A co-founder of Freedom University and a leader of the movement to create an Ethnic Studies concentration at Harvard, Dr. García-Peña's labors to create more equitable, empowering institutional spaces for students and faculty of color is well-known. Community as Rebellion, which reflects on many of these projects, has been praised by Angela Davis as a “life-saving and life-affirming text” that charts a “fearless strategy” for “how our institutions might be reimagined beyond the strongholds of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy.” These strategies—and the stories, experiences, and analyses that have fueled them—are at the heart of our conversation in this episode.
Co-hosted and co-produced by Tina Pippin + Lucia Hulsether
Audio editing + outro music by Aliyah Harris
Intro music by Lance Hogan, performed by Aviva and the Flying Penguins.
*rush transcript, likely includes typos*
Community as Rebellion: A Conversation with Lorgia García-Peña
Lucia Hulsether: [:
e Archives of Contradiction, [:
But in general, critics praise this work for how it re How it uncovers and also contributes to long genealogies of cultural production and political criticism within black Latinidad and women of color feminism, and in so doing, reconfigures how readers Think about identity, race, nation, and knowledge production broadly.
entor who's Unflagging labor [:
For example, as a new professor at the University of Georgia, Dr. Garcia Pena became one of the founding faculty of Freedom University, which offered free college classes and support for undocumented students who had been banned from state post secondary institutions in Georgia. From the University of Georgia Dr. Garcia Pena moved on to Harvard, where she played a central role in the creation of an undergraduate ethnic studies concentration. Many of us will have heard of Dr. Garcia Pena because of the international outcry that followed Harvard's denial of her tenure case which actually continues to be appealed and litigated in court, but which, to make a long story short, story.
ople as part of a pattern of [:
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aise this book has received. [:
Whether you are a student lucky enough to sit in one of Dr. Garcia Pena's classes, or you're just someone like us who's been inspired and activated by her work from afar, or whether this is the first time you've heard of her, there is so much to learn from Dr. Garcia Pena's body of work. We are honored that she has agreed to come on the podcast.
o have you on. Nothing Never [:
Lorgia García-Peña: Thank you for having me. You know, a lot of why I decided to be. The teacher that I became is because of lack, rather than because of example. So, being in classrooms where I, as a Latina immigrant from the Dominican Republic, always felt invisibilized. Even when taking courses that you would think should be centering the experiences of people like me, I went to Rutgers, which is a public university in New Jersey in an area that has a very large Dominican population, and I took courses in Latino studies.
And even in those courses, [:
and Linda Cardi it was very [:
That it wasn't just my imagination or my craving or my desire, but rather a praxis of women of color feminist teachers that have been doing work that is more participatory, that is intentional in terms of what we want out of the classroom, not just in terms of Quizzes and outcomes and the learning material, but in terms of the kind of world we're trying to build through our teaching that was really affirming to me.
lassroom. So, so it's been a [:
LH: Since you just brought up Freedom University, let's keep talking about that. So you mentioned your co founder. And we've heard you talk about those classes where you said you had the kind of freedom to experiment as the essence of education. And I'm curious about if you could offer us some concrete examples of what sorts of experiments you were able.
And so I think it's important for people to kind of co create in those spaces and in that in that project that you're carried that you still carry forward today.
LGP: Yeah, I mean, I think what was really critical for me as a teacher in terms of my own sort of journey in that experience of freedom, you were, first of all, we were all co teaching.
s was my first experience co [:
I was a first year assistant professor and Pam Vogel was an associate professor with, you know, 20 years under her belt. And so we all, we're all coming from different trajectories and kind of Finding a way to work together and work with our strengths. And that experience was really rewarding for me.
So number one was sort of thinking about intentional methods of teaching that kind of took away the hierarchies, if you will. The second thing that was really important was that because of the kind of project that freedom was. Freedom U came as a response to a ban against undocumented students.
So all the [:
case of Freedom U was first [:
Students must feel safe. Then, second, what is it that students want to get out of these classes? What are the skills that we collectively think would be helpful and how can we do that together? And so, a lot of how we taught emphasized group learning. tHinking about accompaniment, which I write about often this idea that it's less about getting your final grade.
I mean, the students that were taking our courses, they were not getting any credits, you know, this is not going to go on their transcript. So they were there for the sake of learning. anD so once you remove the grade and the transcript and the impact that they may have on ideas of related to jobs and career.
lp us build a world we want. [:
And that, that really did shape how I how I taught elsewhere and how I thought about the classroom in the different institutions that I taught at after Freedom U.
TP: Well, I want to build on this liberatory moment that you're talking about. You also have said that education is a critical tool of liberation.
these liberatory approaches [:
LGP: Thanks. Of course, you know, the context of the quotes that you selected, of course, I'm talking to an academic audience. So, there is so much that as teachers and depending on ranks and paths at the, in the university, we do not control. From what you know what decisions that made at the administrative level to budget cuts to etcetera, right?
be taking on other struggles [:
I think it's a both end, right, that the whole premise of feminist abolition is that we should take both end approaches in which we deal with the bigger causes and the bigger issues in our society. But at the same time, look at what are the small spaces where we can have incidents. And I think the classroom is one of those small spaces in which we can be transformative and we can create an environment in which change can happen.
th century French the [:
So what are some of the ways in which you can, in which you can have those conversations in with your students about justice and liberation? No matter what it is that you're teaching. So figuring out where in the syllabus you can make that impact and how you can let the text, if you will do the talking for students.
The second place is assignments. How, what is it that you're asking students to do? And I'll give you some examples of my favorite assignments. So I have one in which I teach on Black Latinidad. And typically. For the most part, almost everywhere I've ever taught, I am either the only one teaching on this subject in the entire university, or one of a handful of people.
syllabus feels, always feels [:
And then in groups, depending on the size of your class, it could be pairs or it could be groups as big as, you know, 10 students. They need to work together throughout the semester to come up with a way to include that in the class. And those projects can be highly interactive. They can be traditional papers or they can be archives or they can be podcasts.
entury revolts in Nicaragua. [:
Sometimes the question of language sometimes times the question of access so it allows for for students to also understand the process and the and the challenges that we face as teachers in the classroom. I teach literature, poetry performance regularly and one of my most favorite assignments in this class I teach performing that is a students work together.
ly enjoyed for that class is [:
And so it's very empowering to students to find a way to make themselves visible in spaces that tend to invisibilize them every day. So just sort of, those are just two examples in terms of the overall philosophy of the course for me is really important to to be together. So I kind of force students and they hate me Fred for about half the semester and then towards around this time, Thanksgiving, they start to like me again.
volved as they wanted to be. [:
About look, think about the text and think about the subject and look to each other for answers. And there's so much more that they can learn from each other than they can actually learn from me. And so those are some of the strategies that have worked over the years and that I found allows students to really build community with each other and kind of come together to learning.
LH: I appreciate those examples so much. One of the things I've tried to do in my classes lately is build in an hour a week of assigned time or maybe even using classroom time for students to have. Conversations with each other and build community with each other.
ated by me as the instructor [:
So thank you for sharing that. And I, so I am working out a question and the question is maybe to ask you to think with us about. A response I hear quite often and it's kind of a double response to descriptions of critical pedagogy or more sort of classroom models that seek to rearrange power.
t if you experimented with a [:
And these are in my students who are minoritized who are working class who are who are precarious in whatever way like this isn't the kind of education that quote they need, which I, in, I experience as a kind of carceral response that is often sometimes couched as there are not enough resources to provide the kinds of labor that, that, you know that this kind of teaching requires.
n have it, but also to write [:
That don't belong in public institutions and working class institutions and minority serving institutions. I'm curious, because you were at Harvard, and have circulated in some of these elite spaces, how you have experienced and navigate what one is this kind of rhetoric familiar to you, and to if it is like.
How do you navigate the kinds of double standards around gatekeeping, who can or cannot have access to liberatory models and non traditional classrooms?
arning, you must be equipped [:
I dismiss it as colonial and frankly, sometimes quite racist. I think because I happen to have my entire education was public from, you know, elementary to PhD. And because I started my career in a public institution and my training as a liberatory teacher in a freedom school, I tend to be able to sort of argue back.
learning no matter what age [:
I have never met a learner that had a dysfunctional relationship to learning. They have dysfunctional relationship to classrooms and to institutions because of deep classroom traumas. That people have had to face. So the idea that because you did not go to the right high school quote unquote, or because you don't have the kinds of resources, you are unable to learn a certain way is just false.
t, right? It's a response to [:
It requires. As teachers to do quite a bit of on learning and to relinquish power and to understand that it's okay to be questioned. And that sometimes you will make mistakes. It is a vulnerable type of teaching, right? And it's only successful if you're willing as a teacher to be vulnerable. If I am willing to sit in the classroom and say to my students, I don't have all the answers.
I actually don't know how this is going to work out. But I am hoping that you would trust me and accompany, accompany me in this experiment. Of our collective learning and sometimes it will fail and sometimes some things will not go so well and I'm going to trust you to give me feedback that will help me teach you better.
the ability to listen and to [:
But those are risks that I think are worth taking. If we truly mean what we say about we want to decolonize the classroom and we want the classroom to be a space that is safe for everyone and we want the classroom to be a place where people work for justice. Which might not be everyone's goal in the classroom.
assessment and publications, [:
But are feeling pressure from outside. Not a bad example of that. I would not say to anyone to take a risk because it is that is something that they need. That's a very personal decision. Why I would ask them to ask themselves, why are they choosing to do the work that they are doing? anD so if you're choosing to do this work because of an ethical commitment to learning to to the world, then I would say, don't worry so much about tenure.
to this profession because I [:
It caused me to lose tenure. I was punished by the institution. And that is absolutely something that can happen. So it's a question of figuring out what can you live with? I sleep really well at night and I always have because of the choices that I've made. And so it really is personal and I don't think I don't think anyone is in a position to judge.
People make decisions based on so many things that we don't know. But if you do choose to teach this way, and if you do choose to go against what your institution requires it's important to know that there are risks. It's also important to remember that there are no assurances either.
l the rules and never sign a [:
I do think in general where we tend to see more punishment, if you will, faculty is with activism that is public rather than with experimental teaching. So it's also thinking about, is it really, are you really taking a huge risk on your career because you're asking students to do group readings outside of class?
s really helpful. Thank you. [:
LH: Yeah, I think about the ways that disingenuous advice circulates advice to professionalize advice to not sign a petition advice to not have an SJP presence on your campus.
Because otherwise it will imperil your career and the ways that like. Yeah, the it's not even actual careerism. It's like the specter of professionalization ends up being a preemptive sort of counter revolutionary tactic because one anticipates getting shut down. And then, like, what kinds of educational communities and spaces might we create so that those things are less Scary or matter less or the stakes are different.
hink about both and meaning, [:
I Tell my graduate students that the way they all, I'm often asked, like, how do you know, how do you manage? How do you survive? How do you do this? And for me has always been about separating the job from the work. tHat's really important to me. The work I take wherever I go, it's mine. My classes, my research that's something that will always be mine no matter where I am.
ame, and it's not surprising [:
TP: Yeah this sounds a lot like some of the discourse going on in study and struggle. And you as a public facing scholar working on increasing the foothold or footprint of ethnic studies and decolonized courses and de centerings, I mean, and centering subjugated knowledges and all of that. Could you say more about the role of the professor in like, protest and, you know, real, you know, active activism?
think particularly for those [:
And for some of us who actually come from those communities, it's really, there really isn't an option to just be silent. It wasn't for me. It is not for a lot of my colleagues. How do you respond to attacks that are happening on your campus to communities that you belong to and that you or that you study?
that the times that we find [:
s. So, But at the same time, [:
I do think that for those of us who have the protection of tenure we should do more, not only to speak up and to take on in internal institutional fights when we're in a position to do so, but also to protect those and speak on behalf of our junior faculty or graduate students. Who are less protected and you know, take that tenure for a walk.
wHat is the point otherwise of tenure if you're on if you're not going to use that protection to speak fairly. I have a very hard time seeing that. And yet, we do see it. More often than not, we're seeing it now with the violence and the genocide that is happening in Palestine and how so much.
he United States and beyond. [:
How do we justify that? And I'm not here saying that You should be encouraging your students to go out to protest or any of those things. But how do you know, have a dialogue in the classroom about what is happening in the world? That is that pertains the subject that you're teaching and how do you not stand up for students and junior faculty on campus that are being silenced and targeted?
if you happen to be someone who is in a position to do so. That doesn't sit very well with me.
LH: Thank you for [:
s that. And commitments that [:
And over the last, over, over your life, but maybe especially over the last couple of years about what is at stake in this project of ethnic studies and what otherwise possibilities for relationship, for learning, for being together, for arranging our resources do you see? Do you
see in it.
ries and whatnot, but there, [:
From more generative, if you will, from where some of the most radical thinking is, it's emerging and by that I'm thinking about Indigenous and Native American studies and, of course, Latino studies and Black studies and Asian American studies. And to some extent our American sense and the ways in which we are thinking collectively through different fields and through different angles about questions, the ways in which colonialism, migration, racism, anti blackness intersect and how they're all sort of coming from the same space.
very important way to think [:
And I think I'm generally think this is why the university as a neoliberal white supremacist colonial institution is so resistant to ethnic studies, because ethnic studies, as I practice it again critical ethnic studies I think of it, it's task is literally to avoid to abolish the university as is, and I think of it, it's task is literally to avoid to abolish the university as is, and I How are donors and administrators going to agree with a project that basically tells them you're no longer relevant?
ere is so much resistance to [:
To the bottom of, you know, ethnic studies to try and change the composition, but also sanitize them and sort of handpicked faculty that are not going to be fighting for this kinds of. Structural changes and in reality, what I would love to see is not is the praxis of ethnic studies, the methods of ethnic studies at the center of how we do learning, not just at the university, but also at the high school middle school levels.
e university let us do that? [:
The way that we have been it's not just that the neoliberal project is literally killing us with labor, right? We're doing more and more every day. Jobs that used to be a dedicated staff person are now sort of divided among faculty, you know, it is so much labor, but also. What we teach, how we teach it, who we reach, and what the goals of our teaching are not serving what is needed in society if we don't center the subjugated knowledges.
learly. Yeah, there, there's [:
I think that if there's one, I guess, parting you parting words, be that I am still optimistic, despite. The evidence around us to the kind of makes us not be precisely because of what I have seen is possible in the classroom. So I guess I would encourage teachers that are listening to hold on to that as much as they can.
, you know, the impact that. [:
's campus, like the kinds of [:
you might want to recommend [:
Or would you like to go first?
LGP: Sure. So I actually have right here this book that I've been reading Elite Capture which is a Haymarket book. I am loving it. I am almost done. And I always have a novel that I'm reading because I just love literature. And I'm reading Andrew Cruz's new new novel, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water.
And I'm really enjoying it. So highly recommended. You know, I need to watch more TV. That is something that I think I've been realizing because my my, the last thing I saw was a very long time ago. So I don't have any recommendations. There. So I'll stop there.
and then I'll go low. Low is [:
tly Saturday Night Live. So, [:
All right, Lucia. What are you doing?
LH: The book that I've been reading slowly, like an essay or two Every day is June Jordan's book, Civil Wars: Observations from the Front Lines of America which I am embarrassed to say as much of June Jordan's work as I've read, I had never read this and was interested in returning to her her, you know, seminal voice.
ve just been, I've just been [:
ightful, and I wish we could [:
LGP: Thank you so much for having me.
TP: Thank you for listening to Nothing Never Happens, the Radical Pedagogy Podcast and our interview with Dr. Lorgia Garcia Pena. Our audio editor is Aaliyah Harris. Our intro music is by Lance Eric Haugen. Performed by Lance Eric Haugen with Aviva and the Flying Penguins. Our outro music, we're pleased to report, is by our audio editor.