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Post-Tenure Denial Backlash, 'Ethnic Studies Rise' Initiative Lauds Professor García Peña

 Protestors lined the walls of Emerson Hall outside of a December faculty meeting after professor Lorgia García Peña was denied tenure.
Protestors lined the walls of Emerson Hall outside of a December faculty meeting after professor Lorgia García Peña was denied tenure. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writer

Students and scholars around the country tweeted passages from Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña’s book “The Borders of Dominicanidad” last week to recognize her scholarly work following a controversy over her tenure denial at Harvard.

The online event — dubbed “LorgiaFest” — was part of a broader effort called Ethnic Studies Rise. Founded by San Diego State University professor Raj Chetty, Emerson College professor Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann, and Columbia University digital humanities scholar Alex Gil, the initiative seeks to celebrate García Peña’s “extraordinary contributions,” according to its website.

“We hope that in engaging with Dr. García Peña, we will also recognize and honor all of those Ethnic Studies scholars who have encountered resistance and retaliation for their timely work, and to the students who need them and fight daily for epistemological insurrection, academic freedom, and justice in the US academy,” the organizers wrote on the Ethnic Studies Rise website.

The Ethnic Studies Rise initiative comes after weeks of on-campus protests of Harvard’s decision to deny García Peña tenure in late November. In open letters, rallies, and sit-ins, University affiliates have highlighted her scholarship and role as a mentor to students of color, arguing that Harvard should both reverse the tenure decision and create a formal ethnic studies program.

A protester also interrupted a December faculty meeting demanding that University administrators reverse their decision, release internal correspondence about García Peña’s case, and investigate the case for what they termed “procedural errors, prejudice, and discrimination.”

More than 200 ethnic studies scholars across the United States sent a letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow condemning the tenure verdict last week.

Asked for comment, Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven referred to Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay’s recent email on ethnic studies. In the email, Gay promised an “institutional commitment” to building an ethnic studies program and reiterated her position that FAS must hire more faculty who specialize in ethnic studies before creating a formal department to house them. She recently began a nationwide search to hire three to four faculty members who specialize in Asian American, Muslim American, and Latinx Studies.

During the LorgiaFest event, organizers invited the public to read or revisit García Peña’s book “The Borders of Dominicanidad” and tweet passages from it using the hashtag #lorgiafest.

“Lorgia García Peña explores the ways official narratives and histories have been projected onto racialized Dominican bodies as a means of sustaining the nation’s borders,” a section about the book on the Ethnic Studies Rise website reads.

Mark Ocegueda — a Dartmouth College postdoctoral fellow and California State University, Sacramento professor — wrote that he admires “The Borders of Dominicanidad” for “powerfully” addressing marginality in his LorgiaFest tweet.

“This is a discussion that informs how we can all think about historical memory, erasure, and resistance,” Ocegueda tweeted.

In collaboration with Ethnic Studies Rise, Duke University Press — which originally published “The Borders of Dominicanidad” — has made the electronic version of the book freely available until mid-January and offered a discount on the print version.

Duke University Press Executive Editor Courtney Berger said in an interview that the academic publishing company hoped to highlight the book’s “tremendous impact” on the fields of Latinx Studies, Transnational American Studies, and Caribbean Studies by increasing its accessibility for the event.

“Our hope was just really to make it more available to people so that they could read the book and understand her contribution to the field and to help facilitate the conversation that [Ethnic Studies Rise organizers] are hoping to have,” Berger said.

Ethnic Studies Rise organizers have also moderated email roundtable discussions about ethnic studies between scholars and uploaded the conversations to their website.

Activists have upheld their support of García Peña as part of a broader fight for a formalized ethnic studies program Harvard — a demand with an almost half-century-long history. García Peña helped establish the ethnic studies track in History and Literature and is currently serving on the search committee for the ongoing ethnic studies faculty search.

García Peña did not respond to a request for comment.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at amanda.su@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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