Arturo Nevárez, a first-generation doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Education, received the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, which includes $25,000 in graduate funding over one year. The fellowship will allow Nevárez to complete his doctoral degree and provide him with support as he seeks out postdoctoral and university faculty positions.
Nevárez grew up in the southeast Los Angeles cities of Huntington Park and South Gate, in what he described as mostly “working-class, Latinx communities.” After earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California, he spent several years teaching English to middle- and high school students in Hawthorne and South Central Los Angeles.
“I loved teaching,” he said. “But at these schools I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to push for racial justice, especially in regard to addressing the lack of curriculum that engages and highlights the voices and stories of people of color — stories that more closely reflect my students’ lives, histories, cultures, and the long legacies of struggle and resistance in our communities.”
The absence of these important critical perspectives at the high-school level hits home for Nevárez, as it wasn’t until the end of his own college years at USC — 15 years into his education — that he was able to take a Chicano studies course and understand what it meant to begin to have an empowering education, he said.
“That class completely opened my eyes to the possibility of curricular content and pedagogy that is personally and socially transformative,” Nevárez added. “I finally saw my community, and in turn, myself in what I was learning in school. It fueled the initial impetus for the type of work I set out to do alongside my community and with and for our students after I graduated.”
In his doctoral studies, Nevárez looks at the classroom-level implementation of ethnic studies courses for high schoolers. He aims to build on ethnic studies scholarship to highlight what needs to be part of these courses — as well as who should be teaching them — to maintain their transformative potential for students.
As part of his dissertation research, Nevárez works with ethnic studies teachers and their students at a high school in L.A., tracking what students learn based on the backgrounds and teaching approaches of their instructors. His research specifically draws on the concept of racial literacy.
“Being racially literate involves not only being able to ‘read’ or pinpoint how racial oppression structures people’s lives and opportunities at an abstract level, but knowing how to confront, navigate, and transform the institutional manifestations of the racial injustice we experience,” Nevárez said. “Given the current sociopolitical climate and the increasingly racialized experiences students of color face in our schools, my dissertation seeks to trace the role that racial literacy plays within ethnic studies classrooms and the impact teachers’ pedagogy can play in developing, sustaining, and extending our students’ racial literacies.”
This is an excerpt from a story originally published on UCR Today. Read the full piece here.