Through dedication, compassion, and radical love, Dr. Edmundo Aguilar’s devotion to teaching is fueled by his students. His commitment to teaching and learning is intersectional with social justice and specializes in areas such as multicultural education and ethnic studies.
In August, Dr. Aguilar joined the College of Education as an assistant teaching professor to lead the Education, Communities, and Organization capstone series. He earned his Ph.D. in the Cultural Studies and Social Thought in Education program at Washington State University. His non-traditional dissertation includes a documentary grounded in decolonial Chicana Feminism titled, Between Worlds: A Personal Journey of Self Reflection while on the Path of Conocimiento. Before his arrival, Dr. Aguilar was awarded with the 2019/2020 Eastern Washington University College of Social Sciences Teaching Excellence Award.
In the following Q&A, Dr. Aguilar discusses his research, what inspires him, what he looks forward to teaching, and more.
What attracted you to the UW College of Education?
What attracted me to the College of Education at the University of Washington is its genuine effort to transform inequitable systems of education. I adapt and connect my pedagogy to the lived experiences of the communities I serve. Personally, I was raised by an (im)migrant mother who worked tirelessly so her children could have a better life, and that plan included making education a top priority. I mirror my mother’s tenacity and determination by fostering the skills and confidence my students need to be successful and joyful in life. Education researcher and author Lisa Delpit infers that we cannot treat our students like other people’s children — their struggles are our struggles.
Please describe your research and what makes it meaningful to you.
My work is grounded in Participatory Action Research and centers on catalyzing systemic social change through documentary film, and other media forms. At a time of uprisings and resistance against social injustices across the country, this visionary work allows students and community members to critically interrogate oppressive experiences and strategically use innovative tools to achieve their purpose as change agents. At my former institution, I created a multimodal media center for college students and community youth by connecting digital scholarship to critical literacy and practice.
What's your vision for the impact you want to make through your teaching and research?
I believe my teaching and research serves as a pedagogical instrument to educate, inspire, and inform communities subjugated by systems of oppression. My vision for this approach is to ultimately create an opportunity for healing, transformation, and positive social change by building bridges over physical and psychological borders. Gloria Anzaldúa writes, “Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar.” This translates to, “Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.” Teaching and research are not static; rather, they are as fluid as the phenomena we encounter in life. Therefore, it is my hope that the work I do can mend division by building bridges while on this academic journey.
What's a course that you're especially excited to teach?
I am thrilled to be teaching the Education, Communities, and Organization’s capstone series. I am working with students who are excited and eager to be out in the field using what they’ve learned in the classroom. While students are completing their internships in and with community, I have the opportunity to be on this journey with them and deepening their overall understanding about the process. As new faculty, my strategy is to build on the brilliant work of students, community partners, and the ECO team.
Through my interdisciplinary teaching in higher education and in labor alongside the Spokane community, I have facilitated and reimagined creative ways to push forward new ideas in challenging systemic oppression. These ideas have ranged from building innovative culturally relevant curriculum, to establishing a grass roots organization that centers Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?
To be mindful of their positionality and the privileges they obtain. For instance, my life work is to responsibly advocate for societies’ most vulnerable, including queer women of color, indigenous people, Latinx, African Americans, and the working poor. This chosen profession requires being culturally sensitive and responsive to the educational needs of diverse populations. Therefore, by understanding my position within the dominant culture as a cisgender, heterosexual, documented, able-bodied, male in the United States, it’s imperative I recognize my privileges when working with students and community members, so I can strive to be the best person and ally. Through introspection and sociocultural awareness, it allows me to realize the importance of pursuing a passionate career of eradicating systemic inequalities. As a result, being critically conscious will actively keep me from re-inscribing systems of oppression on vulnerable populations I meet and work with, including the vibrant communities in the Seattle area.
What inspires and motivates you?
As a first-generation Mexican American college graduate, I know the long-lasting impact committed educators can leave on students. Without compassionate teachers, I would never have been able to be where I am today. This motivates me to reciprocate the care and devotion teachers gave me by passing it onto my students. I am also inspired by my grandfather, Rodolfo Martinez, who came to this country for his family, for a better life. He sacrificed his well-being by enduring the harsh conditions of (im)migration so that his children could have more opportunities than he ever had. My existence is living proof of his dream.
Please tell us about a book, film, or art piece that has influenced your thinking and approach to your life and/or work.
Gloria Anzaldúa’s book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, changed my life forever. Anzaldúa’s book gave me the conocimento (knowledge/awareness) to recognize my false sense of identity of living in this state of confusion, abandonment (deconocimiento), and the need to want to change for the better. Her work encourages a cathartic expression of creativity and the desire to want to create positive social change. Anzaldúa discusses the importance of this interconnectedness and interdependence of people that are fighting oppression and division in this world:
“Love swells in your chest and shoots out of your heart chakra, linking you to everyone/everything…You share a category of identity wider than any social position or racial label. This conocimiento motivates you to work actively to see that no harm comes to people, animals, ocean—to take up spiritual activism and the work of healing.”
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