Black Scholars Respond to Dr. Lorgia García Peña Tenure Denial at Harvard

*The African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) stands in solidarity with Dr. Lorgia García Peña, a Black Studies scholar who was recently denied tenure at Harvard. We are publishing the following letter addressed to Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow (written by Dr. Raj Chetty) to draw attention to the importance of Dr. García Peña’s work (which we featured on our blog in 2016) and openly denounce white supremacy in the academy. To add your signature to the letter, please email Dr. Chetty at rchetty@sdsu.edu with your full name, job title(s) & institutional affiliation. — Keisha N. Blain, AAIHS President


Dear President Bacow,

We submit this letter in response to the decision to deny tenure to Dr. Lorgia García Peña. As scholars in Black Studies, we research and teach about the long histories of activist-intellectual work that undergirds all social change, including but not limited to changes in higher education. We understand the importance of linking national and international movements for social change to the development of social theories, histories, and art that respond to and build from these movements. We recognize that this work is part of Harvard’s own history, as the coming year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Department of African and African American Studies (AAAS), emerging from Civil Rights struggle, black struggle, and the momentous events of 1968, particularly on campuses across the United States, and globally.

It is clear to us that Dr. García Peña’s work is part of the long struggle against anti-blackness and for a more just world. While her scholarship has a clear relevance for Ethnic Studies, Latinx Studies, and Caribbean Studies, we see her work’s deep relevance for Black Studies, especially at this conjuncture in which Blackness and Latinidad rises to prominence at the intersecting interdisciplinary fields of Latinx Studies and Black Studies. As the work of Arturo Schomburg, Nicolás Guillén, and Ana Livia Cordero makes clear, international alliances between blacks in the U.S. and in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean have a long and storied history. However, we see the current intellectual moment as one in which a global Black Studies is re-emergent, with particular attention to relations between and among Afro-Latinxs and Blacks in the U.S., Blacks in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Blacks in Europe. Dr. García Peña is at the forefront of scholarship attending to studies of the inter-cultural relations between blacks in these different sites of the diaspora, and her work is of international renown. In denying her tenure, Harvard has failed to see the import of her rigorously comparative and globally attuned study of black creative cultures.

Dr. García Peña’s work is generative not merely for attention to black cultural relations, but also for the way it brings together landmark theories that often remain in the silos that narrow the scope of interdisciplinary Ethnic Studies scholarship. For instance, in her book, The Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nation, and Archives of Contradiction, she bridges Gloria Anzaldúa’s theories of the border/lands with the particular configuration of the border as it developed over the 19th and 20th centuries in the island that is today Haiti and the Dominican Republic and the symbolic border established across imperial lines between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic and Haiti, both of which were at the center of black-led revolutionary and anti-colonial liberation movements in the Age of Revolutions, deserve more attention in Black Studies. Again, Dr. García Peña is at the cutting edge of this much-needed reorientation, intervening simultaneously in two fields: (1) reconceptualizing the concept of the border by extending from Chicano/a and Latinx Studies to the Caribbean and the cradle of enslavement, marronage, and black revolution in Hispaniola, Santo Domingo, and Saint Domingue, and (2) re-orientating Black Studies toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti, in relation, and with attention to the way borders map onto black lives.

In her forthcoming monograph, she brilliantly conceptualizes the vaivén (“coming and going”) of blackness that structures black migrants’ lives today — from the Dominican Republic to the U.S., to Italy, and to Spain. This is a crucial and laudatory addition to global Black Studies and promises to transform the field. Her initial work for this book was published in The Black Scholar, one of the leading Black Studies journals, established in the late 1960s context of radical black struggle. The Black Scholar’s editorial board named her 2015 essay one of its top five essays from among the four issues published that year, a remarkable achievement considering the caliber of the journal in the field of Black Studies.

In this way, Dr. García Peña is a national leader in addressing the intersections between blackness, migration, and immigration status in the United States and globally. In addition to a stellar and internationally resounding publication record, her work has included institution building for communities historically marginalized by white supremacy in and out of the university, the kind of work that promises to transform students’ experiences. We need not say too much about her efforts at Harvard, because you know this record. We want to stress, however, her work in co-founding Freedom University in Georgia in 2011, in the immediate wake of legislation there that restricted undocumented students’ access to university study. This work foregrounds her ability to create sustainable collaborations to address contemporary systems that create and maintain oppressive conditions for marginalized people, and at Harvard she has continued to combine research, pedagogy, and service work in liberatory institution building. Her work is part and parcel of what Harvard will celebrate next year in the 50th anniversary of AAAS. It is no small irony that Harvard has denied tenure to someone who has been actively involved in the kind of institution building that descends directly from black struggle within higher education and against the white supremacy that plagues it.

We express solidarity with the disappointment about Dr. García Peña’s tenure denial expressed through letters and statements, direct action, and on news and social media. We add our voices to the thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, Harvard alumni, activists, and others opposed to the denial of tenure to Dr. García Peña because her research and publication record, institutional and professional service, and teaching are exemplary. What is more, we are concerned about what this denial says about Harvard’s stated commitment to pursuing diversity, inclusivity, and social justice, through hiring in Ethnic Studies and corresponding curricular change. Finally, we see this decision as detrimental to the critical intellectual and social justice work that Ethnic Studies does and can do, at Harvard and more broadly.

Sincerely,

Leslie Alexander
Associate Professor, Department of History
University of Oregon
Immediate Past President, Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora
Executive Board, National Council for Black Studies

Beverly Araujo Johnson
Professor and Director of Online MSW program, Social Work
Adelphi University

Jossianna Arroyo-Martínez
Professor, Department of African and African American Studies
Chair, Department of Latin American and Caribbean Languages and Cultures
Professor of Spanish and Portuguese
University of Texas at Austin

Sophia Azeb
Provost Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of English Language & Literature
University of Chicago

Davarian Baldwin
Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies
Trinity College

Keisha N. Blain
Associate Professor of History
University of Pittsburgh
2019-2020 W.E.B. Du Bois Fellow, Harvard University
President, African American Intellectual History Society

Melissa M. Blanco Borelli
Associate Professor, School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies
Associated Director, International Program for Creative Collaboration and Research
University of Maryland
President, Dance Studies Association (2019-2021)

Kimberly Blockett
Associate Professor of English
Penn State University, Brandywine

Adrienne Brown
Associate Professor of English
University of Chicago

Charisse Burden-Stelly
Assistant Professor, Africana Studies and Political Science
Carleton College

Christopher Cameron
Associate Professor of History
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Ginetta Candelario
Professor of Sociology and Latin American & Latina/o Studies
Smith College
Editor, Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism

Ben Carrington
Associate Professor of Sociology and Journalism
University of Southern California

Claudia Castañeda
Senior Scholar-in-Residence, Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies
Emerson College

Manu Samriti Chander
Associate Professor of English
Rutgers University-Newark

Raj Chetty
Assistant Professor of Black Literature and Culture, Department of English & Comparative Literature
San Diego State University

Laura Chrisman
Professor, Nancy K. Ketcham Endowed Chair of English
University of Washington
Publisher of The Black Scholar Journal

Kwami Coleman
Assistant Professor, Gallatin School of Individualized Study
New York University

Deirdre Cooper Owens
The Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine & Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program
Department of History
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Director, Program in African American History at The Library Company of Philadelphia

Kaysha Corinealdi
Assistant Professor of History, Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies
Emerson College

Aimee Meredith Cox
Associate Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies
Yale University

Collin Craig
Associate Professor, English Department
Hunter College

Michaeline Crichlow
Professor of Caribbean and Global Studies, African and African American Studies, and Sociology
Senior Research Fellow, Kenan Institute for Ethics
Duke University

Christina Davidson
Postdoctoral Fellow, Charles Warren Center
Harvard University

Zaire Z. Dinzey-Flores
Associate Professor, Departments of Sociology and Latino & Caribbean Studies
Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Jessie D. Dixon-Montgomery
Associate Professor of Spanish, Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Illinois Wesleyan University

Erica R. Edwards
Associate Professor of English
Presidential Term Chair in African American Literature
Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Ashley D. Farmer
Assistant Professor, History and African & African Diaspora Studies
University of Texas at Austin

Denise Ferreira da Silva
Professor & Director, Social Justice Institute-GRSJ
University of British Columbia

Yomaira Figueroa
Assistant Professor, Departments of English and African American & African Studies
Michigan State University

P. Gabrielle Foreman
Founding Director, the Colored Conventions Program
Paterno Chair of Liberal Arts, Professor of English, African American Studies, and History
Penn State University

Marisa J. Fuentes
Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History
Presidential Term Chair in African American History
Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Colette Gaiter
Professor, Department of Art & Design and Africana Studies (Joint Faculty)
University of Delaware

Mneesha Gellman
Associate Professor of Political Science
Director, Emerson Prison Initiative
Emerson College

Nigel Gibson
Associate Professor, Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies
Emerson College

Kaiama Glover
Ann Whitney Olin Professor of French and Africana Studies
Director, Digital Humanities Center
Barnard College, Columbia University
Editor, sx archipelagos

Katerina González-Seligmann
Assistant Professor of Literature
Emerson College

Camilla A. Hawthorne
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
University of California, Santa Cruz

Laura E. Helton
Assistant Professor of English and History
University of Delaware
Scholar-in-Residence, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (2019/20)

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham
Chair, Department of History
Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies
Harvard University

Roger House
Associate Professor in American Studies
Emerson College
Yasmiyn Irizarry, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies
University of Texas at Austin

Régine Michelle Jean-Charles
Associate Professor of French, Department of Romance Languages & Literatures
African & African Diaspora Studies Program
Boston College

Mónica Jiménez
Assistant Professor, Department of African and African Diaspora Studies
University of Texas at Austin

Miriam Jiménez-Román
Executive Director, Afrolatin@ Forum
Black Latinas Know Collective

Jessica Marie Johnson
Assistant Professor, Department of History
Johns Hopkins University

Sarah Jessica Johnson
Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of English
University of Chicago

Gaye Theresa Johnson
Associate Professor, Departments of Chicana and Chicano Studies and African American Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

Tiffany Joseph
Associate Professor of Sociology and International Affairs
Northeastern University
Ford Foundation Senior Fellow

Helen Heran Jun
Associate Professor, Departments of English and African American Studies
University of Illinois, Chicago

Aaron Kamugisha
Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies
University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus

Robin D. G. Kelley
Distinguished Professor and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History
University of California, Los Angeles

Natalie Marie Léger
Assistant Professor of English
Chair of the English Honors Program
Queens College, CUNY

George Lipsitz
Professor of Black Studies and Sociology
University of California, Santa Barbara

Hilda Lloréns
Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Rhode Island

Nancy López
Professor of Sociology
Director & Co-founder, Institute for the Study of “Race” & Social Justice
University of New Mexico
Coordinator, NM Statement Race, Gender, Class Data Policy Consortium

Kelly Lytle Hernandez
Professor of History, African American Studies, and Urban Planning
The Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair of History
Director, Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA
University of California, Los Angeles
Director, Million Dollar Hoods

Rosario M. de Swanson
Professor of Spanish, Latin American Literature & Gender Studies
Marlboro College

Nelson Maldonado-Torres
Professor, Latino and Caribbean Studies and Comparative Literature
Director, Rutgers Advanced Institute for Critical Caribbean Studies
Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Yolanda Martínez San-Miguel
Professor and Chair, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures
Marta S. Weeks Chair in Latin American Studies
University of Miami

Brian Meeks
Professor and Chair, Africana Studies / Rites and Reason Theatre
Brown University

Shirley Moody-Turner
Associate Professor of English and African American Studies
Co-Director, Center for Black Digital Research
Founding Director, Cooper-Du Bois Mentoring Program
Penn State University

Khalil Gibran Muhammad
Professor of History, Race and Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University

Yasser Munif
Assistant Professor, Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies
Emerson College

Pedro Noguera
Distinguished Professor of Education
Faculty Director, Center for the Transformation of Schools
UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

Tavia Nyong’o
Professor, African American Studies; American Studies; Theater and Performance Studies
Yale University

Imani Owens
Assistant Professor of English
Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Kaneesha Cherelle Parsard
Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of English Language and Literature
University of Chicago

Tina Post
Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of English Language and Literature
University of Chicago

Rachel Afi Quinn
Assistant Professor, Comparative Cultural Studies and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies
University of Houston

R. Radhakrishnan
Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature and African American Studies
University of California, Irvine

Ana Ramos-Zayas
Professor, Departments of American Studies and Anthropology, and Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration
Yale University

Barbara Ransby
Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Departments of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies and History
University of Illinois at Chicago

Petra Rivera-Rideau
Assistant Professor, American Studies Program
Wellesley College

Cindy Rodriguez
Senior Journalist-in-Residence
Emerson College

Ileana M. Rodríguez-Silva
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor in History
Associate Professor of Latin American and Caribbean History, Department of History
University of Washington

Alaí Santos-Reyes
Associate Professor, Department of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies
University of Oregon

Evie Shockley
Professor, Department of English
Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Kimberly Eison Simmons
Associate Professor, Anthropology and African American Studies
Interim Director, Institute for African American Research
University of South Carolina, Columbia

Christen A. Smith
Director, Center for Women’s & Gender Studies
Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin

Maya Angela Smith
Associate Professor of French
University of Washington

Faith Smith
Associate Professor, African and African American Studies; English; Latin American and Latino Studies; Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies
Brandeis University

Chris Taylor
Associate Professor, Department of English
University of Chicago

Silvio Torres-Saillant
Professor of English & Dean’s Professor of the Humanities
Syracuse University

Anwar Uhuru
Assistant Professor of English, African American Literature
Monmouth University

Gina Athena Ulysse
Professor of Anthropology
Wesleyan University
2020 Biennale of Sydney Artist

Melissa M. Valle
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Department of African American and African Studies
Rutgers University, Newark

Wendy W. Walters
Professor, African American Literature & Culture, Writing, Literature, & Publishing Department
Emerson College

Calvin Warren
Assistant Professor, African American Studies
Emory University

Cornel West
Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy
Department of Philosophy
Harvard Divinity School
Department of African and African American Studies
Harvard University

Omaris Z. Zamora
Assistant Professor of AfroLatinx Studies, Department of Latino & Caribbean Studies and Department of Africana Studies
Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Cc:
Provost Alan M. Garber, Harvard University, alan_garber@harvard.edu
Dean Claudine Gay, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, fasdean@fas.harvard.edu
Dean Robin Kelsey, Arts & Humanities Division, Harvard University, kelsey@fas.harvard.edu
Professor Mariano Siskind, Chair, Romance Languages and Literatures, siskind@fas.harvard.edu

Copyright © AAIHS. May not be reprinted without permission.