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Visiting Professor Examines Diversity and Education at Cal Poly

Gilda Ochoa and students
Visiting professor Gilda L. Ochoa, center, with some of her students

During her time in Cal Poly’s Ethnic Studies Department in winter 2016, Professor Gilda L. Ochoa encouraged students to look at existing educational systems through a racially- and culturally-sensitive lens. Ochoa said, “My goal was to share whatever I modestly could and to help foster spaces of dialogue around race, class, gender, and education.”

Ochoa was the recipient of the 2015-2016 College of Liberal Arts Susan Currier Visiting Professorship for Teaching Excellence. She used the platform to teach and speak about how race and diversity affect and are affected by the American educational system.

“I’ve never had a teacher so passionate about class material,” sociology junior Lily Lopez said of Ochoa. “Not only did I learn more about our campus climate, but I also learned about the experiences of other Latino students.”

Ochoa has taught sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Pomona College for 20 years. She is a three-year recipient of the Wig Distinguished Professorship Award for Excellence in Teaching at Pomona College and has authored many award-winning books on similar issues.

During her time at Cal Poly, Ochoa taught two courses in the Ethnic Studies Department, “Cultural Production and Ethnicity” and “Chicana/o-Latinas/os and Education.” She also led multiple public events for students and faculty, such as a film night, a lunch discussion, and a two-part workshop on building community and participation in classrooms.

“I have never been in a classroom that developed into such a community. Dr. Ochoa’s eager and passionate attitude incited emotion, participation and attention from everyone in the room,” said ethnic studies sophomore Elizabeth Cruz Trujillo. “Watching my peers’ and my own understanding of the course material develop both a broader social context and an individual sense of identity was a truly transformative experience.”

In her final public presentation on April 7, Ochoa spoke about discrepancies between what individuals and institutions say to enhance diversity, inclusivity and equity and what they do. Ochoa said she wanted to help Cal Poly become “a place that more accurately reflects and serves the people of California today.”

In her presentation, “Unpacking Diversity and Excellence: Lessons for Institutions of Higher Education,” Ochoa used lessons from her extensive study of high school students and from her experiences at Cal Poly to explore how seemingly well-intended movements for diversity and celebrations of academic excellence can maintain the status quo and reproduce inequality in institutions of higher education.

Ethnic studies senior Zoe Raven took a class with Ochoa and says, “The energy that Dr. Ochoa brings into the classroom each day and the space she creates for typically silenced voices to be heard has given me hope on what community at Cal Poly can look like.”

Ochoa heard the experiences of many staff, faculty and students. “Listening to and learning from these stories and struggles reminds me that there is no shortage of inspiration and commitment,” she said. “I will forever value the time I spent at Cal Poly,” Ochoa said, “and I leave invigorated by the people I have met.” 

The Susan Currier Visiting Professorship for Teaching Excellence is a residential teaching professorship that recognizes educators who, like Ochoa, exemplify outstanding teaching in the liberal arts and emphasize the intersection between gender/women’s issues and global/justice humanitarian concerns. 

The Susan Currier Visiting Professorship for Teaching Excellence honors the late Dr. Susan Currier, Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts’ beloved associate dean and professor of English.

The professorship commemorates her commitment to education in the liberal arts. It was founded by a generous contribution from the estate of Susan and her late husband Max Wills, and is sustained through donations from colleagues, family, friends and supporters. Professors have visited every other year since 2009.

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