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Class Acts - Gabriel Soldatenko

Gabriel Soldatenko Cal PolyGabriel Soldatenko / Ethnic Studies Department

Specialty Area: Latinx studies and Latin American philosophy 

What is/has been your favorite class to teach?
Before joining Cal Poly I was a professor of philosophy at my previous institution and my favorite courses to teach were social-political philosophy and Latin American philosophy. In both classes, and for different reasons, students tended to be invested and curious about the material. In the first case, because they were interested in critiquing the world around them, and in the second because they were exposed to a way of understanding and practicing philosophy that was very different than traditional Western philosophy.

How/why did you choose to work at Cal Poly?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles and left California when I was in my early twenties to complete my bachelor's degree at Arizona State University, attended graduate school in New York (SUNY Binghamton) and then my first faculty position in Georgia (Kennesaw St. University), kept me away from home for more than twenty years. Ultimately, Cal Poly offered a wonderful opportunity to return home and teach in a field that I love. 

What are your research/scholarly pursuits?
The primary focus of my research is on the U.S. Latinx experience broadly construed. That is, on the history, politics and thought of Latinx people. More specifically, my work takes up the themes of power, urbanism and everyday life in Los Angeles in order to trace and pushback against the long historical process of marginalization and exclusion with respect to the Latinx population. 

What is your favorite class/student moment?
I can’t say there is any one moment, but rather I enjoy the look on students’ faces when they are genuinely interested in the material; when they are all at once thinking, grappling and trying to understand the content of the lecture and reading. This does not necessarily mean agreement with what is being presented, but rather that they are engaged. It is in that moment when teaching and learning is genuinely fun, and creates the possibility for interesting class discussions, and when a professor has to improvise and explain ideas in new ways. 

Are there any scholars or individuals that have inspired you?
Yes, the most important are my parents, who are both academics, and instilled the importance and value of an education from an early age. Other than my parents, the single most important influence on my scholarship was my dissertation chair and mentor Maria Lugones; her work ethic and critical mind are ideals I aspire to.

What is one thing you wish your students knew about you?
That as a professor I am here to help, and that before I was a professor I was a kid once too and have empathy for the troubles that young folks face.

Do you have a favorite getaway location?
Los Angeles is where I was born and raised, so I go there quite often. I also enjoy visiting my family in Mexico City, and if possible I love traveling to Italy.

What is your guilty pleasure? 
I’m a science fiction and fantasy junkie, I watch all the shows and movies, good and bad, and read the books too. It’s really a terrible waste of time but I can’t help it. 


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