Tufts professors and deans share how their backgrounds enrich their teaching, research, and leadership
In recognition of National Latinx Heritage Month, Tufts Now invited faculty and staff to talk about their backgrounds and their work, and how each informs the other. Whether born in Mexico or Texas, raised in Brazil or Venezuela, they say their connections to Latinx culture infuse what they do, from deciding what languages to publish in to valuing the diverse experiences of their students.
Our Research, Ourselves
I tell my students, “Research is me-search.” It’s a joke, but I do believe that our personal experiences enrich our projects—and that disclosing personal interests in a scientific endeavor can correct the perception of “nerds in the ivory tower” by revealing an eager, compassionate, and more relatable side of a scholar.
For my part, I was raised by a single mother and I was in psychotherapy as a child; it’s no coincidence that I trained to become a clinical and developmental psychologist and I study family structures. As a nonbinary immigrant—and a proud Mexican—I always want my research to be connected to my own story, and to interrogate, deconstruct, demystify, and reimagine dominant theories. My current focus is exploring the connection between LGBTQ+ studies and child development. As for my Latinx identity—it’s just always there. I’m so Latinx that my second language is Portuguese! It’s in the way that I teach and interact with my students (mis niñes), the way that I value diversity, my commitment to creating knowledge in languages other than English and in places other than English-speaking ones. It infuses everything I do.
—Fernando Salinas-Quiroz, Assistant Professor, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, School of Arts and Sciences
Guided by Family Values
My areas of focus are where dentistry and medicine intersect: temporomandibular disorders (which affect the jaw muscles, joints, and nerves), craniofacial pain, and sleep disorders. Two big factors shaped my career path: my family’s values and the mentorship I received along the way.
Throughout my childhood in our small village in Mexico, I was always taught by my parents that there are two ways to move forward: by working very hard and by helping others. Also, my family has a long history in the dental profession. All these things together led me to the field. It was once I began pursuing it that I found mentors who gave me a particular focus—and who showed me the importance of mentorship and leadership. Now, in all the roles I play, whether as director of the craniofacial pain center at the School of Dental Medicine or as faculty advisor for students in the Hispanic Dental Association, I try to lead by example and mentor others whenever I can. It helps me remember where I came from.
—Leopoldo Correa, Associate Professor of Diagnostic Sciences, Advanced Graduate Program Director for Dental Sleep Medicine, and Division Director of Diagnostic Services-Craniofacial Pain, School of Dental Medicine
Uniting the Personal and the Political
To the 18-year-old me, all theater was “Cats”; then I got to college and saw my first play ever—and I realized that theater and performance had great political possibilities.
I already had a political bent, inspired by my grandfather, who was a minister for the United Methodist Churches in Texas, where I grew up. He brought activism to his work and was especially invested in advocating for higher quality education and better housing opportunities for Latinx people in Houston. When I got to grad school, as I started encountering the work of Latinx playwrights and Chicano writers, all the strands came together. I brought my sense of myself as a Latinx person, along with my interest in social justice, to my creative and academic interests. My work now broadly looks at theater and performance and their relationship to activism across the Americas. I’m also a stage director, and I often find myself drawn particularly to U.S. Latinx works.
—Noe Montez, Associate Professor and Chair, Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, School of Arts and Sciences
Telling the Stories People Need Told
My research focuses on how people mobilize for change in Latin American neighborhoods governed by drug traffickers. I am not Latina; my parents moved our family from the U.S. to Brazil when I was three years old.
I spent my formative years there, growing up on the outskirts of the well-known favela City of God. After we moved back to the U.S., I became embedded in the Brazilian immigrant community, an experience that helped shape my career path and my commitment to social justice. When I started working on my Ph.D., I felt very conscious of the extractive nature of research; so often, the relationship between the academy and marginalized communities seemed to reproduce a colonial experience. Then I discovered participatory action research—an approach that involves the community being studied in every step of the process. That made the research process feel more collaborative and democratic. It’s a way of making sure I’m telling the stories people themselves believe need to be told and reflects the narratives, experiences, and concerns of the people I study and learn from.
—Anjuli Fahlberg, A07, Assistant Professor of Sociology, and Interim Director of Latin American Studies, School of Arts and Sciences
Mentorship: Central to Identity
My dad was an animal lover. We had hamsters (which, at age 10, I attempted to breed, having no idea what I was doing), horses, and dogs.
We have—still!—a 35-year-old parrot that I grew up with. I knew early on that I wanted to do something in biology or veterinary medicine. I love where I’ve landed, as a veterinary clinical pathologist. My work allows me to run diagnostics—blood tests, urine tests, cytologies—on every kind of species you can imagine, from dogs to alligators to birds to everything else. What I carry with me as a Latinx person is a belief in the importance of mentorship—in part because at my state-run university in Brazil, mentorship wasn’t a top priority. Now, in a privileged position, working in a place that encourages diversity and growth, I take on advisor roles whenever I can, to help to create experiences and opportunities for my students and trainees. I’m always looking for ways to help them achieve their academic goals. And I’m co-chair of the student-led Tufts Veterinary Council on Diversity.
—Francisco Conrado, Assistant Professor, Department of Comparative Pathobiology, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Considering All Perspectives
I was born in Venezuela, to a Venezuelan mother and a Colombian father. I came to the U.S. when I was seven, spent three years here, went back to Venezuela, and then returned to the U.S. when I was 13.
I carry my cultural traditions with me: It gives me great joy to converse in Spanish whenever possible, and I love to share food, art, and music from my culture. Holding on to all that helps me perform my job authentically. My fundamental role here is to ensure that the Fletcher School achieves its goals. At an institution where about 50 percent of the student body (and a large number of the faculty and staff) are international, it’s crucial for me to be able to understand how to support everyone’s experiences. Having an identity that’s strongly rooted in another culture makes that possible for me. When you’re born elsewhere, you naturally observe things in a different way; it helps you consider other possible perspectives.
—Maribel Blanco, Executive Associate Dean, The Fletcher School
A Little Door
Even after 30 years in the field, I’m still excited to understand the process by which children appropriate and understand mathematical representations.
And while my identity as a Latinx woman doesn’t relate directly to that focus area, my research is constantly informed by my experiences as a person of a marginalized identity: when I decide what schools to work in, what partnerships to set up, where to collect my data, who to share my research with, how to share it, what languages to publish in, what talks to give. As dean of the graduate school, having an everyday experience of being an outsider helps me empathize with and advocate for marginalized students including international students and students from different heritage groups. I like to think of myself as a little door for them, as well as for Spanish-speaking colleagues and others who might need an opening into graduate education and education scholarship. It’s my own background and heritage that allows me to be that door.
—Bárbara Brizuela, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Education