Challenging Academic Inequities with Collective Resistance

Chicana M(other)work in the Academy by The Chicana M(other)work Collective

Photo by Joshua Vu

The Chicana M(other)work collective is five Chicana Mother-Scholars, who amplify Mother of Color voices in academia and beyond through podcasting, presentations, and publications

Life after the PhD for this Chicana Momma was never discussed in graduate school, but neither was being a mom or being an adjunct. I’m going on my third year as an adjunct at a Cal State University. This is not the “ideal job” I learned about in graduate school or the most stable source of income considering no health insurance. — Judith

We are intimately familiar with the precarious roles that Mothers of Color hold in the corporatized university. Through our own experiences, we’ve witnessed how we are pushed out of the academy despite our advanced educational attainment. As Mother-Scholars of Color who are not tenured, we’ve experienced discrimination, been offered contingent and unstable positions, and are often not adequately or equitably compensated for our labor. Research shows that Women of Color in academia comprise about 7.5 percent of full-time faculty positions in the United States. Mothers are an astounding 132 percent more likely than fathers to end up in low-paid contingent positions while academic fathers secure tenure about 20 percent more frequently than academic mothers.

We are appalled to find ourselves at the crux of these statistics. As a response, we have created the Chicana M(other)work Collective — a group of Chicana Mother-Scholars who centralize and make visible this experience as a way to make space for change in an academic environment and culture that is often slow moving.

Our project is about imagining possibilities, increasing visibility, and offering a concept that administrators, teachers and colleagues can understand. Building on ethnic studies, critical race theory, and Chicana feminist epistemologies, we aim to uplift and empower Mothers of Color within and outside educational spaces by making our lives visible. We believe it is important to call attention to the leaks in the Chicana/o Latina/o educational pipelines stemming from the K-12 educational system as well as those for women and mothers as they climb the educational ladder. The research, and our lived experiences, highlight the discrimination we face, the myth of meritocracy that we are trying to debunk, and our under-representation. We argue that framing our identities within a model of collective resistance makes visible our experiences and can shift how Mothers of Color are perceived and supported.

I started a PhD program as a single Chicana mother with little local support because I moved away from family and I felt very alone and unsupported in my daily life, from struggling to afford adequate childcare to feeling isolated in my department as one of the only woman of color with a child. I also experienced the challenges of being a first-generation student where portions of my stipend were given to my parents. Although I am now finishing a PhD from a wealthy private institution, I finally accept that my educational achievement alone cannot resolve my generational poverty, and I simultaneously also made a difficult decision to transition away from academia, which means giving up the possibility of a clearly defined career path that I’ve been in for nearly a decade. — Ceci

Although we hold different positions, all of us are academics; we all teach, mentor, write, provide invisible feminized labor for the academy, and contribute to scholarship with our individual and collective research. We hope to uplift and empower ourselves and other Mothers of Color in the academy through our public scholarship: our blog, podcast, and presentations .

Patricia Hill Collins’ term “motherwork,” centers race, class, gender, and other intersectional identities to challenge Western ideologies of mothers’ roles. We modify it by embracing “other” through the use of parentheses in Chicana M(other)work, as this calls attention to our layered care work from five words into one — Chicana, Mother, Other, Work, Motherwork. Chicana M(other)work challenges increasingly corporatized neoliberal institutions by holding spaces accountable through activism when they are not supporting working-class parents or their families. Despite the possibility of individual upward mobility, we remain committed to our poor and working-class sensibility. As a grassroots collective, we fundraise to support our blog and podcast so that our work is free and accessible to the public.

Chicana M(other)work is not a project of assimilating or diversifying academia; rather, we aim to transform it by choosing not to hide our children; instead, we include them within our work. Chicana M(other)work is a call to action for transformative labor and justice within/outside the academy.

Chicana M(other)work highlights our agency and collective power to dismantle patriarchy and push against dominant power structures that aim to police our bodies. Chicana M(other)work calls attention to the part of each one of us that at one time was told not to get pregnant. Choosing to take control of our bodies, choosing to raise a family, and continuing our life’s work is healing and radical. All of our labor is work that matters, and we heed the consejos of Gloria Anzaldúa, and our own mothers who say: “may we do work that matters, vale la pena”

The material consequences of tenure denial are brutal, including the loss of income and benefits, which as a single mother not only affected me but my daughter as well. The tremendous uncertainty about one’s future can be debilitating. However, I wholeheartedly believe this: it’s important to remember our agency in this path. For me, it’s meant staying within the university system and continuing to work in ways that honor my commitments but also reconfiguring the ways in which redefine knowledge production — one that is more collaborative. I think we can find new ways of relating to and being in the university outside of the guidelines that have been set for us by others — I believe it is imperative that we do so. — Michelle

Chicana M(other)work allows us to view our labor as whole rather than fragmented. Part of the work in threading together our fragmented identities is having to speak up and speak back to institutions of power that silence us. Often we are taught to silence ourselves and to function individually and as disembodied workers. Chicana M(other)work rejects this. We are expected to keep our mothering closeted and to not say when we have to leave a three-hour meeting to pump milk, or say no to a conference because of a lack of childcare. We no longer will hide our needs; we’ve begun to ask for breaks in between meetings to accommodate breastfeeding and for on-site childcare/funding for childcare at conferences. This is why we use the metaphor of the rebozo to pull ourselves together within/beyond these institutional spaces; we are calling into our healing the old abuelas, our mothering as resistance to exist as a whole.

Ultimately, Chicana M(other)work is care work which includes the care we do in our home, in the classroom for our students, in our communities, our activism, and also importantly, self-care, healing, community formation and communal survival and accountability. As a collective, we aim to disrupt the individualism that is often prioritized in academia. We are stronger as a collective and hope to model how other scholars can build collectives of resistance — ones that re-imagine ways of producing knowledge and spaces that defy the hegemonic norms of academic culture.


Yvette Martínez-Vu is an assistant director of the McNair Scholars Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the National Center for Institutional Diversity. Dr. Martinez-Vu’s research areas include Chicana and Latina feminist performance, devotional images and objects, and intersectionality in motherhood studies.

Christine Vega is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the National Center for Institutional Diversity. Chrstine Vega’s dissertation explores the racial and gender disparities in the lives of first-generation Chicana, Latina, and Indigenous Motherscholars in PhD programs in the US Southwest.

Cecilia Caballero is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the National Center for Institutional Diversity. Her dissertation focuses on narratives of Chicana mothering, feminism, gender, sexuality, and spiritual activism in Chicana literature, cultural production, and digital storytelling.

Judith Pérez-Torres is a lecturer in educational leadership at California State University, Fullerton and a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the National Center for Institutional Diversity. Dr. Judith Pérez-Torres is an interdisciplinary scholar and her research focuses on Chicanx & Latinx educational experiences, first year experiences, Chicana feminist thought, critical race theory, and critical race service learning

Michelle Téllez is an assistant professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona and a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the National Center for Institutional Diversity. Her scholarly work focuses on identity, mothering, transnational community formation, cross-border labor organizing, gendered migration, and autonomy and resistance along the US/Mexico border.

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Spark: Elevating Scholarship on Social Issues

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