By Alejandra Arredondo
Washington, Aug 23 (EFE).- On her first day as a professor at Harvard, a security guard asked Afro-Latina Lorgia Garcia Peña what she was doing there. “He doesn’t know me yet,” she thought, but when she had to respond to the same question several more times while her Anglo colleagues were greeted with “good morning” she understood that she was the victim of racism.
It was that very racism that ended up driving her from the institution, as she writes in her book “Community as Rebellion,” in which she details her passage through the prestigious university, which in 2019 refused to grant her tenure.
The academician, born in the Dominican Republic, tells in the book how for the six years she was at the university that feeling of otherness crystallized in the tenure board’s decision not to grant her a permanent position, for which she was on track, apparently with no other negative circumstances.
“You feel excluded in the day-to-day (activities). That was my experience at Harvard: my right to be there and my position within the university was always questioned,” the expert in ethnic studies told EFE.
In her book, which seeks to be a guide for women who are “racialized” in the academic world, Garcia tells how she was treated during her time at Harvard, one of the most prestigious universities in both the US and the world.
During those years she endured racist and machismo insults on numerous occasions. Once, in 2016, two men threw hot coffee on her while shouting “Build the wall,” a phrase made popular among the US right by former President Donald Trump, referring to building a border wall along the US-Mexico frontier to keep out illegal migrants.
Garcia said that the university rejected granting her tenure “due to racism, discrimination, fear of change.”
When contacted by EFE, Harvard declined to respond to those accusations.
“There is still a lot of resistance within” the academic world to speaking about people belonging to minorities “as producers of knowledge” instead of as objects of study, Garcia said.
And, despite the fact that US institutions of higher education have increased the number of students from minorities groups, the change has not been reflected among the professorial staff.
In the autumn of 2020, almost three-fourths of the teaching body at US universities were white people. In contrast, just 3 percent of the professors were Hispanic men or women, another 3 percent were black men and 4 percent were black women, according to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Meanwhile, 21 percent of all undergraduate students at US universities in 2019 were Hispanic and 12.6 percent were African American, according to the latest NCES report.
The report classifies minorities as Asians, blacks, Hispanics or Native Americans, and thus the precise percentage of Afro-Latinas like Garcia cannot be known from the figures.
Garcia’s book is coming out during the same year when Harvard University has proposed dealing with another racist question, announcing the creation of a $100 million fund to address the institution’s complicity on the issue of slavery for more than 150 years.
In her conversations with EFE, the professor said that many universities like Harvard have “double standards” regarding diversity.
On the one hand, she said, they take measures that apparently promote diversity, activism and social criticism, but “when this translates into questioning the systems of exclusion and racism that affect students, they like it less.”
To combat that, she proposes “giving a central space” to the knowledge and history of non-European peoples, those who continue to be treated as “folklore or as footnotes.”
“What has to happen in education is a radical change in how we look at knowledge and how we focus on what we’ve left on the margins for all this time,” she said.
Garcia’s case is not the only one of its kind that has become publicly known recently.