By Sofia Robles
Education is one of the greatest opportunities a person can have and what most immigrant parents want for their children in the United States. It allows us to expand and immerse ourselves into conversations that challenge us and the powers that be. It’s no secret that most educators across the nation come from a certain background but after recent events, the door has opened to allow new perspectives and new voices to enter. Recently, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) has hired a new cohort of Chicanx professors to enrich the lives of both present and incoming students. As a Hispanic-serving institute, it is a campus filled with first-generation college students and the student body is over sixty-percent students of color with approximately forty-six percent identifying as Hispanic or Latinx.
This new cohort has joined CSUF recently after California passed an Ethnic Studies requirement. Governor Newson signed legislation, known as Assembly Bill No. 101, on October 8, 2021 making California the first state to require all students to complete a semester course in Ethnic Studies to earn a high school diploma. Being a recent graduate from CSUF, I was able to take an anthropology course with Dr. Galaviz-Ceballos' instruction and gained a new perspective and understanding of my own culture while learning about other societies globally. Along with Dr. Galaviz-Ceballos, the new cohort is able to share their expertise on Chicanx culture, while addressing all Latinx communities, and social justice issues involving the intersection of people of color in the U.S.
To understand the impact these new positions have made on them and their roles as relevant role-models, I interviewed Dr. Manuel Galaviz-Ceballos, Dr. Marlén Ríos-Hernández, and Dr. Nadia Zepeda about their first year experiences at CSUF as well as their thoughts on their new endeavor as a first-generation professor.
How did you feel after completing your first year as a professor at California State Fullerton?
Galaviz-Ceballos: It just happened so it still doesn’t feel like it ended. I was reflecting on this not too long ago and I realized that yes, it’s my first year as a tenure track professor but it’s been 20 years that I’ve been in some sort of higher education institution. I first enrolled in Spring 2002 in community college and I don’t think there’s been more than an 8 month period that I haven't been involved in a university of some sort. I’ve gone through pretty much all the stages from being a community college student to now a professor and it's like it culminated in a place that I feel validated. That’s what I’m leaving with. All the work I’ve done in my past I’m starting to see pay off.
Ríos-Hernández: It was such a complex time to be hired. I had to go through the market during a global pandemic. I was also grieving as many people were and are. And so the completion of my first year was really a sign that I was lucky enough to live another year. When you teach things like Ethnic Studies in such a hard moment, even before everything that’s happened, it's always been hard to do this work so I guess my word would be gratitude. I was thankful for the students that I got that entrusted me with their intellectual journeys. I was thankful that for my first year was, as complicated as it was, on a larger scale was actually warm and generous on the ground up.
Zepeda: I thought it was a great accomplishment. I was really excited to close that cycle of the school year. It was nice to have that closing of the semester. It’s my first time teaching as a professor in a tenure position so it was beautiful in that way. I appreciated that even though we’re still living in a pandemic, I was able to participate in some of the commencements for my students. It was a culmination of a lot of feelings.
Did you have any expectations for yourself?
Galaviz-Ceballos: Yeah, I’m a recent PhD recipient and I was an adjunct professor at Chapman University which means I was a lecturer. I came in with broad ideas on how I could change the curriculum, the classes I’m giving at CSUF and I envisioned these classes that were rich with all these diverse voices and very diverse authors and I feel I fulfilled that. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to plan a class out, to plan multiple classes out, to lecture on this every week and have multiple lectures a week. I didn’t anticipate the challenge of actually doing this.
Ríos-Hernández: You know I didn’t. I didn’t because this is such a new new like what my postdoc advisor, Dr. Gaye T. Johnson (professor at UCLA in Chicana/o and Central American Studies at UCLA), would say, “We don’t know what the new new is. We don’t know what life was before and then there’s whatever is going to happen now.” I knew that students were going to have a hard time. I was mostly concerned about my students, what support students needed, especially my first years. My expectations were mostly around teaching and students.
Zepeda: I think for me, I came in as a learner. I know the institution kind of as a student but then moving as a faculty member, it's also learning a new language, a new culture, so I think my expectations were just to kind of learn as much as I could from the position and also get to know what kind of students are at California State University, Fullerton.
“They are all doing cutting-edge and critical work that goes beyond disciplinary boundaries,” said Dr. Patricia A. Pérez, Associate Dean for Faculty and Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies.
How do you feel to be a part of the new cohort of Latinx professors at California State Fullerton?
Galaviz-Ceballos: It’s an interesting moment because California passed an Ethnic Studies requirement which broadened the number of professors that are teaching. I was hired through the Anthropology department but this new law that went into play opened the door for people to come in and be part of Ethnic Studies. I feel there are a lot of local connections and local people with this new cohort. That’s what I appreciate about being part of this group. We all have ties to this area. It’s a rare experience and I feel fortunate to be part of this group.
Ríos-Hernández: I don’t think it’s the end all solution of diversity. Hiring only a handful of us will do some good work. With that said, it's necessary unfortunately and fortunately, it’s both. I feel like students really benefit a lot and I forgot that feeling because I hadn’t been in front of a classroom in such a long time because of the pandemic. I had forgotten the impact of seeing representation at the podium.
Zepeda: I’m really excited and I’m really fortunate because when I hear about Latinx getting jobs, it's not something that is very common. When I found out there was a whole cohort of us coming in, I was really excited and I think it really shows all the investment in Ethnic Studies and faculty of color. Fullerton is an HSI (Hispanic Serving Institute) and we do serve a lot of students of color so it's exciting to see that reflected in the hiring. As a faculty of color, I feel excited and I feel supported.
What excites you about being a first-generation PhD mentor?
Galaviz-Ceballos: I never thought I would be a mentor. I internalize a lot of things, a lot of stereotypes and this is my second career. I worked full time as a construction worker hanging drywall and that’s something central to my family and what they do. I had mentors while I was in construction but never thought I would be a mentor of any kind. I’ve always been taught to be humble but sometimes you gotta step to that mentorship role. What excites me is that I had the opportunity to mentor students from my own graduate students to graduate students in other departments. The exciting part is recognizing where they are.
Ríos-Hernández: When students learn something new and they decide to make a career out of their joy. They find something that they care about that makes them happy. I think it's me being witness to their growth. You’re alive, you’re thriving. I’m more moved by the students who feel like they didn’t have anything going for them and they heard from me or something that I taught that they felt seen.
Zepeda: I had a lot of great women of color mentors that really guided me on this journey. I know for a fact that if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. For me, what excites me is paying it forward and creating that same mentorship that I was nurtured by and hopefully seeing a new generation of young scholars take up going to grad school and become the next generation of faculty. It’s the feeling of passing it along but also paying it forward.
What advice would you give yourself about starting your second year at California State Fullerton?
Galaviz-Ceballos: I would up front and center plan ahead more, to be at least two to three weeks ahead of schedule on the back of preparing classes, lecture slides and all that just to be ahead of time and to also be prepared for the unexpected. In line with all of that is also setting stricter boundaries for myself in terms of work and rest and actually adhering to a schedule.
Ríos-Hernández: Boundaries but not at the expense of students who need advice on direct action at this moment. I don't see student activism as secondary, I see it as part of their retention. My advice for myself for the incoming year is to have boundaries, learn how to say no, don’t over commit but it should not be at the expense of students who need advice on how to mobilize in this moment.
Zepeda: The advice I would give myself is take it slower and pace myself. Once the semester starts, we feel like we have to catch up and hit the ground running but I think taking it slow and just enjoying the process can also be part of our pedagogy and our teaching. We start at a different pace that shows we should center our wellness and our time.
About the Profes
Dr. Manuel Galaviz-Ceballos is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Fullerton. He has conducted extensive research in the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands on various issues affecting Undocumented and Chicanx populations, including military and border patrol surveillance, racial profiling, deportation risks, and land-use policies. His current research is an ethnography that examines gentrification and construction labor in Southern California.
Dr. Marlén Ríos-Hernández is an Assistant Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at California State University, Fullerton and a former UCLA UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow. Trained in Ethnic Studies and Musicology, her research investigates the genealogies between policing and SoCal punk communities as told by queer Black, Chicana, Latina punk women and femmes in the aftermath of the counterintelligence programs (COINTELPRO). She is a founding member of PunkCon–– a biannual conference celebrating punk scholars, activists, artists, musicians, and communities.
Dr. Nadia Zepeda is an interdisciplinary scholar activist from Santa Ana. She’s an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chicana/o Studies at California State University, Fullerton. Nadia received her BA in Chicano/Latino Studies & Spanish from California State University, Long Beach and PhD in Chicana/o & Central American Studies from UCLA. Through collaborative and community-based research, she traces the genealogy of healing justice in Chicana/x feminist organizing. Her teaching, research, and commitment to healing justice exemplify her investments in visions of transformative justice in the university and beyond.
One thing we can take away from these testimonios is the value of taking on an unfamiliar opportunity — as first-generation PhD scholars and a new generation of professors of color across the country. With the passing of an Ethinic Studies requirement, students can now learn more about the world around them and feel that they are seen and heard. Hope is hard to come by these days and with all the changes we have experienced, it’s important to remember what we value and what we can aspire to achieve.
“We are very fortunate that Drs. Galaviz-Ceballos, Rios-Hernández, and Zepeda have joined the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS). They are all doing cutting-edge and critical work that goes beyond disciplinary boundaries,” said Dr. Patricia A. Pérez, Associate Dean for Faculty and Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies. “My hope is that their interdisciplinary work will expose our students and colleagues to new methodologies, theories, and epistemologies, and that our new professors find an intellectual home at HSS where they can thrive as educators, researchers, and people.”
I am fortunate to have met these great individuals and I look forward to all the good work they will do. They remind me that even just the smallest step can leave a big impact. This new cohort is a new chapter for a great legacy ahead.
Sofia Robles is a Mexican American writer from Calexico, California. She received her Associates of Arts in English from Imperial Valley College in 2020 while attending San Diego State University-Imperial Valley. Sofia is also a recent graduate from California State University, Fullerton where she attained her Bachelors of Arts in English. She is published in Orange Coast Magazine and is a freelance writer.
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