President Sian Beilock,
Hanover, NH 03755
We write to express our solidarity with Dr. Patricia Lopez. Her recent tenure denial is concerning in its own right and also serves as yet another example of the historic and reprehensible pattern of both mis-evaluating and ignoring women of color’s vital contributions to our discipline of geography. It is an unfortunate reality of our discipline that these individual problematic decisions at Dartmouth and other colleges and universities across EuroAmerica must be situated within this enduring pattern.
Though we are not close colleagues of Dr. Lopez, her scholarship, her exemplary feminist practice, and her national reputation as an excellent teacher and mentor were well known to us. Dr. Lopez’s scholarship models the ideals of a feminist geographic practice; her collaborative work with other scholars is at the cutting edge of a disciplinary shift towards the valorization of collective work as enhancing geographic thought. Dr. Lopez’s work as a teacher and scholar is part of a larger vital project to de-colonize the epistemologies and methods within our eurocentric discipline. Her work as a mentor has a significant and meaningful impact on our discipline, one that is seemingly unvalued by the College, and across the discipline more broadly. The life-changing mentorship evidenced by an outpouring of student testimonials demonstrates the degree to which Dr. Lopez took this labor of care and mentorship seriously–despite the fact that it would ultimately be unremunerated and unrecognized. It is important to note that the denial of tenure does not end Dr. Lopez’s role as a mentor for her students. Rather, it becomes yet another cautionary tale of the repeated pattern of devaluing the vast contributions of women of color in our discipline.
Significantly, the specific details of Dr. Lopez’s personal case should not obscure historic patterns of discrimination within either the discipline of geography, or Dartmouth College. Geography is currently in a moment of transition and reckoning, with many young scholars making transformative inroads into a historically white and EuroAmerican discipline. For instance: the American Association of Geographers has new specialty groups in Black Geographies and Latinx Geographies; departments around the country are making more concerted efforts to hire and retain faculty and admit graduate students with diverse life experiences and from historically-underrepresented groups. These changes have resulted in shifts in curricula and publication to better address the full range of spatial knowledges, experiences, and research methods which ought to inform how we understand relationships among population, the environment, urban life, culture, politics, and media. Not only who makes geography, but also how geographic knowledge is produced is changing. All this is to say that Dr. Lopez’s work exemplifies what our discipline increasingly sees as not just necessary but also pathbreaking scholarship. As the only Ivy League university with a geography department, the decision to deny tenure has particularly devastating ramifications on these efforts to uphold and value mentorship labor, impactful diverse knowledge, and practical diversity, as administrators at other universities across the United States emulate such standards for evaluation.
Along with reproducing the continued devaluation of women of color’s contributions to geography, Dr. Lopez’s tenure denial exemplifies a pattern within Dartmouth College of using faculty of color as temporary and disposable workers. Though 45% of Dartmouth’s incoming student body identify as students of color, faculty diversity lags far behind. This is even recognized in the College’s purported commitment to “taking concrete steps to diversify its faculty [and] create a pipeline to elevate Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) to leadership positions.” In fact, the college needs these faculty not only as representatives of diversity, but also because they disproportionately provide the exact kind of unremunerated mentorship and care work to students of color and first-generation students–who might otherwise commit elsewhere, transfer, or drop out. The pattern established in the past has ramifications for the future: why would faculty of color commit to applying to Dartmouth’s BIPOC faculty lines knowing that these are likely to be temporary positions? What work conditions will they find when they arrive, and what efforts at retention will be made if tenure is actually granted? What support will Dartmouth’s diverse students receive? By denying tenure to such high-caliber professionals, Dartmouth College is making its public reputation clear: this is not a place for faculty of color. This is not only what the highest caliber faculty will have to consider when they interview, it is also what students will hear from their peers on prospective visits. At some point, the repeated pattern of BIPOC faculty not being granted tenure suggests critical questions about Dartmouth as an institution.
Dr. Lopez, whose work explores a feminist ethics of care, feminist practices of coauthorship, and deeply engages with questions of methodology, is a geographer whose work is an exemplar of the transition in our field. The denial of her tenure is an exemplar of a truly reprehensible pattern in our discipline and conveys a worrying message about Dartmouth College to our discipline overall.
Socialist and Critical Geography Executive Committee