September 21, 2016
By: Emmanuel Caudillo, Senior Advisor
White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, U.S. Department of Education
(Originally appeared on White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, as part of a series recognizing Hispanic professors nationwide.)
Originally from Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, Susana Muñoz is an assistant professor of higher education in the School of Education at Colorado State University. She is also a Faculty Affiliate appointment with the Ethnic Studies Program. Her scholarly interests center on the experiences of underserved populations in higher education. Specifically, she focuses her research on issues of access, identity, and college persistence for undocumented Latina/o students, while employing perspectives such as Latino critical race theory, Chicana feminist epistemology, and college persistence theory to identify and deconstruct issues of power and inequities as experienced by these populations. Her first book Identity, Social Activism, and the Pursuit of Higher Education: The Journey Stories of Undocumented and Unafraid Community Activists (Peter Lang Publishing) highlights the lives of 13 activists who grapple with their legality as a salient identity. She received the Outstanding Faculty Award from the Latina/o Knowledge Community through the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators in recognition of her outstanding research and teaching as a faculty member. Muñoz received her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Iowa State University. Her dissertation study received the Iowa State Research Excellence award. Most recently, she was named a Global Ambassador to the Global Access to Post-Secondary Education (GAPS) organization.
Why did you choose to become a professor?
Prior to my professorship, I spent 13 years as a college administrator and my original plan was to be a Dean of Students at a large university after obtaining my doctorate. I never saw myself as a faculty member primarily because, prior to my doctoral studies, I never had Latina faculty as instructors. It made me think that perhaps I was not capable of that position. It wasn't until I received my ASHE/Lumina Foundation dissertation fellowship that I became exposed to the nuances of faculty life through trainings on publishing your dissertation findings and by connecting with other women of color who had ambitions of becoming faculty. The more I met women of color who were inclined to join the academy, the less I resisted this option. I also wanted my research to influence how college administrators make decisions or create policies to support undocumented college students. After completing my dissertation research on undocumented Mexicana college students, I unveiled new questions to answer, so I wasn't ready to leave the research process.
What resources (programs, tools, etc.) were available to you throughout your journey into teaching?
Most college professors are not trained to teach in a classroom. We are trained in our respective discipline. However, in my doctoral studies, I took a class on college teaching and curriculum development both which were extremely helpful in understanding content planning and learning theories. I also learn through my own reflexivity of my teaching by journaling about how my class content and delivery worked (or not), which helps me to better understand my own areas of improvements and to identify new ideas or teaching techniques to adopt next time. I am intentional about creating learning opportunities inside the classroom so that students can engage and learn from one another. I do this in the form of group starter activity, turn to your partner dialogues, and by asking them to critically reflect on their own learning. I have come to learn that it is not important that students know the answers to my questions but rather create or imagine new questions of their own.
What do you love about teaching?
There are so many things I love about teaching. I love that I have the opportunity to prepare the next generation of administrators and scholars to address these deep-rooted inequities and injustices in meaningful ways. I discuss racism, whiteness, and inequities in my class and while my students may not leave my class as experts, they do obtain a healthy level of comfortability with engaging in tough dialogues around equity. If we truly hope to tackle the social problems that exist within the context of higher education, then we need to equip our students to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. My greatest joy is when students are able to make meaning of their own of their intersecting identities and develop critical consciousness to question their own college contexts.
When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?
To be honest, during my K-12 experiences I didn't have one teacher who stood out in a meaningful way. My teachers were certainly helpful, kind, and effective, but I don't recall cultivating any meaningful relationships which would inspire me to shift my thinking or actions.
For me, my inspiration came from taking Latin@ Studies courses during my undergraduate years at Iowa State University. I was part of the first inaugural course which was taught by Hector Avalos. He and Latin@ Studies classes helped me to realize that my culture mattered, that Latinas mattered, and that my voice mattered. It also inspired me to seek out Chicana writers like Gloria Anzaldúa, who introduced me to notion of Chicana feminism. It felt liberating. Someone finally gave voice to my experiences, to what I endured growing up, and to what was missing in my educational experiences. It also inspired me to be a student activist on my campus. This is why I believe teaching can empower others. We have the power to privilege and silence certain bodies of knowledge in our classroom. Each semester, I constantly assess my syllabus and ask myself, "Whose voices are missing?"
Contact: Melissa Pickett
Telephone: (970) 491-3167