The New Yorker
by Graciela Mochkofsky
July 27, 2021
A decision not to retain a beloved Latinx-studies professor raised questions about the university’s commitment to students of color.
On the night before Thanksgiving, 2019, Lorgia García Peña, a professor of Latinx studies at Harvard, was in her house in Arlington, Massachusetts, seasoning a large turkey. She had nine students coming over for dinner the next day, and she was in high spirits. When her cell phone rang and the caller I.D. showed that it was Mariano Siskind, the chair of her department, Romance Languages and Literatures, she smiled with anticipation. García Peña had reached that point in a scholar’s career when great promise crystallizes into solid achievement. She had become a leading reference in the field of ethnic studies; her first book, “The Borders of Dominicanidad,” had been well reviewed and had received several awards; a new book, on diasporic Blackness, was under contract with the same publisher as her first, Duke University Press.
Hired in 2013 as the only Black Latina on the tenure track at Harvard’s largest division, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, García Peña had created a Latinx-studies secondary field and area of focus, and collected numerous awards for her teaching and competitive fellowships. She was a beloved professor; many of her students referred to her, affectionately, as La Profe. When another university had tried to poach her earlier that year, her department chair and two deans had encouraged her to apply for early tenure. The tenure committee had unanimously recommended that she be promoted; a second, higher committee had endorsed the recommendation.