Visiting Professor Gilda L. Ochoa Offers Lessons About Diversity for Higher Education

Dr. Gilda L. Ochoa teaching a class at Cal Poly

Dr. Gilda L. Ochoa of Pomona College was selected as the Cal Poly College of Liberal Arts Susan Currier Visiting Professorship for Teaching Excellence. Her one-quarter appointment was in winter quarter 2016.

The Susan Currier Visiting Professorship for Teaching Excellence is a residential teaching professorship that recognizes superior teaching in the liberal arts, emphasizing the intersection between gender/women's issues and global justice/humanitarian concerns. The professorship honors and sustains the late Susan Currier’s commitment to education. Currier served as an associate dean of Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts and as a professor of English. The professorship was founded by a generous contribution from the estate of Currier and her late husband Max Wills, and is sustained through donations from colleagues, family, friends and supporters.

Ochoa is a professor of sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Pomona College where she writes and teaches about Latinas/os, education, and race/ethnicity. She has received the Wig Distinguished Professorship Award for Excellence in Teaching at Pomona College three times, most recently in 2015. She is the author of numerous articles and three books, including her newest book, Academic Profiling: Latinos, Asian Americans, and the Achievement Gap, which received awards from the Asian American Studies Association, the American Sociological Association, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems for its focus on race and eradicating racism. An article in the Huffington Post named Academic Profiling as one of 35 books all educators of African American and Latino students must read. Ochoa is currently beginning new research on sexuality and Latinas' race-gendered experiences in schools.

Ochoa applied to the visiting professorship at Cal Poly because of its emphasis on teaching. As observed by Ochoa, this emphasis “is important because although much of our time as faculty focuses on teaching, too few spaces and fellowships acknowledge and celebrate the significance of this work. Instead, most fellowships insulate faculty from both teaching and students by concentrating on academic research and writing. As a committed teacher having taught at Pomona College for twenty years, I was particularly drawn to this professorship and the opportunity to be in the Ethnic Studies Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.”

While in residence at Cal Poly, Ochoa participated in and facilitated important, complex, and sometimes painful discussions about the relationships between race, class, gender, and education – asking members of the Cal Poly community to “get radical” to challenge the roots of oppression at our university, in our nation and in the world. In addition to teaching two courses in the Ethnic Studies Department – Cultural Production and Ethnicity and Chicana/o-Latinas/os and Education – Ochoa delivered four public talks, four classroom guest lectures/discussions, four teaching workshops and two video screenings.

Ochoa’s time at Cal Poly culminated in the Susan Currier Memorial Lecture on April 7, 2016. Entitled “Unpacking Diversity and Excellence: Lessons for Institutions in Higher Education,” the talk utilized lessons from her extensive study of high school students and her experiences at Cal Poly to explore how seemingly well-intended movements for diversity and celebrations of academic excellence can maintain the status quo and reproduce inequality in institutions of higher education. Ochoa focused her and our attention on the discrepancies between what individuals and institutions say and what they do to enhance diversity, inclusivity and equity. By exposing and exploring those gaps, her talk highlighted areas for individual and institutional transformation.

Ochoa provided many opportunities for students to Learn by Doing in her Ethnic Studies courses. For example, students Alaina Kuehr and Kristen Tran created an art exhibit entitled “Latinas/os Faces Erased: Reclaiming Latinx Identities.” Displayed at the Susan Currier Memorial Lecture on April 7, their exhibit asked the questions “How do people perceive you? How do you perceive yourself?” The goal of the project was to encourage “people to resist the pulls of societal labels on their identities and be able to communicate their individuality.” Kuehr and Tran wrote, “We both wanted to do this through art … because the creative process not only has the power to foster solidarity among participants, but it also produces a physical product from this experience to share with the community at large.”

“Dr. Ochoa’s residency occurred at a time in which Cal Poly students, alumni, faculty, staff and administrators – along with many San Luis Obispo community members – were engaged as participants in a robust national dialogue about the present and future of universities as sites of education, community, safety and transformation,” said Jane Lehr, Women’s and Gender Studies Department chair. “I cannot imagine we could have found a better mentor in this work than Dr. Ochoa. At a time in which some members of the campus community were afraid of retaliation for their actions, Dr. Ochoa showed us again and again how to speak and act in spite of our fears. I am grateful to the creators and funders of the Susan Currier Visiting Professorship for Teaching Excellence for providing the university with the opportunity to work with and learn from Dr. Ochoa.”

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