Getting to know Dr. Ariana Mangual Figueroa

Dr. Ariana Mangual Figueroa
Dr. Ariana Mangual Figueroa

New school year, new Associate Professor! Dr. Ariana Mangual Figueroa is joining the GC’s Urban Ed and Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures programs from Rutgers University. A researcher who focuses on language use, learning, and immigration in Latinx communities living in the United States, Mangual Figueroa is also an educator, activist, and mom. Sara Vogel, cohort 15, caught up with her over video chat during a busy week settling into her new office and moving with her family from one to another part of Brooklyn. They talked about what students can expect from her as a teacher and mentor, and what keeps her grounded. Click here for the full interview!

What is important for the Urban Ed community to know about you?

I’d love folks to know that I’m deeply informed by and committed to the work of CUNY broadly, and of Urban Education and work happening at the GC in particular. I feel like this is a formalizing of a conversation that I’ve been a part of and peripheral to as an educator and activist through NYCoRE [the New York Coalition of Radical Educators], of which I was a founding member, and through relationships with friends and colleagues at CUNY. I feel very connected to the commitment, work, and dispositions that students, faculty and staff here all share. I want folks to know I’m deeply committed to public education — I was a teacher of ESL and Spanish, and I’ve taught in public schools ever since, and I was at Rutgers for 10 years. It is an imperative for faculty to be committed to public education at this time for our students in all of their intersectionality and diversity.

What excites you the most about coming to the GC?

One of the things I’m really excited about is teaching the core course on methods in the Spring, and thinking about the responsibility and ethics involved in everyday life and in research and teaching. Being a part of an intellectual community that is so situated within the city that is my home and the city that I grew up in, taught in, and am now a faculty member, mother, and activist in, prompts me to think about the integration of those various domains and forging new work at the GC and with Urban Ed students.

I’m especially excited about who you all are, the questions that you are asking, and the imperatives you are asking of faculty to help you answer these politically exigent questions. I’m primarily appointed within Urban Ed, but I’m joint appointed in LAILAC [the Department of Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures]. As a Puerto Rican professor, to foreground that role, I’m excited to engage at the intersection of Urban Ed and the politics of language to build connections between those programs and intellectual communities, really working within and between different languages, and with folks from the whole continent — North, South, and Central America — as well as the world.

What research do you hope to do at the GC?

There are two sets of projects I’m bringing to the GC and am eager to enlist students and get you all involved in thinking about. The longer-term one is a book project from the ethnography in Sunset Park of six Latina girls of mixed immigration status. The girls who are the focus of the data, analysis, and my life are still a part of it. I’d like the perspective of Urban Ed students in this work. There are two parts to my newer work. Both are focused on the intersection of immigration, policy and educational practice. One is a two year project looking at how restrictive immigration policy in six school districts across the country is shaping teachers’ roles. What new things are teachers doing to respond to restrictive immigration policies? How is the crisis of restrictive immigration and the things that accompany that — white supremacy, racism, and the status quo — how do teachers redefine their work given this? That involves fieldwork in six districts across the country from New Jersey, as far as Washington state and Texas. The other is in collaboration with Tatyana Kleyn and Nancy Stern at City College. We have a five year grant from New York State to consider similarly, what we can do as faculty to work with grassroots organizations, parent liaisons, people in K-12 and in the public sphere to work through meaningful, sustained partnerships to make the changes that directly-impacted immigrant communities are asking for. That feels really exciting. There will be lots of possibilities for doctoral students to get involved.

What kind of teacher can students expect?

A teacher who wants to both teach and learn from students, certainly. One of the things I’m excited to do in the first week of my class is to have students fill in weeks of the syllabus and co-construct the arc of what we’re doing this semester. Also, a teacher who cares for the ideas that students bring, and the work students do in a holistic sense — the student as a person in the world. I’ve spent this summer settling into my office and the first thing I did was bring books and crafts that would be available to children because I know the students who come to see me will have children with them who they are raising, and children who they are thinking about in their research and in everyday life. I think about wanting to do work together, side by side. I’m excited about having a space where students can listen in on the work I’m doing, and bring in their voices and those of the communities they work with. They can expect a teacher who will expect innovation and independent thinking, but who is also committed to starting with scholarly texts, educational texts, activist texts, so that we engage in reading and writing together.

What kind of mentor can students expect?

One that is really very present and very committed to mentoring over the long haul. I see a PhD as a trajectory, and one that has to be scaffolded and demystified. I both think some of these systems are really important, and that they are not obvious and shouldn’t be taken for granted —  what it means to read, write or engage in this way. When we can make those norms visible, we can think about what we want to change about them and how we may want to integrate them with the other communities of practice we are a part of. I want to hear from students about what their experiences are and their learning in the world, and be a mentor who is committed to demystifying the process so that we can find a way in.

What are your self-care tips? How do you stay grounded and focused on what matters to you?

Part of self care is remaining connected, is listening in to different voices, and sharing the things we’re thinking about with people we care for (and who care for us) both inside and outside of “the academy.” For example, my young daughter’s marveling at the mundane, or my abuela’s adages, keep me grounded and remind me of the multiple truths spoken in different registers that co-exist for me. These keep me humble and open-minded/hearted and they shed light on my work, filling me with a sense of purpose (which prompts me to care for myself beyond meeting deadlines, etc.) I would also say finding ways to build community. For students, that’s finding not only mentorship from faculty and people they admire, but also among their peers. You all do that so beautifully in Urban Ed. That also means staying connected to the communities we come from and the reasons why we came. In a way, that can be dizzying because then you have lots of interlocutors, but it is our imperative to always bounce our ideas off of the folks and communities we care about, and we hope to stay part of after the program, keeping those connections alive. In recent years, another part of self-care for me has been finding outlets like running, yoga, and dance. To the extent that students can do that they can feel grounded in different ways.

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