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Scholar’s Corner: Learning to Do It All with Grace

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Dr. Nancy Acevedo-Gil

January 22, 2019

The NASPA Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community (LKC) strives to support the research and share stories of colleagues who are engaged in scholastic work, especially those who focus on Latinx/a/o educational issues. This year, the LKC co-chairs are highlighting the strength, resiliency, and tenacious nature of mujeres in the field who deliberately and wholeheartedly embrace both motherhood and their professional roles as scholars (#LatinaMamiScholar). We would love to feature your story on the NASPA LKC Scholars Corner!   


If you would like to share with our communidad, please contact LKC Research and Scholarship co-chairs Claudia García-Louis ([email protected]) and/or Tracy Arámbula Ballysingh ([email protected]).


Dr. Nancy Acevedo-Gil has two daughters, Diana Isabella and Victoria Linda. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Technology at California State University, San Bernardino. She applies critical race theory and Chicana feminist theories to examine the transitions of Latina/o/x students along the higher education pipeline, in order to inform asset-based policies and practices. A native of northern California, Nancy earned bachelor degrees in social welfare, legal studies, and Chicano studies from the University of California, Berkeley, master’s degree in Mexican American studies from San Jose State University, and from the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.


As an undergrad, I first saw Profesora Josefina Castillo Baltodano as a Latina-mami-scholar; she would share stories about navigating motherhood along her pathway to university presidency.  As a doctoral student, my examples of Latina-mami-scholars grew by seeing how Drs. Gina A. Garcia and Elexia Reyes-McGovern, Lisa Garcia-Bedolla, and Frances Contreras navigated academia as mothers. These mujeres served as my role models and I was able to visualize that it could be possible to “do it all” but as Josefina would say: “just not all at once.” However, it was not until I had my first child, Diana Isabella, that I began to understand the difficulties of balancing multiple roles as a Latina-mami-scholar. 

I was fortunate enough to have Dr. Danny Solorzano as my dissertation chair; anyone who knows Danny, understands what an amazing mentor he is. As a third-year PhD student, I had to share the news that I was pregnant. I was nervous and had no idea how to say it. I can’t remember why but my husband went with me and he had no problem exclaiming, “She’s pregnant!” Danny’s immediate reaction was pure joy. After celebrating, we looked through the calendar and established a plan for me to propose my dissertation before my February 3rd due date. Then, I did it; I took my qualifying exam and wrote my proposal in about a month. Luckily, much like her mother, Diana Isabella was late and I defended my proposal February 2nd.  

I was fortunate to have access to the UCLA hospital and the doctors, midwives, and nurses were supportive on every level. At one point, the doctor asked if I wanted to be induced because he remembered that I had a conference to attend. I declined but thought about his attempt to be supportive in helping me navigate academia while having a baby. Regardless, I was determined not to slow down and at about three weeks old, Diana Isabella was the “conference baby” at the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) so that I could serve as Co-Chair for the Graduate Student Fellows Program (GSFP). At five weeks, she traveled with me to northern California so that I could meet my responsibilities as Graduate Student Researcher for UC/ACCORD. When it came to collecting data for my dissertation, I relocated near family so that I could complete an ethnographic study. At the same time, I love my job in academia and have never aspired to be a stay-at-home mom, which is why I try my best to secure childcare when I attend conferences and I look forward to writing each day. 

About two years later, I was fortunate to secure a tenure-track faculty position at CSU San Bernardino. With a deadline looming, the workdays lengthened, and I would be at the coffee shop for about ten hours each day so that I could finish the dissertation. After I finished, we made the move to southern California and left all family behind. Because it was just us three, our daily schedules revolved around balancing my work commitments and watching Diana. During my first quarter on the tenure-track, my husband was preparing to take the GMAT and the weekend before his exam was December graduation. Without hesitation, I told him I could take Diana to graduation while he studied, I dressed up my almost three-year-old in her best dress, and off we went. I loved her being present at my first graduation as a faculty member. She applauded with the crowd, ate snacks, and colored on an app on my phone. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciated her presence at graduation. A few weeks later, I was called in by the Dean to his office where he expressed that faculty had concerns over my daughter attending the graduation. The family-friendly bubble that I had been in as a graduate student suddenly burst. 

Despite this, over the past five years I have continued to bring my children to campus any opportunity that I have. I do this for two reasons: for them to experience college as another “home” and to set an example for students present at a Hispanic Serving Institution. My going to my parents’ job meant working in 100-degree weather in the fields for minimum-wage as an 11-year-old. For my daughters, going to work with their ChicanaScholarMamí means attending meetings with my undergraduate research assistants; it means walking around a four-year HSI university to drop off forms in various offices; it means coloring in my office while I work on manuscript revision deadlines. My undergraduate Latina research assistants saw me leading our summer research project with a two-week old. I hope that in doing so, I serve as an example to the next generations of Latina-mami-scholars so that they can see that we can navigate multiple spaces simultaneously. 

For me, the notion of balancing academia with motherhood has been exhausting but it is possible. As I continue on this journey, I continue to learn and embrace that balancing academia with motherhood as a Chicana requires grace. I still recall that a couple of weeks before I gave birth, I went to see Dr. Mark Sawyer because I owed him a course paper. I remember how honest and caring he was when he emphasized that I should be prepared to slow down after having a baby. He shared that it would even be challenging to accomplish the little things, like grocery shopping, after kids. Although I smiled and nodded, I took offense to his advice, I felt like I would “do it all” and there would be no way I would slow down simply because of a baby.  However, it did not take long before I understood what he meant. I adjusted my expectations of being able to think clearly in those months with interrupted sleep. I adjusted my expectations of writing when I did not have access to childcare, I adjusted my expectations of attending entire conferences once I realized that the most I can be away from my kids is for three nights. To this day, I value his words and I remind myself consistently that as I try to “do it all,” I must commit to giving myself grace.

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