May 4, 2023
We, members of the American Association of Geographers Latinx Geographies Specialty Group (LxG), write with outrage over the news that Dr. Patricia (tish) Lopez has been denied tenure by Dartmouth College.
As a collective of Latinx junior faculty and graduate students, we are troubled by the department of Geography at Dartmouth College’s denial of tenure to its only woman of color faculty member. Over 50% of Dartmouth’s student body identify as non-white, and yet, less than 10% of its faculty are non-white. Denying tenure to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) faculty perpetuates structural and institutional racism through a lack of representation, limited epistemic diversity, and loss in opportunities for relational mentorship for students of color. Further, the College’s denial of tenure to Dr. Lopez directly contradicts the tenets and overall mission of its own Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan, which seeks to “align action with accountability.”1 Recently, Dartmouth has claimed to provide structural, financial support to its departments to increase its overall percentage of faculty of color from 20% to 25%. Yet, Dartmouth has denied itself this very opportunity with refusing to promote Dr. Lopez.
Dr. Lopez is an accomplished, nationally-recognized geographer who is widely lauded for the impactful feminist praxis in her research and mentorship. Her scholarship in recent years has been very influential as she has documented the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on faculty across North America, particularly the gendered dimensions of who bore the brunt of social reproductive labors during lockdown. Her research has also critically examined the health geographies of Haiti with a structural lens of the geopolitical reach of the United States. Further, this critical lens has expanded to address the issues of academic research and geography itself.
Additionally, Dr. Lopez is widely known and appreciated in our community as providing exceptional mentorship to a generation of undergraduates who are now successfully completing their graduate studies at Geography departments across the U.S. Many of these former students of Dr. Lopez are themselves BIPOC scholars who are generating a rich resurgence of knowledge production in human geography. Given the depth of her contributions to the field, where would geography be today without the rich mentorship and scholarship of Dr. Lopez?
We are all too familiar with stories of BIPOC Faculty being held to higher standards in order to assuage accusations of affirmative action. While we cannot know what led to Dartmouth’s decision, we are left wondering what systems and structures are in place in the college that reproduce the disenfranchisement of BIPOC Faculty?
The statistics surrounding the outcomes of these structures are dismal. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, BIPOC Faculty are severely underrepresented in institutions across the United States, at every rank2. In Geography, Latinx scholars are also underrepresented, with only 277 members of the American Association of Geographers identifying as Latine in 2021, across age and career status3. Dartmouth is serving as another lever in the systemic racism of academia to maintain an overall status of whiteness.
As such, we demand Dartmouth College and similar institutions interrogate the decision-making process behind tenure wherein BIPOC Faculty, especially women of color, are routinely denied tenure. We call on our Geography and academic community to reach out and materially support Dr. Lopez, as she moves through this period. Dr. Lopez’s scholarship, mentorship, and collegiality is a benefit to any department, institution, or organization. We find this denial of tenure to be a shameful example of Dartmouth refusing to reward her for these qualities. However, we expect our community to do better than this one institution, and recognize and uplift Dr. Lopez where others have failed. We are asking our colleagues to stand behind Dr. Lopez, as she has stood behind countless numbers of us.
As an organization, we demand our university administrators throughout U.S. academia work with their departments to reevaluate their tenure guidelines. Interrogate these guidelines and seek out places where workloads may be inequitably distributed onto BIPOC Faculty. Craft mentorship plans to support early and mid-career faculty members, and train existing faculty to mentor with care and address their own internal biases. Create space for scholarship and pedagogy addressing systemic racism and structures of harm to be recognized in the tenure process. Determine concrete ways to support and value collaborative, rigorous research.
The field of Geography suffers an incalculable loss without Dr. Lopez participating in it, and we condemn Dartmouth for its decision.
The Latinx Geographies Specialty Group
- Trustees of Dartmouth College, “Institutional Diversity & Equity,” 2023 https://ide.dartmouth.edu/
- National Center for Education Statistics, Percentage distribution of full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity and sex: Fall 2020 https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=61
- AAG 2022 Report, Race/Ethnicity Reported by Members https://www.aag.org/wpcontent/uploads/2023/03/2022-AAG-Membership-Report.pdf