Monday, December 10, 2018

Q&A: Claudia García-Louis, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies

Q&A: Claudia García-Louis, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies

Claudia García-Louis studies AfroLatinxs in higher education, minoritized populations and underrepresented student groups.

(Dec. 6, 2018) -- Claudia García-Louis is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at UTSA.

As a first-generation faculty member and researcher, García-Louis hopes to disrupt deficit thinking about communities of color, minoritized populations and underrepresented student groups.

She recently received two faculty fellowships from Race, Ethnicity and Place (REP) and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE).

García-Louis draws on over six years of student affairs experience in order to bridge theory to practice. She also works with students who are conducting their own research on education.

We recently asked García-Louis about her current projects.

Tell us about your current research.

My goals are to expand the definitions of Latinidad and Blackness in higher education, to make a critical contribution to a newly formed line of inquiry that explores the educational experiences of AfroLatinxs and to conduct research that highlights Latinx heterogeneity and the experiences of Latina-mami-scholars.

I am currently working on two projects; the first is a national study centered around the on-campus experiences of self-identified AfroLatinx faculty, staff, and administrators. This study is a continuation of a previous investigation I conducted that assessed the educational experiences of self-identified AfroLatinx students in the East coast. I am interested in better understanding how they navigate group membership and negotiate in-group sense of belonging.

My second project highlights the professional experiences of Latina mami scholars who are on the tenure-track. Propelled by my need for academic survival and the legitimization of my intersecting identities - mami, Latina and junior faculty on the tenure track - but also inspired by my desire to celebrate them, I co-developed the #latinamamischolars collective. Members are located at various institutions across the United States.

Data collection is ongoing and we utilize autoethnographic, narrative and grounded theory as methodological approaches. This project extends into my role as NASPA’s Latinx Knowledge Community Research Co-Chair, where we have deliberately decided to celebrate the stories of strength and resiliency of women on the tenure-track, who consciously embrace both motherhood and their professional roles as scholars.

Why did you decide to focus on this topic?

I firmly believe that research should push the boundaries of how populations have traditionally been assessed in exchange for innovative, complex, timely and culturally relevant inquiry. In my attempt to make a valuable contribution to the field of higher education, I looked at current social-political trends and identified the need to better understand the fastest growing and youngest demographic group in the United States – Latinxs.

For far too long, social scientists have attempted to quantify and assess Latinx experiences but consistently fail to provide nuanced findings given their attempts only homogenizes a vastly diverse ethnic group. Qualitative methods provide us with an in-depth inquiry of the “what” so that we can best understand the “why” and eventually develop best practices to adequately serve their needs.

My long-term goal is to become a mixed methodologist in order to best understand their holistic experiences. Further, I firmly believe that research can be me-search, therefore, informed by my intrinsic desire to both make a valuable contribution to the field and the moral obligation to counter deficit based findings about minoritized populations, I seek to illuminate their experiences of resiliency, tenacity and survival through an asset based perspective.   

What impact do you hope your research will have?

It is my hope that practitioners will read my research and utilize it to inform program development, student services and best practices. If colleges and universities want to attract and retain Latinx faculty and students, they must do better at validating their experiences and serving their needs. My research highlights the multiple forms of capital each population brings with them to campus, it emphasizes intersections seldom assessed in educational research, and challenges the social construction of race and ethnicity.

My research provides an asset based account about populations that have been marginalized, overlooked, and/or misrepresented by social science researchers. I hope practitioners utilize it to better understand how the racialization of Latinxs has invalidated non-mestizxs – directly impacting their success. Finally, I seek to expand methodological approaches to be more inclusive of diverse ways of knowing, living and navigating campus life.

What is one important thing going on in your field that people are not talking about as much as they could be?

We should move beyond the K-12 and higher education siloes that have forever plagued our profession. We all embark on a similar educational pathway, and thus, the conversation should be P-20 in nature and center around collaborative partnership that will elevate student success along the pipeline. We must also pay greater attention to the impact social-political factors are having on the mental well-being and sense of belonging of the most marginalized and targeted student populations.

The field of education has failed to develop curriculums that are embracive of diverse student populations; we must do better. In less than a decade, racial and ethnic minorities will become the majority in schools across the nation yet educational institutions have been slow at preparing. Attempts at diversifying curriculum to be embrace of noted changes have been met with resistance and hostility at all levels, including federal and state policy.

With a growing Latinx population comes the responsibility to also understand Latinx intra-group racial diversity. I think these are the conversations we should be having on college campuses. UTSA is an HSI, we should celebrate that identity, there is a great deal of richness in that title, and we must help our students understand the value associated with an HSI. My research directly contributes to this topic – in particular the goal of expanding the definition of Latinidad and recognizing Latinx heterogeneity.    

What advice do you share with students interested in entering your field?

Ask questions, ask lots of questions and seek out mentors. Follow your heart and be tenaciously stubborn. I didn’t think being a faculty member was possible for me - I never had anyone tell me I could do it - but I persisted.

The biggest piece of advice I would give anyone (whether they want to enter this field or another) is, if you want to get in and the door is closed, look for a window. Follow your dreams and do not accept no as an option. The road is long and difficult so enjoy the journey.

What inspires you?

My family, my children, my immigrant-activist identity. It took me over 25 years to celebrate being a first-generation, immigrant, woman of color in education. I was taught to assimilate, to fit in, to not stand out and in my attempt at doing that, I lost my identity.

 There is incredible power in celebrating your roots and ancestry. I am inspired by the possibility of helping my students realize how incredibly beautiful their intersecting identities are and the unique gifts they bring with them to campus.

- Kara Soria


Learn more about Claudia García-Louis.

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