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Scholar's Corner: Forging Spaces of Transformation for #latinamamischolars in Higher Education

Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Latinx/a/o
November 16, 2018 Dr. Larissa Mercado-Lopez

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. Larissa Mercado-Lopez is an Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at California State University, Fresno. Dr. Mercado-Lopez research areas include Chicano feminism, maternal studies, feminist fitness, and Chicanx children’s literature. She has co-edited multiple collections of scholarship, including "(Re)mapping the Latina/o Literary Landscape: New Works, New Directions," four volumes of El Mundo Zurdo, collections of essays on the life and work of Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldana, and her forthcoming collection, "Voices of Resistance: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Chicana Children's literature." She may be reached at [email protected] and you can learn more about here https://lsa.umich.edu/ncid/people/diversity-scholars-directory/larissa-mercado-lopez.html.

Full blog title: Bodies that Push: Forging Spaces of Transformation for #latinamamischolars in Higher Education 

Both motherhood and academia came to me as a surprise. I was 20 years old, in a committed relationship, and in my final year of my undergraduate degree when I found out that I was pregnant. As a young woman who had actively resisted motherhood as a way of ensuring that I stayed on the “right” path, I was devastated and felt like a failure to my siblings, my mentors, and myself. At that time, I had no models for integrating the many parts of myself--for reconciling the clash of my warring identities as a scholar, a Chicana, and a mother. But it was the experience of being pregnancy shamed in my university student health center that gave me my scholarly interests and helped me develop a critical, feminist framework for understanding and shaping my Chicana maternal scholar identity into an empowered one.

My experience as a mother in academia has profoundly informed my politics, research, and pedagogy. As a brown mother, my body historically has been a site of discursive conflict: within myself I am constantly negotiating the political narratives of hyperfertility, irresponsible reproduction, and brown mothers as “threats” to the nation-state; as salient as ever, these historical narratives persist today in our national conversations about child separation on the border. I also negotiate the persistent and unfounded assumptions that mothers are not scholarly, not serious, and burdens to the institution. Thus, recognizing my brown maternal body as a site of knowledge production has been critical in how I navigate the university and the narratives around what who “gets” to be a scholar. Asking myself “Who gets to be a scholar?” allows me to critique dominant narratives about academic membership and to forge connections and solidarity with others whose identities and bodies position them outside of the mainstream academy.

As a scholar trained in feminist theory, I begin my theorization of the world in my body. I watch and listen to my body for cues--what Gloria Anzaldúa calls la facultad--to generate knowledge about the spaces that I occupy and the power that is embedded within them. I’ve learned to transform feelings of discomfort and marginalization to an empowered identity and a political impetus--what Anzaldúa calls the Coyolxauhqui Imperative: an urgent call to “speak” our wounds (10), to “heal and achieve integration” (19). I locate my facultad in the shame I felt in that student health center, in the pain of the ridge of the desk hard against my pregnant belly, in the tension that arises when asserting my parenting needs. Through these experiences--by physically and intellectually pushing against the contours of the academy-- I seek to expand what we know about inclusion, diversity, and power in higher education, and to hold institutions accountable to recognizing our bodies, our families, and our assets. I also recognize that motherhood does not come to all mothers through the body, but I do believe that our bodies are implicated in the labor and care that we provide and in the psychological wounding that occurs in white heteropatriarchal spaces. Thus, we are all capable of cultivating a maternal facultad.

I’ve come to understand that the university was not built for mamischolars, but that we can collectively work to destabilize or circumvent the white heteropatriarchy that renders us institutionally excessive yet epistemically vacant.  And in the work that we do to create space for ourselves we can advocate for wider systemic and cultural changes that will not only make parents more visible in their institutions, but will innovate higher ed institutions to improve their servingness and accountability to parents across campus.

In my own individual, collective, and institutional efforts to advocate for mothers and parenting/caregiving faculty, students, and staff, in general, I’ve identified 5 realms where transformation can and needs to occur:

  1. Culture: Whether or not an institution has policies that promote family friendly practices, a culture that not only protects but values parents is critical. Are parents included in the institutional narrative about who faculty and students are? Are faculty and student parents visible in institutional language and promotional materials? Are children welcome on campus and at most or many events? How and to what extent are parents a part of the campus narrative? Are the health and counseling clinics inclusive of the needs of pregnant and parenting students? Do fathers have equal access to changing tables?
  1. Policy: Policy is often created in response to a problem or data-informed need. When actively implemented, policy can shape culture, as well. What do your campus’s policies (or lack thereof) assume about parents? Is the Title IX office a visible resource for pregnant students and faculty? How does the university follow Title IX recommendations and go beyond them to provide support for parents? Does paid family leave or course reduction exist for new parents? Do policies exist to give new student parents time to bond with their child?
  1. Activism: From student organizations to professional organizations, mothers are organizing to increase their visibility, demand support for parents via resources such as child care and policy creation, and to change attitudes toward parents on campus. Within the classroom, faculty are using their syllabi as a form of activism by explicitly detailing pregnant students’ rights and accommodations for students with caregiving responsibilities. Are faculty encouraged at your campus encouraged to provide support for parenting students? Do students and faculty feel empowered to point out gaps in support to administrators?
  1. Research: In our own individual research and in institutional research, there are opportunities for researching issues of motherhood, parenthood, pregnancy, and parenting. There is a growing body of research on experiences of parents in higher education and the professoriate, much of which is intersectional, and mothers are calling for systemic changes on their campuses, at conference sites, and within their disciplines. Does your campus formally collect data on faculty and student parents? What research exists on tenure or graduation outcomes for parents in your field or campus? Are student success efforts informed by the research on student parents?
  1. Allyship: If diversity work is the work of everyone, so is the work of supporting parents and caregivers. Are faculty empowered with the information they need to support parenting students? Are parents recognized as members of the community that need support and flexibility? Do faculty and administrators create spaces for listening to the needs of parents on campus?

The realms that I list here are not separate domains. Indeed, they work best when we envision them as inherently intersectional, and when we think about them through a critical race, gender, sex, and sexuality framework. Additionally, the realms of transformation are not limited to these five areas. I can also see built environment, family, and community, as spaces where we can advocate for change in support of parents, especially mothers.

As a mamischolar, I often feel that I am too much: I carry too many bags. I have too many children. I have too many needs. I have many memories of walking into receptions with toddlers, a baby, a clunky stroller, and an overflowing diaper bag and feeling like a bull in a china shop--disturbing the formality, the stillness, the whiteness of it all. But many times, I have been met with an unexpected outstretched hand. A sympathetic smile. An offer to hold a baby. We have allies and foremothers who have walked on similar unmapped paths. We must find them. Additionally, we must hold them accountable to revealing themselves to us.

I hope that all #latinamamischolars will find and wield the power that lies within their bodies and positionality as mothers of color. I hope that we can find ways to transform our discomfort into knowledge that can inform programming and support services for parents on campus. And I hope that institutions will come to learn that Latina mamischolars need to be at the helm of these transformative efforts from the beginning.

Let us continue to tell our stories and map our paths. It’s when we see the twists and turns of others’ roads that we can feel empowered as we walk and carve out our own.

Works Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Light in the Dark / Luz En Lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2015.