Professor Wins Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement

Faculty and Research

Gina Garcia, an associate professor of higher education in the Pitt School of Education, will receive the University of Pittsburgh’s 2020-2021 Iris Marion Young Award for Political Engagement for Pitt Faculty in recognition of her work to promote justice. Presented to one faculty member each year, the award honors outstanding social activism in various forms.

“I feel honored and humbled to receive this award,” says Garcia, “especially since it is named in memory of a scholar whose work I value and incorporate into my classes and pedagogy.”

The late Iris Marion Young is a former Pitt professor and activist who gained international renown for her work on behalf of peace and social justice, fair labor practices, adult literacy, and children’s rights, among other causes. In addition, she worked to combat hate groups and poverty.

Pitt School of Education Assistant Professor Kari Kokka, who won the same award for the 2018-2019 year, nominated Garcia.

“I am elated for my friend and colleague Professor Gina Garcia to be recognized for the heart, soul, and labor she has contributed to help make the University of Pittsburgh a more welcoming community for students, faculty, and administrators of color,” says Kokka. “She has helped me and many colleagues navigate the predominantly white institution as a womxn of color faculty member. Justice is at the heart of everything she does.” 

Since joining Pitt eight years ago, social justice has been central to Garcia’s work. The course “Politics and History of Higher Education,” a foundational requirement in the school’s MEd in Higher Education program, has emerged as Garcia’s signature class thanks to the social justice spin she puts on it.

“When I was first hired, they were looking for someone to teach Politics and History of Higher Education,” says Garcia. “I had previously taken a similar course that was centered on whiteness. I could have done the same thing that was always done: teach from the dominant perspective.” 

“Instead, I saw the course as an opportunity to decenter whiteness and bring in other voices. I wanted to disrupt. I teach the course from a critical perspective that sets the foundation for higher education master’s students in their first semester.”

Garcia’s teaching receives rave reviews from students. Many express their eagerness to learn about social justice in education from a leading expert. 

“I’ve always cared about social justice, but Dr. Garcia’s classes transformed my understanding of it,” says Lynnea Lombardi, a second-year master’s student in the higher education program.

 “Thanks to her teaching, I can now recognize the systemic nature of oppression and see things from a critical race perspective," she says.

The Iris Marion Young award also honors Garcia’s work in promoting justice outside of the classroom. Garcia was the founding faculty advisor for the Latinx Student Association at Pitt in 2018 and served in this role for 3 years, helping Latinx students find “familia” on campus. She is also the founding chair of the University’s Hispanic Heritage Month that takes place annually, September 15th-October 15th, and continues to serve in this role.

Garcia has also mentored countless graduate students, especially students of color, who she supports as they navigate a predominantly white campus in a predominantly white city.

“I try to create a safe space for students of color,” says Garcia. 

A self-declared “proud product of a Hispanic-Serving Institution,” Garcia came to Pitt Education in 2013. She is revered as a leading scholar in the study of Hispanic-Serving Institutions and has published extensively on the topic, including her most recent book that uses a practitioner lens.

All members of the Pitt community are invited to attend the Iris Marion Young Awards for Political Engagement Ceremony on Wednesday, January 27, at 5:00 PM.

Learn More

The Pitt School of Education’s Higher Education programs are currently accepting applications. Apply here.