May 15, 2023
Dear academic community and beyond,
As University of Washington (UW) graduate students in the Department of Geography, we are deeply disturbed by Dartmouth College’s denial of tenure to Dr. Patricia (Tish) Lopez and stand in support of her as someone who has significantly shaped our field and inspired many of us to pursue academia. Dartmouth’s decision to deny tenure to the only woman of color faculty member in its Geography department demonstrates the college’s legacy of failing to recognize the contributions of their scholars of color. We are attentive to the urgent need to shape a tenure process that recognizes and rewards faculty for their talent, dedication, and contribution to their students as well as their disciplines and institutions. It is disheartening to witness Dartmouth’s continued hindrance of exceptional scholars due to structural racism and sexism. Given Dr. Lopez’s exemplary work as an academic and mentor and the college’s refusal to recognize her accomplishments, we wonder, what space exists for us to become scholars invested in continuing this sort of work?
Dr. Lopez completed her PhD here at UW where she distinguished herself through her commitment to intellectual and interpersonal communities within the Geography Department and the broader Seattle area. She was awarded two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, and many other institutional accolades. Alongside this work, Dr. Lopez bridged participatory models for care-based approaches informing health and public safety through the city of Seattle. She returned to Seattle many years later to lead a large-scale survey on Covid-19’s disparate outcomes. We as UW graduate students are particularly invested in Dr. Lopez, and remain inspired by her continued commitment to the communities that sustained her. However, we would be remiss not to point to the plethora of her former students who have found a place here and in other institutions because of her mentoring.
Following her time as a student at UW, Dr. Lopez nurtured generations of academics by cultivating a caring environment at Dartmouth. She has made a profound impact on countless students, especially those whose physical and emotional well-being were precarious during their time at the college. This is evidenced by her – often overenrolled – classes and supervision being the most sought after in the geography department. The volume and sincerity of statements of support for Dr. Lopez is a testament to the collective disbelief of Dartmouth alumni and current students at the college’s decision to deny her tenure. Under Dr. Lopez’s wing, her students are becoming the next generation of scholars shaping the discipline of Geography and academia more broadly. She has supported her students’ research projects as if they were her own, and mentored them in their career pursuits even after graduation. Dr. Lopez is the model of the teacher-scholar that Dartmouth promises its students.
Inspired by Dr. Lopez’s own dedication to building care within the academy, we call attention to the implications of the dismissal of her work for the future of Geography. Many geographers spend considerable time and energy building towards a discipline which celebrates the crucial contributions of women of color to academia. The denial of Dr. Lopez’s tenure is incongruent with this disciplinary aspiration, and we as graduate students take this contradiction to heart. Dartmouth’s refusal to recognize Dr. Lopez’s work is a signal to aspiring scholars about the college’s priorities. The opacity of this procedure exacerbates our confusion and leads us to ask – if Dr. Lopez was not qualified, then who is?
As graduate students actively shaping and becoming the future of the academy, we feel that it is our responsibility to care for our institutions and to intervene when these spaces become inhospitable. Dartmouth is by no means the only higher education institution to fall back on its prestige rather than its promises, nor is this reality exclusive to the tenure process. The recruitment of talented scholars of color by institutions like Dartmouth is exploitative as these scholars are routinely confronted with a lack of material support and precarity in their employment status. Moreover, this exploitation is further entrenched by the demands for care within the academy disproportionately falling on women of color. We have taken the time to critically consider what it will mean to invest ourselves into these institutions who routinely fail to value the qualities we deem central to our vocation.
We echo the sentiments of our colleagues in the Latinx Geographies Specialty Group in stating the field of Geography suffers an incalculable loss without Dr. Lopez participating in it, and we condemn Dartmouth for its decision. We urge the academy, particularly our well-established colleagues, to examine the ways in which they contribute to and can challenge the conditions which enabled Dartmouth’s decision.
Alyson Mabie, Hanover Vale, Madalena Monnier-Reyna, Soohyung Hur, Liz Peng
Graduate Students, Department of Geography, University of Washington
Signed by our fellow graduate student collaborators from across disciplines and institutions:
To add your name to the list in support, please fill out this google form.
Wesley Carrasco MA, Geography, University of Washington
Chase Puentes MS, Geography, University of Washington
Ellie Cleasby, Geography, University of Washington
Theodore Davenport, Geography, University of Washington
Isaac Rivera, Geography, University of Washington
Samantha Thompson MA Ph.C, Geography, University of Washington
Olivia Orosco, Geography, University of Washington
Yuying Xie MSc, Geography, University of Washington
Natalie Vaughan-Wynn Ph.C, Geography, University of Washington
Alexandra Yanson Ph.C, Geography, University of Washington
Anna Fernandez MA, Geography, University of Washington