Category Archives: higher education

Advocating for Ethnic Studies in 2017

Lessons from Ethnic Studies on Strategic Courage

By Andrea Romero and Michelle Téllez

On May 5 2011, a small group of faculty from the Arizona Ethnic Studies Network gathered in Tucson following a devastating Tucson Unified School board meeting where the Mexican American Studies program in the district was ended. It was a blow that was felt deeply by us all. We came together as scholars from universities and colleges across the state to publicly voice our support for Ethnic Studies. This was in the aftermath of HB 2281 that banned courses that “(1) promote the overthrow of the U.S. government (2) promote resentment toward a race or class of people or are (3) designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group (4) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” (AZ House Bill 2281, 49th Legislature, 2010). This bill was used to target, monitor, and dismantle a successful Mexican American Studies curriculum, despite the fact that external auditors determined that the courses were academically successful and promoted positive group interactions (Cabrera, Millem, Jaquette & Marx, 2014; Cambrium Audit, May 2, 2011). In response, we worked as a network to ensure our critiques were made public and to support those teachers and students who were being directly attacked. It was from this source of collective action that we drew strength, and from these activities was born new research, new relationships, stronger students, and a highly aware and involved community.

We find ourselves again at a point in U.S. history where higher education is under conservative scrutiny and new “watchlists” for “dangerous” professors are being created and used to threaten and intimidate scholars in the academy. We live in a country that has been shaped by a particular history of exploitation, genocide, and exclusion. In this, Arizona is not an anomaly, but the norm. However, given the legislative battles we have had in in this state over the last six years, it seems important to comment both on our experiences and on what we imagine our role as Ethnic Studies scholars to be in the coming years given the emergence of what mainstream media Continue reading

Some of my Students are Leprechauns (Or Why it is Difficult for White College Students to Understand that Racism is still a Big Deal) Photo by Edward Foley (CC BY-NC 2.0). Photo by Edward Foley (CC BY-NC 2.0).

By:  Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo

“The new world of monsters is where humanity has to grasp its future.”
—Hardt and Negri, Multitude

Teaching Introduction to Ethnic Studies and the Art of Asking Questions

I hate surprises in the classroom. I appreciate the potential of surprises in life. The promise they sometimes carry with them. The ability to keep me on my toes, so to speak. But to be clear, I hate surprises in the classroom. Especially when I teach lower division courses. When I teach Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies in particular, a service course we do for the university, I follow a simple, modified rule designed for lawyers in court: do not ask a question for which you do not know what the answer will be. The questions I am talking about here are not questions about class content, but rather demographic or attitudinal questions, that is to say, questions for which the answers will illustrate a particular point. This is not about students knowing the “correct” answer, but about me knowing the answer that students will give me beforehand because although I do not know each one personally, I have a certain general knowledge about who is in my classroom, and the ideas they may bring with them. Thus, I rely on both experience and “external” indicators to anticipate what their answers will be. For instance, when I ask my students in the Introduction course (like I usually do at the beginning of the semester) to stand up if they see themselves as White (to make a point about the changing definitions of “Whiteness” in our country), I know, before it happens, that 80-85% of the 100 students in the classroom will stand up (because I know the student demographics at our institution). Also, when I ask for the left handed students to raise their hand to make a point about certain predictable angles of “random populations,” I know that about 10% will do so (because they mirror the general population, and the very point I am making by asking them to raise their hand is based on that precise fact). And when I ask them to talk to me about their experiences with “diverse populations of students” at their high schools, I know what they will tell me (e.g., whether there were “lots of students of different backgrounds in their high schools” or whether they “hadn’t interacted much with students different from themselves until they stepped foot on our campus”), depending on what part of Washington they went to school.

On a carefree day, I would say that I have turned this “asking only questions for which I know what the answer will be” endeavor into a work of art. Over the years I have become accustomed to and very comfortable with this practice: I always know (at least approximately) how many students will stand up or raise their hands, or the verbal answer they will give me in response to a question I make. Like I said, I hate surprises in the classroom.

The Question that Broke my Art

A few years back in my Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies class, during a lecture on the use of American Indians as mascots in sports teams, I made two simple points: (1) the (ab)use of American Indians as mascots is tied to the (ab)use of American Indian cultures and peoples by mainstream American culture, which has a long history; and (2) the practice must be terminated. I showed them horrifying visuals depicting these practices throughout the decades, including pictures of sports teams using the American Indian mascots of other teams in violent, degrading ways. During this lecture, I lingered on a particular picture of a state college with a bull as a mascot portraying the American Indian mascot of its rival state school on its knees performing fellatio on their bull. My students thought the picture was in bad taste (which is a start), but I also asked them to think about the treatment of mascots in general, and whether it was fair to portray human beings in the same light. For instance, a tiger performing fellatio on a bulldog is still in “bad taste,” but the objections may end there. This was not the first time I had given that lecture, so I knew the point the students were going to raise in response, which they did, right on cue: American Indians are not the only “humans” portrayed as mascots, for we also have the “Vikings” and the “Fighting Irish,” they earnestly offered.

I always take this point very seriously, because I assume they bring it up in good faith, wanting to understand the difference. This time, my answers were simple but to the point: As a group of people, the Vikings (like the Trojans, and the Ancient Greeks) are gone, the American Indians are still with us. As for the Irish, I usually concede that it is a good example, because the Irish, as a people, do exist. I could have easily gone into all sorts of discussions about the positionality of the Irish as an ethnic group within U.S. culture or even within the United Kingdom, but this time I decided to take a different route: I asked my students what the mascot of the Fighting Irish was (and as with every question I ask in that class, I knew the answer). They promptly and ceremoniously responded: “a leprechaun.” Then, with the picture of the bull and the American Indian on his knees still up, I asked my students to raise their hands if they had American Indian ancestry. I saw them hesitate, so I made it clear: raise your hand if either of your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents is or was American Indian. Around 30% of the students in the classroom (regardless of how they identified ethnically or racially) raised their hands, and as always, I knew they would. So, I said, that picture right there (pointing again to the Indian on his knees) is about your relatives, which is to say, is about you. Now let me ask you this: How many of you have leprechaun relatives? I thought I knew the answer to this question. The question was supposed to be a throwaway, a joke for them to get the point. No hands were supposed to go up. Not one hand up was the answer I knew to expect. But, to my surprise (yes, a surprise in my classroom), at least three white-identified students raised their hands. Not as joke, not even as a challenge to my authority, but as a bona fide answer to my question. I am hardly ever thrown off balance in my classes, but for a fraction of a second I was, and then sternly told those students to put their hands down because although I hated to break it to them, “leprechauns, just like unicorns and mermaids, do not exist.” At least not in the corporeal sense that would prompt genealogical claims. For a moment there all I wanted was to get those hands down and erase the incomprehensibility they represented. But regardless of how fast they put their hands down (and they were extremely fast), my fail-safe system of asking students questions in class was broken. Even if momentarily.

Some of my Students are Leprechauns, Which is to Say, they Think Racism is not a Big Deal

Those hands confirmed that this generation of students is truly lacking an understanding of the historical impact and contemporary reverberations of racial formations (a la Omi and Winant) and racism. More to the point, if students do not understand the difference between “real” and mythological peoples or even how genealogy has operated in their own creation, how can they understand the difference between racial myths and racial realities, or how racism works in our society? Students suggesting that mythological leprechauns or extinct Vikings are as abused as flesh and blood American Indians should be troubling enough. But for them to actually identify with the figure of the monstrous leprechaun by seeing themselves in that figure should be beyond comprehension. Unless you understand this generation, that is. This is the first generation of White Americans raised with a societal understanding that equality between the races as a principle should not be disputed. However, this understanding has been intertwined with a convenient lie, mainly, that we have actually achieved racial equality. That lie has taken root because although their generation is buffered by my generation (Generation X), which was born after segregation and other major forms of de jure discrimination were deemed unconstitutional, studies show that buffer notwithstanding, White millennials have not transcended the history of this country. Thus, when it comes to expressing racism, Millennials are sometimes no better than their parents (Gen Exers) or their grandparents (Baby Boomers) (Clement, 2015). As Michael D. Smith argues, “the education [white Millennials] have received has left them ill-equipped to understand the nature of racism,” as they “have inherited a world in which the idea of ‘reverse racism’ has been legitimized…” (2015). Their “education” has taken place in a vacuum where discrimination against Black folks (which they equate exclusively with slavery and perhaps segregation), was something that happened in a long and terminated past, something that has no repercussions today because, as they’ve learned, we are now all equal.

And that is the crux of the matter, for if as they’ve been instructed, we are all equal today (whether we descend from American Indians or leprechauns), that means that Whites can experience as much discrimination as anybody else (hence “reverse discrimination”). So, from this perspective, Black folks, American Indians, and Latinas/os may be having a hard time in our society, but by golly, so are Whites. Their understandings of race and racism have become another mythology, where their perceived oppression is equal to that of anyone else’s. And in their mythological views about race and racism, their non-human, monster-like “leprechaun ancestors” are being abused by sport teams, just as are those of American Indians. Unfathomable to many, but if we (professors) are to help them understand their own positionality within historical and contemporary manifestations of racism, and to help humanity “grasp its future” as Hardt and Negri compel us, we must become adept slayers of mythical creatures in this new world of monsters, which irritatingly enough, seems to include a classroom surprise or two.

Clement, Scott. 2015. “Millennials are just as Racist as their Parents.” The Washington Post. April 7.
Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. 1994. Racial Formations in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge.
Smith, Michael D. 2015. “Millennials are Products of a Failed Lesson in Colorblindness.” PBS. March 26.

Some Advice for Surviving Your First Year in a Doctoral Program

By Irma J. Diaz-Martin, Tanya Erazo. Introduction by Sujey Vega 


Many doctoral students are nearing the end of the Fall semester or quarter in their programs and for those in their first year this often means having the reality check that this graduate school is a whole different ball game with a whole new set of rules. By now you should be thinking through your final research paper for seminar, sifting through external readings, developing your thesis, and outlining your paper. If you haven’t started, get going. November has begun and here comes that week long event of drafting, eating, revising, eating, and revising we call Thanksgiving (uh, yes, in grad school we work through holidays).

The end of my first semester in a doctoral program was a terrifying experience. I feared my papers weren’t good enough, my arguments were weak, and my true role as a charlatan would be revealed. I can thankfully say that I survived that first semester, and am motivated to help current students to develop strategies for avoiding or managing those fears. I’ve asked individuals from the Facebook group, Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees, to provide some words of wisdom. Though I completed my doctoral degree 7 years ago, I continue to appreciate their notifications on my feed because they are incredibly supportive and a wonderful resources for those entering, surviving, and completing their doctoral degree. Here, they offer you, incredibly talented yet possibly anxious reader, some friendly advice on what they wish they had known their first year.

Researching With an Open Mind

By Irma J. Diaz-Martin


Obtaining my doctoral degree is making my long life dream reality, as it is a way of showing my family how much I appreciate all of their hard work, struggles, and sacrifices they made for me.  My childhood memories are filled with the image of my parents working in the back-breaking agricultural field of the hot New Mexico scorching sun, earning an honest day of work.  It is a way of leading by example as I encourage all Latinas to succeed and continue working towards their degree of choice.  Pursuing an advanced study now enables me to encourage others through mentorship and giving back by having the ability to stand in front of a classroom and teach others how to succeed.  Lastly, it is the ability to fulfill my belief in being a lifelong learner as I seek to continue finding solutions in making the workplace a more productive and employee friendly environment for my brothers and sisters serving in law enforcement through research.

I am the first in my family to graduate from college, and now the first doctora.  Failure was not an option and I made it.  So what advice to do I have for my hermanas who are in the battlefield trenches of a doctoral program right now?  I followed some very simple and practical advice from professors who were willing to share their knowledge and keys to success.  They were as follows:

·      Start your first year with the intent of reading and studying widely in your chosen fields. This will lead you to identify your topics of interest, and, eventually, your dissertation topic. Keep track of your readings, take notes, identify experts in the field, first sources, and themes.

·      Read, read, and read while keeping all citations in a program such as EndNote or RefWorks to manage your bibliographies, citations, and references.

·      Always read and research with an open mind.  Seek to explore your interests in your chosen field of study, with the purpose of identifying what is known while also attempting to identify areas of your study which have been unexplored.  Think about how your contribution of knowledge will expand your field of study.  Approaching seminar papers in this manner will open up your horizons by helping you identify your topics of interest and unexplored research for the formulation of your research questions.

·      Use technology to your advantage.  You can use your phone and tablet to make notes when you wake up in the middle of the night with ideas for your projects and/or dissertation.  Jot your ideas down so you remember them the next day.  If you don’t have anything technological at hand, use a pen and note pad!

Follow all of the above from the start and you will have some material to build on when you get to later stages of doctoral program. Lastly, don’t forget to take care of yourself and loved ones while you completing your program as it becomes all consuming.  Y recuerda, todo es possible con ganas y determinacion!

Financing and Community

By Tanya Erazo

This is getting harder and harder to procure, but do not pay for a doctoral degree. They should pay you — tuition and a stipend. There are so few of us Latinas getting these degrees and we had to overcome a lot of things to garner admittance into doctoral programs. So, we should be taken care of when we arrive. Also, find students like you. My friends who are first-gen and/or doctoral students of color and I are a collaborative community. We share reading materials, scholarship opportunities, etc. with one another. Overall, stay close to your community — whether that be family, friends (in your field and outside of your field). Call them, visit them, live with them, whatever! You will need their support.

Lastly, find mentors who understand you. Reach out to a successful Latino, Person of Color, LGBTQ+ student or professional in your field who can guide you. Listen to their advice, but ultimately make up your own mind. I will never forget the Latinos who were straight up strangers who have helped me out. I am lucky that I am not shy because I would just send emails to people telling them I’d read their work or knew them through such and such conference, and ask them “Can we talk?” During one of these meetings, a Latino Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of a university graciously took the time to help me conceptualize a potential dissertation idea before I was even admitted to a doctoral program. I will never forget what he told me. After I thanked him profusely for his time, he said something to the effect of, “We don’t have many Latinos in academia to mentor us.” He urged me “When you get in a position to do so, I just ask that you help another Latino or Latina.” We should all aspire to do this. We didn’t get here alone; it’s a community effort. Let’s not forget that when it’s time to help the next student.

Sujey Vega is on the Editorial Group for Mujeres Talk and is an Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University. Dr. Diaz-Martin recently graduated from Brandman University, part of the Chapman University System, with her Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership (Ed.D.).  Her research interests are law enforcement culture, generational cohorts, and organizational leadership.  She currently serves as a Board of Director for the California Association of Criminal Investigators (CACI), which represents over 500 members.  Dr. Diaz-Martin is pursuing her passion in adult education as an adjunct professor and certified instructor for police academies in the State of California.  She is a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE), the Rotary Club, and United Way Women’s Leadership Council. Tanya Erazo, MA, CASAC-T, is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. She is in her second year and currently balancing research, coursework, clinical work, and teaching responsibilities