July 20, 2017
The Latino/a Knowledge Community strives to support the research and share the stories of colleagues who are completing scholastic work, especially focusing on Latinx/a/o educational issues. If you want to have your research or story shared, please contact Sarah Rodriguez ([email protected]) or Marissa Vasquez Urias ([email protected]).
Title: Assistant Professor
Institution: University of Nebraska- Lincoln
What initially interested you in studying Latinos in higher education?
I knew very early in my life that I wanted to study Latino students in higher education. As a child, I accompanied my mother as she pursued an undergraduate degree at Cal State San Bernardino. I witnessed her struggle for several years as a single mother and full-time student. My earliest memories are of us standing in line, waiting to be seen at the campus financial aid office, the county office for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and the Riverside Housing Authority to apply for Section 8 low-income housing. I remember my mom asking on the first day of every class whether the professor would have a problem with me sitting in during lecture. Most didn't take issue but one professor humiliated my mother in front of a group of students by yelling at her, “What’s wrong with you? Why would you bring your child to class?” Even as a child, I understood that the dynamics of race, class, and gender were at play in this interaction and that my mom, even without me there, would not feel welcomed in that particular classroom environment. The instructor demonstrated a lack of sensitivity to the struggles my mother faced as a low-income, single mother, and transfer student. Such observations imbued me with a deep sense of the challenges faced by low-income, students of color and motivated me to pursue educational research.
How has your research evolved over time? What is a finding you did not expect?
As an undergraduate student in Chicana/o Studies at UCLA, my research focused on military recruitment practices and militarization of public schools. Then, as I entered graduate school at UCLA, my research focus shifted toward an exploration of how individuals are racialized across social contexts and how ethnicity, ethnic identity, and proximity to an immigrant experience inform the ways individuals respond, react, and resist this racialization.
An emphasis on race, ethnicity, and immigrant generation continues to be at the center of my research agenda as I explore different higher education contexts, including STEM fields and community colleges. I am most moved by the level of resilience students demonstrate to overcome challenges they face in pursuing their educational goals. I also continue to be amazed at the depths of inequity that continue to exist in this world and how beholden we all are to unfair, unjust, and dehumanizing ways of being.
What motivates you to continue writing and pursuing this line of work?
At a superficial level, I want to document some aspect of the human condition. I want my work to be a cultural artifact that I’ve left behind that tells the world how I saw things, how members of my community experience things. My intrinsic desire to generate new ideas, theory, and my lived experience is rooted in a need to impose myself into an anthropology that would otherwise not catalogue my existence. Thus, while it is a privilege to write and research as an academic, I also think the ability to document, describe, catalogue, and reflect on the social world is a right. As a scholar, I hope others see themselves reflected in my work and that they too engage in the emancipatory and revolutionary practice of theorizing their existence. My writing is thus motivated by a need to not only represent myself, but also my ideas, while investing in writing and research as a collective and liberatory practice.
Beyond these motivations, I keep writing because I want to be a better writer. I find it true that writing really is thinking. Even on days that I feel unmotivated, I think of the rush of excitement when a new project idea comes to mind and how my fingers just seem to move to the music blasting in my headphones. Despite being told that I am not a good writer (among other negative comments throughout my schooling), I try to dismiss those thoughts as not helpful and keep pushing to make my ideas clearer and become a stronger writer.
How can your research influence the work of student affairs professionals?
The student affairs profession has had a profound influence on my training as a researcher. While completing my doctoral training, I worked in the UCLA Student Affairs Information and Research Office (SAIRO) and then worked as a post-doctoral research fellow in the Office of Assessment and Educational Effectiveness at California State University, Fullerton. It has been a tremendous benefit to be trained as an academic researcher while also working as a student affairs professional. As such, I’ve learned to ask myself: Is this a realistic recommendation that I am making? Is this a recommendation that I can make to a specific student affairs unit? What are some of the challenges associated with the implementation of said recommendation? My hope is that whatever recommendations come from my research, they speak to specific people on various campuses and that these people can come away with some ideas to guide institutional practice.
Do you have final words of advice?
At this early stage in my own career, I struggle with not knowing whether my work will make a difference in this world. My work is both invigorating and exhausting; liberatory and oppressive. I would guess that others experience these same contradictions and transition in doing any form of social justice work. Anzaldúa’s words give me strength at this juncture:
Indigenous like corn, like corn, the mestiza is a product of crossbreeding, designed for preservation under a variety of conditions. Like an ear of corn—a female seed-bearing organ—the mestiza is tenacious, tightly wrapped in the husks of her culture. Like kernels she clings to the cob; with thick stalks and strong brace roots, she holds tight to the earth—she will survive the crossroads.
- Gloria Anzaldúa, La Conciencia de la Mestiza
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