For The QC
On Sept. 17, as I was browsing through my Instagram feed, I came across a picture posted by Whittier College that I felt was hypocritical, for lack of a better word. The post was a picture from last year’s Latinx graduation, exclaiming Whittier’s immense excitement about being a “Top college for #Latinx student outcomes.” The caption described how honored the College felt to be able to empower its Latinx students. In the picture were eight recent alumni that participated in the Latino graduation and excitedly displayed their colorful stoles.
Last year, the College did not renew the contracts of 3 professors: Teresa Delfín (Anthropology), Xóchitl Ruiz (Anthropology), and Sonia Gonzalez (Spanish). Interestingly enough, they are all women, they are all Latinas, and they all taught classes centered around or related to Latinx culture. In light of this information, I found the College’s post rather satirical and decided to share my sentiments with my twitter followers. I posted a screenshot of the picture with a sarcastic comment that reflected my disapproval, and after seeing how much attention my tweet received, I realized that this was a topic that still needed to be talked about.
All of these professors had impeccable reputations amongst their students. A quick search of any three of them on ratemyprofessor.com would show their popularity as educators. You could also simply ask any student that has taken a class with them, and you’d get the idea. I have taken classes with all of them, being a Spanish major with a Latino Studies minor — some more than once — and can affirm these claims. All of these women are incredibly intelligent academics with very impressive resumes; but, furthermore, they were amazing professors that positively impacted a number student’s lives both academically and emotionally.
Last year, all three were informed that their contracts would not be renewed for the following school year. There was no valuable explanation given to them as to why they were not allowed to continue as professors, and quite frankly, I would argue that it is because there were no valid reasons. What is particularly upsetting is the fact that the College had recently received a substantial grant for being a Hispanic Serving Institute, and after consulting with a number of faculty members, I was informed that it was all invested into the SLC and STEM-related projects. This is not to say that this itself was a problem, but I find it extremely upsetting that other departments that contribute to integral classes regarding Latinx identity and history were completely overlooked.
I also find it very problematic that the College so easily disregarded three professors that were not only women of color, but taught courses that were specifically related to Latinx communities and the obvious one, Spanish. How could the College have the audacity to claim to be proud of “empowering” it’s Hispanic/Latinx students when it deliberately forced three scholars that are so significant to the Latinx identity on Campus out of their positions? I am quite interested in understanding the message they were trying to send with their actions.
As a first-generation Latina, I can wholeheartedly say that each of these three professors played a fundamental role in shaping my academic aspirations because of their relatability. Having professors that represent who you are and what you are studying is one of the most enlightening experiences one could undergo, and it is quite shameful that the College decided to take this opportunity away from many of its other students. My professors underwent obvious discrimination, given the particularly brutal similarities in all three of their situations, and no justice was given to them.
After an extensive conversation with Professor Gonzalez, she specified to me that the College informed her of the fact that her contract would not be renewed in late April of 2017, just a few weeks before the school year was over. Gonzalez explained to me that “it was only after the American Association of University Professors told them that they needed to give me a 12-month written notice letting me know that my contract was not going to be renewed,” that they then extended her contract for another year. Gonzalez continued, “I taught for seven years at Whittier. They did not want to hire me another year because I would have been eligible for “de facto” tenure — [a] permanent job.” In other words, the College did not want to have to provide the benefits that come with tenure to Professor Gonzalez, so they decided the best thing to do was dismiss her from her position.
Seeing how unprofessional the College was by informing her significantly late into the year goes to show how inconsiderate and insensitive their actions were. They clearly did not expect Professor Gonzalez to find a new teaching position with that late of a notice, but that did not phase them. It was as though the six previous years of service to the College meant nothing. Frankly, I feel that says a lot about the character of the administration as a whole.
I would also like to point out that after further research: of the new faculty hired for the 2018 – 2019 school year, a minuscule number of professors were hired in the social sciences/humanities departments. More specifically, no new Spanish professor was hired to replace Professor Gonzalez. As a Latino Studies minor, this is concerning to me because she taught several required courses for the minor, and now there is quite a bit of uncertainty as to who will be taking those roles.
I have realized that many students share the same sentiments as me, and it has ignited an insatiable desire within me to continuously advocate and demand that the institution we attend represent who we are. While it can feel difficult to take action because of our limited resources, I encourage students to voice their concerns and recognize the power that their words hold because, as I witnessed, when there is something to be said, there will always be someone to listen. I urge my peers to take advantage of this; otherwise the College will continuously flaunt important titles without upholding what they actually signify.