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Harvard Scandal Puts on the Table the Reality Latinas Live in the Academic Community

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Spending years training in research and pedagogy, receiving awards, and being recognized internationally for your contributions to the academy does not appear to be enough in the United States.

This is what Harvard Associate Professor of Romance Languages Lorgia Garcia-Peña realized when her tenure was denied despite having all the requirements, and more.

The story quickly went around the country when the university committee’s decision sparked student protests and calls from other academic communities for the decision to be reversed, according to NBC NewsLorgia García-Peña is a first-generation Dominican-American professional specializing in Latin American Studies hailing from Trenton, NJ. She has an enviable resume that includes a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Spanish Language and Literature from Rutgers University, a master’s in Latin American Literature and Cultures and a PhD in American Studies, just to name a few.

Her research has focused on “blackness, colonialism, and diaspora,” as she explains in her profile on the Harvard website.

“I study literary and cultural texts in conversation with historical processes and following a methodology for archiving in justice that challenges the heteronormative, Eurocentric production of knowledge that has persistently excluded and silenced the lives, histories, and epistemology of black and brown people from traditional archives, libraries and books,” she adds.

Moreover, her approach dialogues with intersectionality, social justice, feminism of women of color, and immigration.

Despite having worked at Harvard since 2013 and counting with several awards inside and outside the university — Professor of the Year in 2015, Roslyn Abramson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and honored as Harvard Professor of the Year by the Graduating Class of 2017 — Garcia Peña has been denied tenure.

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That is why more than 3,000 students and members of the Harvard community have signed a letter demanding the reversal of the committee’s decision, and accuses the institution of not fulfilling its commitment to invest in Ethnic Studies.

“Denying tenure to a faculty member of color who is actively serving on the committee for new hires in Ethnic Studies undermines Harvard’s commitment and betrays efforts to advance diversity and inclusion at this institution,” the signatories explain.

For Arlene Davila, founding director of the Latinx Project at New York University, the university’s decision is “a sign of incredible disrespect” and “speaks to a larger disregard of Latina Studies,” she told the Daily Beast

This makes it impossible not to talk about the elephant in the room:

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, by 2017, only 2 percent of full-time professors in U.S. institutions of higher education identified themselves as Latinas; far fewer as Afro-Latinas.

For Marisol LeBrón, assistant professor of Latino Studies at the University of Texas, Harvard’s decision is just “the latest example of the exceptionally high tenure standards that scholars of color, especially Black women and other women of color, are held to in comparison to their white peers,” she also told the Daily Beast.

“Despite all of the difficulties that scholars of color must navigate at top-tier research institutions, when scholars do meet the exceptionally high criteria for tenure, as Professor García Peña did, they are often denied because these institutions do not have people who can appropriately assess the cutting-edge work these scholars do,” LeBrón added.

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