, Sanchez and Mella in the Rank of Commander, presented by Dr. Leonel Fernandez, President of the Dominican Republic (2005), the Hija Distinguida of Santo Domingo (Distinguished Daughter) Award, presented by the Mayor of Santo Domingo (2005), the Educator of the Year Award from Dominican Times Magazine (2004), the Order of Merit Cristóbal Colón, in the Rank of Commander, presented by Hipólito Mejía, President of the Dominican Republic (2003), the Myers Outstanding Book Award, presented by the Gustavus Meyer Center for the Study of Bigotry in North America, to authors of Telling To Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios (Duke University Press, 2001), Simmons College (2002), the Influential Latina Award, El Diario/La Prensa (1998), a Citation for Outstanding Contribution to the Community and Academe, Ruth Messinger, President, Borough of Manhattan, New York (1996), and a Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Academe, Claire Shulman, President, Borough of Queens, New York (1994).

Like the best professors, De Filippis begins our interview by directing me to the definitive written resource on the subject at hand, in this case her remarkable essay “The House that Mamá Biela Built,” published in Telling to Live. She then proceeds to speak spontaneously, with flowing ease and often poignant honesty, about her early life and intellectual formation.

“My grandmother was a teacher. Born in 1898, she had very emancipated ideas for a woman of her time. She believed that girls could do anything boys could do, and she also believed in me with a passion that nobody else has yet believed in me. My parents were divorced when I was very young, and she taught me to love one of my fundamental loves, the place where I go to find a sense of order and beauty in the world and that is poetry. Poetry defines the manner in which I communicate. I’m not really a poet, although I do write poetry for my granddaughters, because I would like them to remember me in a similar fashion; but I have written many books promoting, translating, and analyzing the poetry of Dominican writers. I learned from her a sense of who I was and what it meant to be Dominican. We used to walk the street to visit women who had been friends of her mother. I was a little girl who actually liked to sit with old people and listen to them tell me stories about how the city was formed, who our family was and what they contributed to that. I would sit in the park and read and make sense of things, I was going through a difficult time since it’s not easy to have your mother remarry when you are four years old. She was my anchor, and through her, I learned to love my island and love my half-island; and through her I learned that there are many traits in my character, resilience and creativity and endurance, that come precisely from what it means to grow up with palm trees that never bend, though they certainly sway, and are not broken by the storm. All of that shaped my view of the world.”

At the Graduate School and University Center of CUNY, De Filippis wrote her doctoral thesis on Dominican poetry: the first dissertation to deal with Dominican literature, it thus became the first of numerous historic milestones she has chiselled out for the community in her career. Due to the boldness of her endeavour, she was advised to present the subject in a European theoretical framework. “I used the theories of Michel Riffaterre. The semiotic study of poetry really looks at the way words relate to one another so that they make meaning. The words need to have a reason to be there, to belong. Semiotics is about organizing. That was the framework, but I got into texts that dealt with a Dominican reality, that brought in the voices of the Dominican countryside. It created a controversy in the Dominican Republic.” De Filippis acquired the reputation of being “a Dominican critic who promotes Dominican works.” In fact, however, her guiding principle was much broader: “I just promised myself I wouldn’t write about anything I didn’t like. That I would just take the time to bring justice to good works.”

With President De Filippis, the conversation flows naturally and easily back and forth between life, literature and language. “My dreams and aspirations have always been very, very high,” she recalls, “because I grew up with a grandmother who introduced me to books as the best way to find meaning in life. In a difficult situation, the best getaway is to enter a book and find yourself in it and find comfort in it and through reading, you understand that there are multiple ways to make meaning in this world and there are different ways of organizing and creating stability, beauty, and knowledge that are not dictated by one culture or by one gender or one people. So I learned very early on, I was bilingual in the Dominican Republic, by the time I was eight or nine I was fluent in Italian, and I learned a lot. My stepfather’s mother came to live with us, and since I gravitated towards old people, I had two grandmothers, one Italian, one Dominican. It shaped my understanding that you could say things in different ways and it would still mean the same thing. You could look at the world, organize the world with different grammatical order, with different words, and the meaning at the heart would still be the same.”

Stories that tug the heartstrings featured prominently in the adolescent De Filippis’s development of her keen eye for patterns of meaning. She likes to say that Charles Dickens picked up where her grandmother left off: “in the sense that Great Expectations was the first complete novel that I read in English, in 9th grade. You know Dickens talks about children who are abandoned and disenfranchised but in the end, somehow justice prevails. There’s a sense of comfort that things are going to work out. And so I think that first year, being in this country and being away from my grandmother, and the way she taught me, reading took over that role.” Later in life, visiting the Dominican Republic for the summer with children of her own, De Filippis had the chance to watch her grandmother giving the same lessons to them. “She would draw a leaf, and she would begin to show me the different parts of the leaf in her drawing, and then we would go to the park– el Parque de Ramfis, now called el Parque de Hostos. What we try to teach our college students in General Studies, which is how connected things are—I learned that from her, as a kid: that a leaf can nurture a life, can feed it, but also can nurture the spirit if you paint it or if you write a poem about it, if you write a story about a tree. Those lessons I learned from her early on and I brought them here, and then Dickens gave me the sense that I could survive, because junior high school is a really tough environment.” De Filippis has since written articles on the subject of the trials and tribulations of junior high students. She notes that she still mourns her grandmother, who died at the age of 86.

Summarizing her revelatory essay, De Filippis tells me that “the conclusion of ‘The House that Mamá Biela Built’ is that I am that house. I am that house that she built, and my survival or my strength and the fact that I can go to New York and now be in Connecticut and have a way to make home and I use the tools to make this home: being who I am, a Dominican mother who is now a grandmother, who is also an administrator and educator but who has also written many books and reads poetry. This campus reads poetry all the time.” She mentions that acclaimed Dominican writers Chiqui Vicioso and Marianela Medrano (a close personal friend of long standing) will be visiting soon. Medrano hosts a poetry reading called Confluencia four times a year at Naugatuck Valley Community College, a tradition now in its sixth year. The fifth-anniversary milestone was marked by the publication of a book: Confluencia in the Valley: Five Years of Converging with Words, with a Foreword by President De Filippis herself.

De Filippis recently stepped down as president of the Dominican Studies Association, a position she had held since the 1990s. “We would get together every couple of years: it was about me disseminating Dominican Studies but also about having the young people that were coming up get to know one another and hear what they have to say and create our own sense of space and history.”

What challenges she has faced as the first Dominican community college president? “I think the challenges that I have are about the same as I would have, whether I were Dominican or not. You’re really trying to open the doors, to bring people in. This past May, our graduating class was aged 17-71. We have a group of students who are finishing high school and for two years they take some college-level courses and get a certificate in manufacturing, so I had a bunch of 17 year-olds who were graduating from high school who already had a certificate from a community college so that they could begin to look for work.” Though the school is predominantly white (60%), De Filippis is proud to say that the current freshman class is 25% Latino (the figure for the entire student body was 14% when she arrived), and that the school is applying Hispanic-Serving status.

As De Filippis tells it, the story of her becoming president of NVCC hinged on a basic, undeniable chemistry, a sense of mutual trust and serendipitous synergy that became apparent in her immediate encounter with the school, with the people who work and study there. “There was an incredible meeting of minds when I came here. I really wasn’t planning to come. Somebody nominated me. They wrote to me asking if I would like to be considered and my husband said, ‘You can’t say no to what hasn’t been offered, or to what you have not seen.’ He and I drove over here and I saw Waterbury, which has one of the highest poverty rates in Connecticut. And I saw a lot of young men, especially black and Latino men, on the corners. And I thought, ‘So, I have a reason for coming to this place.’ I came here and the search committee had set up interviews with all the different constituencies in the school from 9:00 in the morning until 5:00 PM, when I finally met the search committee. The students, faculty senate, student senate, different administrators, you name it. And the message I got at the end of the interviews was: We really want you to come. So by the time I talked to the search committee, I also wanted to come. The challenge I had was this: I came to an environment that was ready for change. I always say, I’m very grateful to those who came before me, because they did some work that I don’t have to do.”

Although the college sits in a landscape of sweeping storybook grandeur, there were some changes to the space and its use that immediately cried out to be made. De Filippis followed her intuition and common sense. “Having been at CUNY, where it was very difficult to see any green, and having come from an island, here, I’m surrounded by a glacial ridge of trees. What I didn’t see, however, what was lacking, was the pulse, the vibrancy, the life, that we had at Hostos Community College, where I had been the Provost for six and a half years and which I loved very much. Here, I had all this beautiful space, but there wasn’t a single garden. I walked through the fifth floor that connects all the buildings on campus, but with these beautiful corridors with glass so you see all this wonderful vegetation outside, there wasn’t a chair for the students to sit in. Everything was beige. There was a sense that, as Aida Cartagena Portalatin (about whom De Filippis has published a book) would say, a woman was needed here, and I am that woman.

“What it was lacking was a kind of nesting, creating a space and organizing the space. I looked around and I didn’t see too many services being offered. I also noticed that the graduation numbers were not high. There were many things like that. So I started by defining the space as a place where student success is our expectation.” De Filippis also notes with approval that how to make a good flan has become widespread knowledge at NVCC– thanks to the many flans that she herself has made for her constituents (it is, she says, part of the essence of governing as a Hispanic woman).

Far from imposing an autocratic vision, the dynamic transformation De Filippis has wrought consists in empowering her various constituencies in multiple ways. “I have taken the fifth floor and given people permission to paint the walls.” De Filippis found painters and encouraged them to get started changing the look of the place, adding more warmth and color. “We reconfigured one space on the fifth floor and created the Academic Center for Excellence. I envision it as a New York loft with movable pieces, so the students have free tutoring and mentoring that they can go to seven days a week, including at night.” The library was reorganized to make it more accessible, more integrated with the heart of the campus.

“We took all the furniture from the core of the building and sent it to the prisons to be reupholstered. We got the students in the arts program to take ownership of the walls and paint them, so we began to create this learning commons, with multiple seating areas for the students.” These initiatives inspired the workers in the Admissions, Registrar, and Cashier’s Office to come forward with ideas for reorganizing their working spaces “in an orderly way that would make sense for the students,” De Filippis tells me. Services were streamlined and consolidated. The staff of the Center for Academic Planning and Student Success also spoke up in turn with ideas for optimal use of their space.

President De Filippis has also worked with local and elected leadership to bring evening bus service to Waterbury, secure funding for an Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center, receive two Fulbright Scholar-In-Residence guests and bring the federal GEAR UP program to Waterbury. NVCC also established a Bridge to College office, which administers $12 million in grants aimed at preparing students to enter and succeed in college.

With striking clarity of vision, De Filippis repeatedly returns to the connection between these enormous practical and logistical advances made at NVCC under her administration and her lifelong passion for literature. “You see, my writing a doctoral dissertation on the semiotics of Dominican poetry was great because it brought me into the world of Dominican letters. I studied poetry as a tribute to my grandmother. But then I came here and I said, wait a second! Semiotics is also lean management. Everything is where it’s supposed to be, for the purpose that it’s supposed to have.

“I arrived here on Bastille Day, July 14, and I remind them of that. The number of graduating students this year was 1,353. So we’ve more than doubled the number of completions.” Under her guidance, student retention has steadily risen, enrollment has increased from 6,128 students (fall 2008) to 7,293 students (fall 2013), and graduation awards have grown from 521 (2007–08) to 1,353 (2013–14) total awards.

“We are the only community college in Connecticut that has had the honor of having more than 1,000 completions in a year. This is the third year in a row. The first year the number was 1,008, then it went up to 1,252, and now it’s 1,353. But for the black and Hispanic students, the numbers have more than doubled. It’s a 200% improvement in completion. So I’m here for everybody. But because I am here and because I’ve created an environment where the students all know me as ‘President Daisy,’ and I spend time and I listen to them, and they all feel that if this sixty-something woman, who’s a grandmother, who has an accent, who’s an immigrant, can be one of the most effective presidents for a community college—and I’m not bragging, it’s a fact, my supervisor tells me that—then they can do anything. So my being a woman, my being Dominican, my being Latina—and I embrace all of my students, I don’t care what color they are, because anybody who comes here is mine, I’m their mother, guide and mentor, I’m their defender, but to have the black and Latino kids rise the way they have risen gives me tremendous satisfaction. I am doing what I have done my entire life, which is: I am an educator for everybody; I try to help my people as much as I can.”

I ask what her proudest accomplishment as president so far is. “Having created an environment where students believe in themselves and having given the support for them to jump high, to aim high, and achieve, and I’m going by the number of completions, which is spectacular here.” In her scholarly work? “Giving voice to the Dominican literature written in the United States in Spanish.” Here, again, De Filippis’s sense of literature as a dynamic social force is crucial. “I have received as much recognition from the community as I have from the academy. Helping as much as I can to create space, not only at the institutions where I am but in the institutions where I have friends who are academics, for Dominican writers in particular, but not limited to those. You want to maintain the flow of the community. I think I contributed to that.” She is also a prolific translator, but mentions that only in passing, as she moves on toward more vital concerns. “As much as time would permit, I have done a lot of work to promote that. I (and many others) have become a vehicle for the country to open itself to its racial makeup, to the role of women, to the need to embrace the Haitian as your brother or sister, because after all, we are Haitians here. Who cares whether I was born on the west or east side of the island? I’m very proud that the women in particular have embraced a very open and inclusive approach. We, from here, have become examples; have become a constant mirror to some of the lesser angels of the island.”

The unity of art, scholarship, and life is a truth De Filippis affirms once more as I ask for her advice to young aspiring scholars or administrators. “I never took a course in administration, education, or accounting. I have managed more budgets than I could tell you. The humanities and the arts teach you to think on your feet, teach you to read, teach you to communicate, teach you to be serious, and give you the tools to do anything. The best administrators, in my experience, are those who begin as faculty, who learn what it’s like to get through one semester, which bring the experience and can then guide others and become the chair and ultimately, if they have the patience for many meetings, continue to advance. I always tell the women’s groups I get invited to speak to that I didn’t have a road map; what I kept on with was my spirit open to possibilities. And then, when you go there, whatever it is that you do, the important thing is to believe in it. If you love it, you will do your best. When I began teaching at York College, everybody thought that being an accountant was the way to go. But in the end, you’ve got to be able to get up in the morning. I love my job. I love what I do. It has meaning for me. I want to do more of it. And I could tell you honestly that since the day I began working in 1975 when I graduated from Queens College with a bachelor’s degree and they made me an adjunct—I taught two courses. And I went to pick up my first check. I laughed all the way home, because I would have paid to stand in front of a classroom and teach.”

As we conclude our conversation, President De Filippis stresses the continuity between her past, whether as a child in the Dominican Republic or as a young teacher at CUNY, her present at Naugatuck Valley, and her future legacy. “Wherever I came, I carry all those people with me. Wherever I am, I’m Dominican. Wherever I am, I will honor that. And wherever I am, I want people to understand that it is a good and beautiful and honorable thing to be Dominican. I have three sons and two beautiful granddaughters, one of whom is nine years old, and she writes poetry. She sent me a poem last week: ‘I am from / burnt caramel flan / and the soft fabric / of my abuela’s shawl.’ My work is done.”

This is one of several profiles featured in the newly launched Dominican Blue Book by the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, which this year is celebrating its 20th Anniversary with a grand event, The Dominican Intellectual Legacy Gala, on Saturday, December 6, 2014, at 6:30 p.m. Congratulations to the Dominican Studies Institute on this important anniversary!

“Presumed Incompetent” and Fight the Tower

presumed incompetentDr. Ramona Fernandez

Since the publication of  Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women (PI) edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris in late 2012, a quiet storm is gathering on the edges of academia. The book and subsequent Berkeley conference gave isolated women of color in academia impetus to step forward. Reading Presumed Incompetent is painful, so painful and so familiar many of us have to take it in small doses.

The truth is, academia is not a way station where rationality overcomes prejudice, but a site for the enactment of oppression essentially no different from any location. Under the rubric of what we assume is an honorable profession dedicated to making the world a better place, all the irrational competition and hatred that is race, gender, class (and the host of –isms which help prop up these central three) remains at the center of the intellectual project. Presumed Incompetent gathers together more than 500 pages of documentation of discrimination against women of color in academia. As stereotypical oppression after oppression is revealed in this collection, the reader is overwhelmed by the inevitable conclusion that not much has changed in this supposedly post-racial world. Many of us have been suffering in relative silence, believing that the treatment we have been receiving was unique and somehow pinpointed real faults of our own. Now, it is both liberating and frightening to realize that our sisters have been enduring similar treatment and worse.

As the stories poured out in response to the volume, it became clear that there was a need both to continue documenting them and to create a movement. The book has caused so many of us to come out of the woodwork, expounding our similar stories, that two law journals have made a coordinated effort to gather subsequent stories together.  Both the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice and the Seattle Journal of Social Justice are publishing issues devoted to follow-up on Presumed Incompetent. fight the towerThe revelations in PI have inspired a movement which is coalescing around a site created by Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde, herself one of the most courageous survivors. Her battle for tenure damaged her health to the point she lost her unborn child and was clinically dead for ninety minutes before being resuscitated. The details of her story can be found in the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of the Seattle Journal for Social Justice along with the details of my own journey. Her site, Fight the Tower, will continue documenting stories and pressing for the kind of change we need in order to remake academia into a place where we do not have to be ten times as competent just to survive.

My own story includes the ridiculous fight for tenure I had to endure because of the veto of one Dean. Despite passing muster through all the relevant committees, this Dean refused to support my tenure bid twice, reluctantly not standing in my way the third time. By the time I was finally tenured, I had endured damage to my health and professional confidence. And before I had regained my footing, I found myself the sole caregiver for my handicapped and elderly mother while also undergoing a transplant operation. Every time I was poised to regain my former health and momentum, either the continuing abuse of my institution or my health problems surfaced in such a way that I found it literally impossible to walk or talk the path I knew was my destiny. Instead of perceiving me as the treasure I am, complicated institutional politics continued to bludgeon me with ridiculous assumptions about my work and health. Collapsing in the department office and being transported by ambulance to the hospital only increased the abuse. Ironically, one of my most vivid nightmares came true: I would almost expire right in front of the eyes of my “colleagues” who didn’t care enough to check whether I was dead or alive. “My” institution has lost all moral authority over me as a result of this litany of absurdities, and I consider myself a free agent living inside the mouth of the monster.

Women of color all over the nation are waking up to the struggles we have in front of us for the foreseeable future, realizing that academia is another battleground where we must continue to fight for recognition and respect. Academia is not for the feint of heart because it has long propped up all the elements of oppression in a complicated alliance with the powers that be. Our inclusion has tested its foundations and its foundations have been found wanting. We should never assume we are living in an ivory tower from which we can leverage social change: the ivory tower is allied with an abusive social structure, props it up in formal and informal practices and itself needs to be resisted. The stories emerging in the aftermath of Presumed Incompetent are stories of multiply valenced oppressions which enter our bodies, causing permanent disabilities which further weaken our efforts to fight the tower.

Research has demonstrated that oppression causes a host of chronic illnesses which are then used as excuses for further oppression and, for some, result in the end of their careers. The increased demands for work product created by neoliberalism since the middle of the twentieth century have increased productivity in every job sector without subsequent compensation. Academia has not been immune to this global trend, but the toll it has taken on those of us who are not enfranchised is huge. Those in the majority may produce adequately but for those of us not accepted inside academia as legitimate, no amount of production or excellence will suffice. The pressures create impossible demands, demands we seek to fulfill at the risk of permanent damage to our physical and psychological well-being. Wed to these demands are constant criticism born out of prejudice and hatred, born out of the simple fact that few in the majority have truly internalized their own pronouncements about equality and justice.

PI points out that “Betrayal of women faculty of color is also the betrayal of explicitly stated institutional values and goals within higher education in the United States” (Collin 302). We know that silence in an indication of abuse; the publication of this volume and its subsequent collections represent an end to the silence and a cry for action. Part of that action recognizes that those who should stand beside us, our fellow women of color, are sometimes among those actively complicit in our oppression. For this reason and many others, it is critical that all of us speak truth to power as often and as loudly as possible. Latinas are the most underrepresented cohort in academia. That will not change without tremendous effort. We must learn to ally ourselves, and we must do so in an organized fashion with a cohort of other women of color who are willing to be part of an effective resistance movement, a movement which is organized, courageous and committed to changing academia as just one of the many steps we need to take to change our world.

Works Cited

Collin, Robin Morris. “Book Review of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersection of Race and    Class for Women in Academia.” Seattle Journal for Social Justice 12.2 (2013): 301–317. Print.

Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella et al., eds. Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Boulder, Colo: University Press of Colorado, 2012. Print.

Dr. Ramona Fernandez is an Associate Professor who has taught at the college level for forty four years and is a graduate of The History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her book, Imagining Literacy: Rhizomes of Knowledge in American Culture and Literature was a finalist for the Frederick W. Ness award from the Association of Colleges and Universities and is now available in a Kindle version. She is gratified beyond measure to be part of the Presumed Incompetent movement.

Dichos for Success While in College a Long Way From Home

by Sara A. Ramirez

It’s been over a decade since I left my childhood home in Dallas, Texas, to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame. And it has almost been a decade since I graduated from there. Although I was the first in my family to leave home for college, I was certainly not the first out of that group to leave a place I understood as “home.” I am the daughter and granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. My people are migratory people. We have been moving for centuries, and I’ve learned to appreciate my nomadic status as part of my life path.

One of the Chicanas whose writings have helped me understand “home” differently is Gloria Anzaldúa, who professes, “[I]n leaving home I did not lose touch with my origins because lo mexicano is in my system. I am turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back.” I haven’t lived in Dallas since I was 18, but “home” has been with me when I lived in other places like South Bend, Indiana; Oakland, California; San Antonio, Texas; and even London, England.

Since I left, I’ve met lots of Latinas—who like me—have chosen to attend college a long ways from home. I’ve consulted with one of them, Sonia I. Valencia, to offer you some dichos. Sonia is originally from Orange, California, and has also relocated to three cities away from home to pursue her bachelor’s, master’s, and now doctoral degrees. I hope the following tips help you on your journey as you leave one of the first places you’ve called “home” and come to know the home you carry on your back.

“La/El que nace para maceta del corredor no sale.”

This dicho encourages you to break out of the maceta (the plant pot). Like a healthy plant, you are bound to blossom. Imagine your consciousness to be like roots that—as you experience and learn more—grow longer and deeper into the pot in which you’ve grown comfortable. You will likely get the feeling that the pot isn’t for you anymore. Allow your roots, your leaves, your flowers to keep growing beyond the pot, off the porch, past the sidewalk, and as far as you can go.

This growth may happen in lots of different ways. For instance, many of us who are the first in our families to go to university believe we should pursue majors that will make our families happy, so that one day they can proudly tell la comadre that you’re a doctora, an abogada, or an ingeniera. But just as you made the decision to leave the place you call home, you will recognize the importance of continuing to pave and follow your own path. Anzaldúa writes, “I had to leave home so I could find myself, find my own intrinsic nature buried under the personality that had been imposed on me.” Let yourself fall in love with subjects outside of what is considered traditional. Take a Women’s Studies class or an Ethnic Studies class when you get the chance. When you’re at the campus bookstore, check out what other professors are having their students read. If the books seem interesting, get the book and/or jot down the name of the class and/or professor. Google their faculty profile, and try to take a class with them in the future.

Remember, you won’t know what’s “out there” or “in here” (*points to heart*) until you venture off the path you think you’re supposed to follow.

“No hay mal por que bien no venga.”

But while you’re out there reaching far beyond your comfy plant pot, you will stumble and sometimes fall. Although you may proceed with caution, some things will not go as you planned. This dicho is for those times. Loosely translated, it means, “No bad will come without good.” I have heard this dicho not only from my parents but also from my beloved Chicana mentors, and I live by it.

When something goes wrong, try to remember that there is a silver lining to every cloud. There will likely be times when you will remember the dicho above and then ask, “What good could possibly come of this?” When that question comes up, consider any lessons you may have learned or how this “bad” incident will direct you to a different path that could possibly be good. When I was a senior at Notre Dame, I applied to various doctoral programs in English and two M.A. programs in English  I was accepted only to the Master’s programs, one of which was at Notre Dame and the other was in San Antonio. Going to San Antonio was the best thing that could have ever happened to me; this is where I met three Chican@ mentors, who helped me come to consciousness as a Chicana feminist. It was they who encouraged me to pursue Chican@ Studies or Women’s Studies for my doctorate. With their guidance, I was accepted to five of the eight doctoral programs I applied to the second time around. Of course, I cried when I didn’t get into the other programs, but I had to remind myself, “No hay mal por que bien no venga.” When one door shuts, another one opens, and here I am.

“La sangre te hace pariente, pero la lealtad entre amig@s te hace familia.”

To help you see the “bien” in the dicho above, you’ll need social support. For many, family is important, but don’t believe that that’s all you have. There are people outside of your family who can and will care about you as much as (and sometimes more than) those with whom you grew up. As this dicho indicates, “blood” makes you relatives, but loyalty between friends makes you family.

Learn “to make familia from scratch” even when your relatives are close. This means forming bonds with the people who are around you at school. Get to know the student organizations on campus. Type in “student organizations” (sometimes called “Student Activities” or “Student Life”) into your school’s homepage search bar to learn about what’s out there. Pay attention to flyers put up on student bulletin boards to find out when their meetings are, and attend! If you don’t see an organization that reflects your interests, ask one of the staff at the Student Activities office how to create your own.

Creating community is essential to not only your college experience but also your life experience. A lot of times we’re told to seek out people who are unlike us so that we can learn from them and they can learn from us, and that’s important. It’s equally significant, however, to seek out people who will understand you (e.g., your humor) and share your interests (e.g., your love for cumbia, your disdain for homophobia and sexism). You’ll need a support system during rough times, which might happen when you miss your loved ones or when you get your first C.

Special thanks to Luz Ponce de Chihuahua, México, who directed me to these dichos.

Sara A. Ramírez is a Ph.D. Candidate in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also part of the Third Woman Press Collective and an adjunct instructor in Women’s Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Of Puerto Rico, Perfumes and Colonies

by Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo

It was circa 1983, when I was a junior high student in the public school system in Puerto Rico, that I experienced one of my first deep contemplations about Puerto Rico’s political status by way of an exchange between a teacher and a classmate. The exchange was in Spanish, of course, so before I actually delve into the tale, I need to explain the “punch line” (in my opinion, the biggest disadvantage of translation). Mainly, in Spanish, the word for colony, “colonia,” is also the word for cologne. Understanding the nuances of this story, and why I found it so meaningful, is contingent upon understanding this homophone.

The Story

My eighth grade Social Studies teacher, I will call her here Miss Vilas, was a young woman fresh out of college, who came to work every morning on the back of a black Harley Davidson driven by her boyfriend, at a time when young women did not have “boyfriends,” did not ride in motorcycles, and definitely did not ride in their boyfriend’s motorcycle.  But she didn’t seem to care about societal expectations, and that translated to her work in the classroom. Always eager to teach us a few things about Puerto Rican society beyond what was stipulated in our curriculum, Miss Vilas was a good teacher, and her willingness to step out of boundaries appealed to my inquisitive mind. One day, out of the blue she began a discussion about the political status of the island, an event completely out of the ordinary, for up to that moment, the political status of Puerto Rico had been presented to us, not discussed in class. The Estado Libre Asociado or ELA (that is the Commonwealth status) was always taken for granted in the curriculum, and if anything, up to that particular day, I was under the impression that the ELA would always be an immutable and permanent fixture in the island’s government.

Our extraordinary discussion soon generated what seemed an extraordinary reaction. Upon hearing the name “Estado Libre Asociado,” “Bill,” one of my most articulate classmates, scoffed loudly and rolled his eyes, while playing air drums with his pencils to a tune only he could hear. Bill’s reaction made Miss Vilas stop dead in her tracks and look at him, intently, with a mysterious, undecipherable smile. Bill, still playing air drums, had closed his eyes, completely unaware of our teacher’s penetrating gaze until she finally asked: “why such a strong reaction, Bill?” Bill responded (without missing a beat with the pencils and with a mysterious smile of his own) that the ELA was nothing but a colony (“el ELA no es nada más que una colonia, Missis,” he quipped). The rest of us gasped in collective unison, but Miss Vilas quickly but firmly shot back: “colonia no, perfume” (which roughly translates as “not cologne, but perfume”). Her smile was intact.

The Lesson

The majority of us understood her point: perfumes are supposed to be of better quality than colognes, which are generally less expensive. Many of us laughed at her response, while Bill seemed to be taken aback by it—his air drumming stopped altogether, his smile turned into a frown. I laughed with the majority of my classmates, but I had to process what that really meant. Was she defending the political status of the island? I may have looked at it as a permanent fixture, but even I knew that the ELA was nothing if not flawed. This exchange between my teacher and my classmate stayed with me long after I graduated from junior high, from high school, and from college, and through my years as a graduate student and now as an academic. After all, Miss Vilas was not the only one on the island who thought that the Commonwealth was indeed not a form of cheap cologne but a fine bottled-up perfume.

The Take Away

Thirty years later, I now see Miss Vilas’ witty response to Bill not necessarily as a defense of the Commonwealth status, but as a tactic for dealing with a taxing situation (i.e., an unresolved political status that has lasted for half a millenium) by exerting some agency against its overwhelming weight. She was, in a perhaps awkward way, redefining her subject position (and by extension the subject position of all of us in her classroom, for we were all Puerto Ricans) vis-à-vis the US: in the end she did not want to be seen as (nor did she want to be) the subject of a cheap colonial configuration, to be sure. Miss Vilas’ way of engaging with the Commonwealth taught me an enduring lesson: regardless of the position from which they may advocate a particular political view, Puerto Ricans are painfully aware of the Commonwealth and its impacts, and do what they can to negotiate their location within it. It was also telling that even though we had never been formally taught about colonies as such, we still knew, as thirteen-year-olds, that the word (especially as it was being used by our classmate Bill) was meant as an insult, and a clear indictment of the island’s government. Our collective gasp reflected how much we knew, at such a young age, about colonies and about insults.  That the status of the island could be articulated as an insult, and thus something to be wielded in order to put people (us!) down, was a major insight to me that day.

In retrospect, the fact that I remember this particular exchange so vividly is indicative of how ingrained and even traumatic notions of Puerto Rico’s status can be. My recollection of the exchange often returns in my musings about the island, as it was around that time that I began to consciously process and sift through ideologies about its political status.  The exchange between my teacher and my classmate ultimately taught me that, as a Puerto Rican, I should learn to simultaneously deal with sensibilities that metaphorically articulate Puerto Rico’s status as a “cologne,” and those that articulate it as a “perfume.” The biggest insight for me now, however, after years of studying, thinking and writing about Puerto Rico’s political status, is that, although the island may actually be a little more than cologne, in the end, it is all colony. From the government to the educational system. From the economy to its daily diversions and entertainments. From the unemployment rate to the ever-expanding Diaspora (of which I have been a member for 20 years now). From every institution to every minute aspect of life. All colony. Then (when I was in school learning about the ELA), and now (as I continue the struggle to envision a future for Puerto Rico beyond the ELA).

Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University. Her current research is on Latinos in the US, “the War on Terror,” and popular culture. She is a member of the Mujeres Talk Editorial Group.

Reflections on Language and Identity

"Zine Study XIV: [language]" Photo by Flickr user Shawn Econo. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“Zine Study XIV: [language]” Photo by Flickr user Shawn Econo. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 by Lucila D. Ek

When my ten-year old niece was a toddler, my mother taught her to say the parts of the body in Yucatec Maya. My niece repeated the words that my mother slowly and carefully pronounced. My mother would then quiz her: “¿Dónde está tu chi?” and my niece would point to her mouth. “¿Dónde está tu pool?” and my niece would point to her head. They played this game repeatedly.  While I was glad that my mother was trying to teach her these words, as a bilingual education scholar, I knew that memorizing isolated words and phrases was not enough for my niece to acquire our Mayan language. After all, my sisters and I never really learned to speak Maya despite hearing it spoken by our parents and adult relatives who spoke it with each other. We did learn some vocabulary but cannot carry on a conversation in our heritage language. As kids growing up in Los Angeles in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, my sisters and I spoke Spanish at home and in our community while English dominated at school. There really were no resources to help us develop and maintain Maya.

I used to think that my sisters and I didn’t learn Maya because we grew up in the United States. However, the lack of support for developing and maintaining heritage languages was the same in Mexico, as my cousins who grew up and still live there did not learn to speak it either. In our native Mexico, Yucatec Maya, like many indigenous tongues, has low prestige and its speakers are stigmatized. In our pueblo, Spanish is the dominant language in town life and the language of instruction in school. The loss of Yucatec Maya in my family both in the U.S. and in Mexico is distressing because identity and culture are inextricably connected to language as Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldúa so profoundly claimed, “I am my language.” She was referring to the Spanish of the Southwest found in her native Texas, yet her assertion applies to all languages and their varieties.

Many scholars from multiple disciplines have shown that language is inextricably linked to our notions of who we are and to how we signal our identities in our everyday lives. For example, anthro-political linguist Ana Celia Zentella demonstrates how English and Spanish and their varieties are used by Nuyorican youth to signal various identities. Linguistic anthropologist Norma Gonzalez’ research on Mexican origin women and children in Tucson emphasizes the links among language, emotion and identity. My own work emphasizes youth’s use of Central American varieties of Spanish for maintaining and practicing Guatemalan and Salvadoran culture in Los Angeles. These are a few of many studies that underscore the language-identity connection.

Seeing that her daughters have lost their Mayan language, my mother struggles to keep that from happening to her granddaughter. Yet, the threat is not only to Yucatec Maya but also to Spanish, our family’s other native language. For my sisters and I, developing and maintaining Spanish was challenging enough given that there was no bilingual education program in our K-12 schooling. Then (as now), English-only ideologies and policies created a context that was hostile to the development and maintenance of languages other than English, particularly Spanish. Among immigrants in the U.S., the heritage language is lost by the third generation—unless there is some sort of intervention/maintenance effort. Knowing the propensity toward language loss, my family and I were determined that my niece be bi/multilingual. Indeed, my niece’s first language is Spanish. Both sides of her family agreed that they would speak to her and expect her to respond in Spanish.  Spanish-speaking family members include four grandparents whose dominant language is Spanish, as well as her two parents and three aunts whose first language in Spanish. Furthermore, my niece has attended a dual language program since kindergarten. In addition, she has spent two-three weeks in Yucatan every year since she was five. Nevertheless, today in the fifth grade, she is defaulting more and more to English.

No, en español no, Tía,” she pleads.

Sí en español, dímelo en español,” I tell her.

“¿Por qué?” she asks.

Porque español es el idioma de mi corazón.” I respond. “Y tú eres my corazón.”

She beams.

By connecting her to Spanish and to my heart, I emphasize the emotive dimensions of language and identity. To be a tía to my sobrinita must be done in the language best suited to express the love that I feel for her. However, the Spanish that my family and I speak is not “standard” or academic Spanish. Rather, when I am being most myself, my Spanish includes English words, phrases, and loan words, and sometimes even a Mayan phrase or two. As Ana Celia Zentella has shown, code switching is a complex identity signaling and identity building practice by bi/multilinguals. She argues for an acceptance and validation of bi/multilinguals’ linguistic realities and calls out the “bilingual language patrol” who attempt to police and contain Latina/o languages. Patrolling and policing Latino/a ways of speaking further stigmatizes certain varieties of Spanish contributing to language-identity shame and loss.

I bring these deeply personal linguistic experiences to my work as a bilingual teacher educator in San Antonio. I start by interrogating what we think of as “correct” or “good” Spanish, the kind that the Real Academia Española, would approve of. I share my stories of language and identity loss with my Latina/o students, many of whom have similar experiences. They share their experiences in Spanish courses that dubbed their Spanish—and by extension, them–as inferior. Given the hostility and violence that their non-standard ways of speaking elicited, these teacher candidates are caught in a bind: How do they accept and validate their students’ Spanish while at the same time teach them the more prestigious, academic variety? How do they accept and validate their own Spanish which they’ve pegged “mocho,” “pocho,” “pobre,” “incorrecto”? They must learn to first accept, validate and feel proud of their Spanish so that they can teach their students (and their children) to love their languages and themselves. It’s not an easy process given the continuing English-only, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino/a ideologies that are rampant in the U.S. but together we can continue to resist these beliefs and practices so that my niece and other Latina/o children do not suffer needless loss of their languages and identities.


Anzaldúa, G. (2007). Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA:  Aunt Lute Books.

Ek, L. D. (2010). Language and identity of immigrant Central American Pentecostal youth in Southern California. In N. Cantú & M. Franquiz (Eds.), Inside the Latin@ Experience: A

Latino Studies Reader. (pp. 129-147). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

González, N. (2001). I Am My Language: Discourses of Women and Children in the Borderlands. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.

Zentella, A. C. (1997). Growing up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Lucila D. Ek was born in Yucatan, Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of four. She attended public schools from K-12th grade in Los Angeles, California. Before earning her PhD in Urban Education from UCLA, she was a bilingual-bicultural elementary teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Currently, she is an Associate Professor in Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research centers on the language and literacy of Chicana/os and Latina/os, and bilingual teacher education. Her work has been published in Anthropology & Education Quarterly, International Multilingual Research Journal, Bilingual Research Journal, and the High School Journal.

Enriching our Educational Advocacy for Latino Students and the Community

Public Meeting in Texas on HB5.

Public Meeting in Texas on HB5.

by Maricela Oliva

Those of us involved in education have for years focused on school achievement or college success, foci that are conceptualized in terms of lower (K-12) or higher (post-secondary) education. I propose that we need to evolve and enrich our educational advocacy from a school or college issue to one that re-imagines educational success as a P-16 endeavor. This seems easy enough to do, but I argue that it is actually more difficult because it requires our involvement in efforts to impact educational achievement with cross-level and systemic rather than level-focused interventions. These broader interventions require collaboration and interdisciplinary boundary-spanning work. Furthermore, necessary and cross-level systemic change is best achieved with the participation not only of individuals and groups working on issues from the inside of key educational organizations but also of allies working from outside them, in the broader community.

An illustrative example for those of us in Texas is the HB 5 statute that passed the Texas Legislature in Spring 2013. This bill packaged two large objectives in one instrument: a reduction of testing at the school level (as advocated by school level educators and scholars) and a change in the high school preparation curriculum. Changes to the curriculum eliminated the common high school preparation curriculum while putting in place a foundational curriculum for all with additional voluntary endorsements that schools could also offer their students (multidisciplinary, arts, STEM, other). The statute had multiple stakeholders of support: teachers, school-level scholars, technical-vocational educators, corporations, employers, and a Republican governor. Higher education was not among those supporting changes in the curriculum. Focusing on college readiness, the Commissioner of Higher Education actually argued against changes in the high school preparation curriculum because of the negative impact on the college readiness of all, especially Latino students.

Paradoxically, educators at both lower and higher education argued that their opposite views reflected concern for the well-being of students. How can this be so? Advocates and detractors of the bill were looking at it from their unique perspective and often failed to see the issue or concern from the level different from their own. In other words, school advocates did not understand or think the higher education critiques important enough to hold back their support of the bill. From the higher education side, Higher Education Commissioner Paredes was not able to convince supporters that they might be helping themselves in terms of testing reduction but hurting themselves by eroding college readiness and access for students.

Bill sponsors were smart, in my view, to package the two issues (testing reduction and curricular change) in the same bill. They anticipated that supporters of the testing issue would overwhelm critics of the curricular change issue; indeed, this is what happened. School-level educators were so keen on getting the school testing reduced that they did not listen to or hear concerns from higher education about the new high school graduation requirements. For example, they did not hear that 8th graders from low-income and first generation families might not select the high school curriculum that would be in their long-term best interest and that would promote their readiness for college. They did not pay attention to concerns that high achieving graduates in the foundational curriculum would no longer be eligible for Texas’s automatic college admissions program for students in the top ten percent of their graduating class, undermining a program that has enabled access to elite state universities for new students, including Latina/o students. They did not pay attention to the fact that colleges and universities would still look most favorably on students who demonstrate traditional college-readiness, nor to others’ equity concerns given that not all schools would be able to offer all of the voluntary endorsements. In the end, bill sponsors with sleight of hand, managed to create a scenario that almost guarantees that in the future, fewer Latino students will be college ready and college admitted to an institution of choice when they graduate high school. If young people and their families are allowed to pick their high school curriculum in 8th grade, quite a few may not understand the consequence of choosing a curriculum that makes room for employment in high school rather than college ready courses, one that allows them to avoid Algebra II rather than challenge themselves with rigorous coursework to make themselves an attractive applicant when they apply to college, etc. Since the various curricula are often incommensurate, young people will find it difficult to recover from the wrong choice once they later better understand its impact on their college access and readiness.

I recently sat in on a conference session in which school counselors and other school level educational personnel learned about and asked how to implement HB 5. School curriculum directors and higher education admissions officers made up a panel that presented their view of how HB 5 would impact their work. My understanding of what I saw and heard in that session is that implementation will be very complicated at the school level. Furthermore, those districts and schools in which personnel already have a handle on facilitating college readiness (i.e., those with a college-going culture) will do their best to implement the unfunded mandate in ways that anticipate students’ mistakes and that leave their college readiness options open until students fully understand the impact of their decisions. They plan to do this with face to face meetings with each individual child and their parents to explain the curricula and what they mean. However, at schools with overwhelming counselor-to-student ratios, such as at schools that are majority minority or that do not have a college-going culture, it was not clear that they could be so effective. Students there, the ones that we already have the biggest challenge getting to college, probably will not get this high level interaction as they choose their high school curriculum. For us in Texas, the largest and fastest-growing group in the school pipeline is Latino students, who are now the most at risk from these curricular changes.

How could this happen in Texas, a relatively policy savvy environment in which we already recognize the importance of promoting college-going among Latinos and where we have long acknowledged the importance of Latino youth to the future well-being of the state (see Closing the Gaps). This happened because first, analysts focused on issues at K-12 or post-secondary levels of education and did not have a sufficiently developed P-16 view of the issues that impact our community. Second, conservative policy-makers packaged the two issues in the same bill so that concerns about proposed changes to the high school preparation curriculum would be overwhelmed by support for testing reduction. And it worked.  So now, is it possible to “make a silk purse out of [the] pig’s ear” that is, potentially, the curricular part of HB 5?

Those of us in education and community advocacy have learned to be vigilant about what happens with schools and to better understand the need to talk to young people in concrete ways about the school to college pathway. In San Antonio, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) had already created OurSchool Portal ( as a program that allows parents and families to understand educational impacts and outcomes at area high schools. The intent was to help parents and families advocate for changes that would improve children’s educational success and college readiness. At the state level, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board created Compare College Texas ( so that families and prospective college students can look for institutions that are a good fit for their needs and interests. Nationally, The College Board has created a comprehensive online program for exploring colleges and college choice throughout the US. BigFuture ( encourages children and parents to explore their options early and together. In this way, parents can be part of the college readiness and choice process, even if they did not themselves go to college. A few weeks ago in March, the College Board also announced that they are giving four test report waivers to low-income high achieving students to encourage them to apply to four colleges, which is likely to improve college fit and student success. The College Board has made other changes recently to encourage more low-income and minority students to prepare for college and apply to institutions that meet their needs. Research has shown that highly prepared young women, Latina/o and other minority students sometimes do not apply to selective colleges even when they are well prepared to succeed there. This can limit not only their college options but prospects for future professional success.

So what is my take-away from this discussion and the HB 5 illustration? To better serve Latina/o and other community youth, we need to develop our understanding of how school issues impact college readiness and success. As a post-secondary educator, I am making time to study how local schools provide adult guidance for college to their students. In this way, I walk my talk by learning how I can be an effective partner to schools in my area, in order to promote college-going for Latino and other youth.

Can you take on an initiative in your area to promote student success along the school to college/university pathway?  Whether we are school or college educators, doing so will require that we study and learn more about the educational level that is different from the one in which we now work or in which we were trained. If we do, we can be better advocates for the educational success of our youth. Only our future depends on it.

References: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (2000). Closing the Gaps: The Texas Higher Education Plan. Austin: THECB.

A native of Texas from the Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Maricela Oliva is Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her scholarly work focuses on issues impacting college access for students; namely, policy, race, class, first generation status, and school-university linkages. She is a member of the Association for the Study of Higher Education and the American Educational Research Association. With AERA she has served on national conference planning committees for Divisions J (Higher Education) and L (Policy) and was elected Council Member At Large for the 1800-member Division J (Postsecondary). Dr. Oliva serves or has served on four journal Editorial Boards, including The Review of Higher Education, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, and the Journal of Research on Leadership Education. She has published articles and chapters as well as a book, Leadership for Social Justice: Making Revolutions in Education, now in its second edition. She currently serves as an elected member of the Academic Assembly Council of The College Board.