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.
HAPPENING NOW: University Hall sit-in to protest the tenure denial of inspirational scholar & leader Prof García-Peña & @Harvard's 48-year failure to establish an Ethnic Studies dept. #EthnicStudiesNow #DefendDiversity @HarvardESC @HarvLatinoAlum @Harvard4A @HarvardFGHA pic.twitter.com/yoJ49ojT06
— Diverse Harvard (@harvarddiverse) December 2, 2019
“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.
Students at @Harvard protest at University Hall in favor of creating an Ethnic Studies Department and “to reverse the decision not to give tenure to Prof. García Peña”. (Professor of Latinx Studies) pic.twitter.com/SaUCA69tAK
— Sely Colón (@SelyColon) December 2, 2019
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.
Disgusted to hear that Lorgia García-Peña was denied tenure at @Harvard. This is an absolute outrage.García-Peña’s research, teaching, and mentorship are beyond reproach. Just another example of how Harvard undermines and pushes out faculty of color. https://t.co/s1l4NwX1ZD
— Marisol LeBrón (@marisollebron) December 2, 2019
Let’s be clear: the denial of tenure to minoritized faculty is a form of violence. Most are reversed and/or the candidate moves to a diff institution/life but the scars remain—among peers+ students also. It’s spectacular violence rooted in plantation logic https://t.co/nb4SZNOjKs
— Yarimar Bonilla 👩🏾💻 (@yarimarbonilla) December 3, 2019
Tenure denials like the injustice we’ve just seen at Harvard often have the effect of communicating that the FIELD is perceived as illegitimate. Lorgia García-Peña is at the top of a field she has helped invent. Harvard invested in that by hiring her.
— Rosemary G. Feal (@rgfeal) December 3, 2019
Solidarity with everyone at Harvard fighting for justice this week, from the Graduate Students Union, to a sit-in demanding tenure for beloved Latina professor Lorgia García Peña, to the ongoing fight for prison divestment. https://t.co/Xnh7o4lvVw
— Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign (@HarvardPDC) December 3, 2019
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.”