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]).
Name: Nancy Acevedo-Gil
Title: Assistant Professor
Institution: California State University, San Bernardino
What initially interested you in studying Latinos in higher education?
As an interdisciplinary scholar in the field of education, my research centers on the experiences of Chicanx/Latinx students along the higher education pipeline. However, when I was an aspiring college student, I never intended to conduct research; actually, I had no idea that researchers and professors existed and my initial career goal was simply to work in an air-conditioned space. My parents worked in the wheat and tomato fields during the summer and sold firewood in the winter. They emphasized the importance of going to college to avoid menial labor. With guidance from the Early Academic Outreach Program and the TRiO program at the University of California, Davis, I prepared for and applied to college. While I had a college advisor who ensured I knew the requirements, I saw that my Chicanx/Latinx friends and family members did not have access to college information and preparation.
As an undergraduate student, I began working in the Oakland Unified School District as a college advisor and my professional experiences helped me understand that Chicanx/Latinx students face numerous institutionalized obstacles. My fourth year as an undergraduate, I sat in the “Chicanos in Education” course and Dr. Blas Guerrero “tracked” us by using stereotypes based on our appearances. It was this engaging class activity that helped me see institutional and systemic educational inequities that result in pushing Latinx students out of the educational pipeline. That year, Dr. Guerrero and professor Josefina Castillo Baltodano exemplified that research can improve systemic educational inequities that affect Chicanx/Latinx communities. They also made it possible for me to envision myself as a future faculty member. My personal, educational, and professional experiences inspired me to pursue graduate school and research college access and college choice for Chicanx/Latinx students.
How has your research evolved over time? What is a finding you did not expect?
While in the Mexican American Studies master’s program at San Jose State University, I continued to work as a college advisor. In that position, I learned that admission to a four-year college did not guarantee Chicanx/Latinx students would enroll. Therefore, my master’s thesis focused on understanding how Chicanx/Latinx students made the decision not to enroll in a four-year college, after receiving an admission offer. This work continued within my dissertation research, in which I aimed to understand how high school leaders increased college access for Chicanx/Latinx students by fostering college-going structures.
In conducting an ethnographic case study, I was surprised when findings revealed the importance of contextualizing college-going structures and the need to acknowledge the existing school-prison nexus that many Latinx students experience during K-12. While teachers and other educational leaders work to increase college knowledge, students are constrained by school policies and practices that criminalize Chicanx/Latinx communities. As a result, my research now aims to contextualize the college choices and transitions of Chicanx/Latinx students by juxtaposing college-going culture with the school-prison nexus.
What motivates you to continue writing and pursuing this line of work?
I am motivated to continue writing and pursuing this work because my research findings resonate with Chicanx/Latinx college students and my teaching changes the perspectives of doctoral students. Using an Ethnic and Chicano Studies lens to examine educational (in)equity guides my conceptualization of research to challenge traditional education frameworks. For example, by using Gloria Anzaldúa’s pathway to conocimiento, I developed the interdisciplinary college choice framework of college-conocimiento that is tailored to the experiences of low-income Latinx students. Chicanx/Latinx college students and alumni share with me that the framework reflects and validates their experiences; this motivates me to continue researching and writing.
In addition, I find a way to integrate critical race and Chicana feminist theories when I teach EdD courses, which influences doctoral students who are educational leaders in PK-12 and higher education contexts. In my teaching, I centralize race and racism as they intersect with other systems of oppression. This has resulted in students from diverse backgrounds thanking me for opening their eyes to the racialized systems of social stratification within education that can reproduce and/or challenge inequalities. Knowing that I can challenge and reframe the deficit perspectives of educational leaders motivates me to continue in academia. My goal is that through my work, I will support educational leaders as they foster asset-based educational contexts. While I know that the work of social justice will never be complete, I aim to disrupt the educational system by influencing the next generation of educational leaders.
Finally, on the various committees that I serve, I am often the first one at the table to say “that is not equitable.” I am motivated to do this work because I bring in a critical perspective and challenge institutional leaders to improve the educational opportunities accessible to low-income students, first-generation students, and Students of Color.
How can your research influence the work of student affairs professionals?
Given my work as a college advisor, I ensure that my research findings inform practical recommendations for student affairs professionals. Because I have worked as a student affairs officer, I realize that there are not enough financial resources and time available to implement a lot of the recommendations made by researchers. I often note the lack of available resources, as I make the recommendations because there is a continued need to advocate for institutions to prioritize Chicanx/Latinx student success. However, I also provide recommendations for asset-based practices that take into account the ongoing era of divestment. For example, by focusing on community cultural wealth and spiritual activism, my research has highlighted the influential role that peers can have on Chicanx/Latinx student success; student affairs professionals can benefit from fostering opportunities for students to engage in reflective discussions with peers. More importantly, my work centers the lived experiences of Chicanx/Latinx students and it reinforces that if we aim to foster student success, we must begin by valuing the various forms of knowledge that students have and assets they can activate.
Do you have final words of advice?
Working to foster institutional structures of opportunity for Chicanx/Latinx educational success is not easy work because we usually have to face educational leaders with deficit ideologies as we advocate for asset-based practices and policies. Sometimes, our work is not acknowledged, valued, or accepted by our supervisors or colleagues. In addition, we may not always see a direct impact our work has on a large-scale but we must trust that the work we do matters to students and their communities. Therefore, it is essential that student affairs, scholars, and educational leaders, who engage in social justice work also ensure self-care; which includes finding ways to heal and re-energize in mind, body, and soul. In addition, we cannot do this work alone; we must collaborate across boundaries as we develop bridges into higher education for Chicanx/Latinx students:
We are ready for change.
Let us link hands and hearts
together find a path through the dark woods
step through the doorways between worlds
leaving huellas for others to follow,
build bridges, cross them with grace, and claim these puentes our
si se puede, que asi sea, so be it, estamos listas, vamonos (Anzaldúa, 2002, p. 576).