Ethnic Studies Rise: The Academic Response to Professor Lorgia García-Peña’s Tenure Denial

#LorgiaFest BELatina FB
Dr. Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann (Emerson College),Dr. Raj Chetty (San Diego State University), and Dr. Alex Gil (Columbia University)

In a country as heterogeneous and diverse as the United States, we are used to research centers dedicated to economics, politics, and the so-called “hard sciences” having a privileged position in terms of access to resources.

However, we often find ourselves without money to carry out our scientific research if our area is more inclined to social or cultural subjects.

And if it’s Ethnic Studies, well, you better forget about it.

After the social and ideological revolution of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s and 1970s, the awareness of university campuses on issues of race, gender, and religion gave rise to an academic debate that found its space in so-called Ethnic Studies.

It was thanks to demonstrations and walkouts led by organizations such as the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) that attention began to be drawn to the need for a subject in the curriculum that would educate and train specialists in African American, Latin American, Native American, Jewish, Arab history and culture all the intercultural tapestry that was seen on the streets but not on faculty boards.

Finally, in March 1969, the country’s first College of Ethnic Studies was founded at San Francisco State University. Fifty years later, however, the hard work of specialists in the field, such as Dr. Lorgia Garcia Peña of Harvard University, is still undervalued.

Only a few weeks ago, the Internet exploded with the story of the Harvard University committee’s decision to deny tenure to Professor García-Peña, a specialist in literature and romance languages who has demonstrated professionalism and brilliance throughout her career.

Students and professors sent a letter demanding the reversal of the committee’s decision and investment in Ethnic Studies, accusing the institution of betraying efforts “to advance diversity and inclusion.”

In honor of that spark that changed the course of academic life during the 1960s, a handful of professors have decided to organize an action called Ethnic Studies Rise in response to the (mis) treatment of Professor García-Lorgia and her work.

Dr. Alex Gil (Columbia University), Dr. Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann (Emerson College), and Dr. Raj Chetty (San Diego State University University) have organized what they call “a digital intervention” that includes a roundtable and a Twitter event under the hashtag #LorgiaFest for Friday, December 20 where Professor Garcia-Peña’s book The Borders of Dominicanidad will be discussed.

In an interview with BELatina, the professors explained, “Ethnic Studies Rise is about highlighting the importance of Ethnic Studies to contemporary global thought, as a phenomenon that exists as a form of much-needed critique both inside and outside academia.”

The organizers emphasized the need to create a public space for dialogue on the subject, using the work of Professor García-Peña as a perfect example of the importance of this type of reflection.

“We know Ethnic Studies came to the university from communities outside the university, and we honor that longer history by creating this public-facing website and the associated social media event, #LorgiaFest, which we’re hoping becomes the biggest Twitter book club, ever,” they added.

Both the student and faculty response demonstrates not only the new scope of the digitized social revolution but also the importance of giving credit where credit is due.

For the organizers, this is more than clear:

“This is remarkable for two reasons,” they told us.It speaks volumes about how widely Dr. García Peña’s scholarship and activist work travels, and how much organizing work has gone into mobilizing a wide array of people to raise their voices in solidarity with her. But it’s also because this tenure decision is really part and parcel of a broader and longer struggle for Ethnic Studies.”

This digital movement sets a precedent for new struggles to come, as the García-Peña case is just the tip of the iceberg. Books like Patricia Matthew’s Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure (2016) show how teachers of color must constantly fight a double standard when it comes to being evaluated by the rules of appointment, tenure, and promotion.

Matthew and her collaborators argue that much of this faculty is hired to “diversify” academic departments and not because of the merit of their work and sacrifice of years in a career where they compete with a clear disadvantage imposed from the outset.

Join #LorgiaFest with Ethnic Studies Rise on Friday, December 20th beginning at 2pm EST.