The People Who Teach Us: Professor Edwin Mayorga
This is the first installment of our series, The People Who Teach Us, looking into the lives of professors of color who have served as mentors to many on campus, and examining the ways they have been agents of change in and outside of the classroom.
Knowing the people who teach us can be just as crucial as learning what they teach. It’s important to know the stories and positionalities of the professors from which we learn, as those stories can be transformative; they can frame the way we go on to perceive course material, our education, and the world at large. One person who understands this perhaps better than anyone is professor Edwin Mayorga, who teaches in the Educational Studies and Latin American and Latino Studies Departments here at Swarthmore College. For Mayorga, “education [is] a site of transformation, but also a place for communities to lift themselves up,” in his personal experience as both a student and an educator.
Having grown up just outside of Los Angeles as a Chinese-Nicaraguense, he understands what it is like to feel othered by communities he belongs to. Having went to under-resourced schools in his youth, he became interested in pursuing a career in education when he was in high school. Mayorga says that his goal has always been “being a teacher as a way to be an agent of change,” and has worked toward that at different levels of his career education. In his undergraduate years, he worked with pre-elementary school students, and later moved on to public schools.
Intrinsically, Mayorga understands that there is work to be done to resist and transform the structures of power that dominate education in the United States. He continues to do this work here by “working with students to have vibrant, critical, racial/ethnic studies” at Swarthmore. Currently, he is spearheading the Barrio Education Project, which focuses on benefitting the mental health and well-being of Latinx youth in Philadelphia, in tandem with the Critical Education Policy Journal, which involves peer-reviewed writings that are open to submission by anyone, as a way of creating a space for more voices to be heard. He calls upon scholars to move away from a focus on reform, and instead ask why and how these systems have manifested, to better dismantle them.
In his interactions at Swarthmore, he describes his connections with students of color: “[Students of color] just feel like they have no home here. That’s the way white supremacy and heteropatriarchy reproduce themselves here...This place is not designed for you or me.”
As a self-proclaimed radical activist teacher, Mayorga does anything is in his power to listen to and stand up for his students, serving on committees behind the scenes to ensure that the voices of students of color aren’t overshadowed by the traditionally loudest voices in a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). Not only that, but he understands that his interactions with students of color are often a refuge for them, and he serves what he calls a “second shift” in order to meet the needs of students who require that refuge from predominantly white spaces. He describes this second shift: “It’s a strain..it’s a shift to those faculty of color, queer faculty of color, first generation faculty. We face that second shift of labor. It’s not recognized by the institution that…[we] go above and beyond because we understand that the young people are precious.”
Mayorga also emphasizes resistance. According to him, “Archiving is critical. Passing on the stories of resistance is critical.” He cites his wife, an alum in the Class of 1998, who notes that Swarthmore has been having the same discussions about racism and heteropatriarchy now as it was then. In support of students of color, queer students, women, he encourages us to “be...about the work, and not just talking about the work.” Even in his work outside of Swarthmore, he makes the point that our role is to listen to marginalized communities, and to uplift their voices through genitive review.
“I knew it was going to be challenging to be in the ivory towers,” Mayorga states, “where we’re in a new space, but we always take our stories with us.” His refusal to compromise or apologize for his advocacy on behalf of and his unabashed support for marginalized students as and members of the Philadelphia community, makes him a mentor on campus for many people. As Mayorga says, “we all need anchors in our lives,” and he is that anchor to so many.