Students and Scholars Rally Behind Latina Professor Who Was Denied Tenure at Harvard

Dec 3, 2019
2:49 PM

Last week, when news broke out that professor Lorgia García Peña was denied tenure at Harvard University, reactions immediately started circulating on social media. Students and scholars alike expressed their anger and outrage—a letter already signed by over 2,000 people is demanding that the university reconsider. The Harvard Crimson also reported that students held a sit-in at University Hall on Monday evening as a response to the decision. García Peña is currently the Roy G. Clouse Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of History and Literature.

“Given Professor García Peña’s academic profile, teaching record, and professional service, we are dismayed and do not understand why she was denied tenure. This denial strikes us as a disavowal of Harvard’s recent commitment to invest in Ethnic Studies,” the letter reads.

Earlier this year, students had rallied behind García Peña with a campaign for her tenure to be approved and also for Harvard to support an Ethnic Studies program. García Peña is part of the committee for new hires in that field.

In April, after Yale denied tenure to Latinx Studies professor Dr. Albert Laguna, García Peña wrote a piece for Asterix journal stating, “White supremacy in these institutions bleeds through the photos of white men which hang in the halls of the university, in the syllabi that privilege white cannon and lack any type of representation for people of color, and in the university’s inability to hire or retain black and brown faculty, in the university’s disavowal of Ethnic Studies as a legitimate field of knowledge.”

For many other scholars, the Harvard decision rings true of a culture across Ivy League universities.

“When I was at Yale, I saw two professors hired and two professors leave, yet they claim to support Ethnic Studies and to expand on them,” Lehman College professor Dr. Melissa Castillo Planas told Latino Rebels. “Harvard just agreed to a cluster hire yet are getting rid of senior faculty like Lorgia García Peña?”

Others expressed their disapproval on social media.

In October, students in García Peña’s class “Performing Latinidad” had the police called on them by a white janitor as they put an art installation at Harvard Yard. The Harvard GSAS Latinx Student Association wrote an open letter denouncing the incident, stating “Such acts enable the perpetuation of violence against marginalized members of our community.”

The Harvard Crimson had previously reported that three Ethnic Studies tenure-track professors departed by April, also causing outrage.

Harvard’s 2019 report on faculty demographics states that 41 percent of tenured faculty are now “women and/or minorities,” writing, “We are especially attentive to tenure-track faculty needs and the concerns of women and minority faculty at all academic ranks.” Yet, of those 41 percent, only 3 percent are women of “Underrepresented minority.”