Harvard’s Only Latina Professor on the Tenure Track Was Rejected & Students Are Protesting

Lead Photo: John W. Weeks Bridge and clock tower over Charles River in Harvard University campus in Boston. Photo by rabbit75_ist/Getty Images
John W. Weeks Bridge and clock tower over Charles River in Harvard University campus in Boston. Photo by rabbit75_ist/Getty Images
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On Monday, students at Harvard held a sit-in to protest the tenure denial of Latina professor Lorgia García Peña and demanding an ethnics studies program.

According to student newspaper The Harvard Crimson, about 50 students joined the demonstration at the University Hall. Demonstrators took over the facility for 48 minutes, each minute representing the years that students at the Ivy League have been calling for a formalized ethnic studies program.

In addition to the demonstration, students sent an open letter to University Provost Lawrence S. Bacow, Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay asking administrators to reverse their decision denying García Peña’s tenure. They are also asking officials to release details about the final decision, “increase transparency in the tenure review process for all faculty” and open an investigation into García Peña’s case for “procedural errors, prejudice, and discrimination.”

The letter was signed by 200 students and 30 student groups. Another letter by Harvard professors and affiliates with similar requests received 972 signatures.

According to a tweet by Harvard student Mercedes Gomez, García Peña, who is an associate professor in romance languages and literatures, is the only Latina on the tenure track at the prestigious institution.

In addition to being rejected, the academic, who is beloved by Harvard students, has faced at least two racial incidents at the university.

The Harvard Crimson reports that earlier this year someone left a note at García Peña’s office insulting her ethnicity and questioning her presence at Harvard. In September, Harvard University Police opened an investigation into the incident. Another time, on-campus officers unreasonably asked to see the IDs of García Peña’s students while they were installing an art exhibit in Harvard Yard. In November, Gay referred to the event as “painful” and said the school would remedy the situation.

This isn’t the first time students came together to support García Peña. During the spring semester, the academics held a letter writing campaign to support her in the tenure process. Many expressed that she is a mentor to Latinos on campus.

The students, who are also carrying a nearly five-decade tradition of protesting for the creation of an ethnic studies department, also said that García Peña was an “excellent candidate to lead Ethnic Studies initiatives.”

In the open letter, they asked for officials to offer Ph.D.s in ethnic studies and concentrations in Native American and Indigenous studies, Latinx studies, Asian American studies, Muslim American studies and comparative race and ethnic studies as well as to create an ethnic studies research center.

Last week, during the Harvard-Yale rivalry football game halftime show, students from both universities took over the field in a demonstration for Puerto Rico and environmental justice.