Lorgia García Peña
Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving Academia as a Woman of Color
Haymarket Books, 2022
Reviewed by Clarice A. Blanco
Following the global COVID-19 pandemic and her own denial of tenure at Harvard University in 2019, Lorgia García Peña writes through experiential knowledge about confronting institutional violence in academia for Women of Color (WOC) as well as the consequences and benefits of rebelling in her book Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving Academia as a Woman of Color. She centers silenced and excluded voices by providing her experiences so that WOC can relate and connect to shared encounters. She also invites non-WOC readers to listen to the experiences of WOC who face violence and exclusion every day, providing an opportunity for allyship. Community as Rebellion can be taught not only in Ethnic Studies courses but also in Rhetoric and Composition courses that explore the rhetorical strategies that specific groups of people employ, as in a Border Rhetorics course. This book is an essential text because it arrives during a time when the United States is plagued by the catastrophe and dramatic shifts of the COVID-19 pandemic and when the country is filled with hatred as publicly displayed by the previous presidential administration.
Written as a syllabus, the book consists of five parts: Course Requirements, Course Objective, Reading List, Midterm, and Final Exam. This structure emphasizes not only the subtitle of the book—A Syllabus for Surviving Academic as a Woman of Color—but also indicates the manner in which to read this book: as a guide, as a mentor disclosing vital information for their mentee just as García Peña’s mentors and community members have done for her. Syllabi are outlines that educators use to inform their students on what they are going to learn during the semester. They are overviews of a course. They are also often overlooked as important forms of writing. Therefore, this structure (re)centers an educational perspective of material that is historically ignored and forgotten—the lived experiences of WOC.
Furthermore, this book is written mostly with experiential knowledge, though it is also influenced by WOC scholars who use experiential knowledge in their work, such as Cherríe Moraga and bell hooks, who the book is partially dedicated to. As discussed in the Preface, García Peña uses her personal experiences to guide the reader to understand the realities of WOC in the academic system as well as to “feel our power […] that possibility lies in community.” Her words provide meaning to the experiences many WOC face in academia. She provides connection (community) and hope through her stories—hope that it will get better if we work together, if we rebel.
To display the realities of WOC who are often dismissed and silenced, García Peña reveals the maltreatment of WOC within the university system, exposing why it is so difficult for WOC to join and remain in academia. For example, she writes of the competitive nature of being “The One.” This model allows institutions to display diversity and inclusion even though it is an inherently racist model. It forces WOC to obey “the rules of whiteness” and to be grateful for the opportunity to be in the academic space because “people like you do not belong”; therefore, being “The One” means being the exception to marginalized people, the one who is tolerated because they are closest to Whiteness. Consequently, “The One” undermines the ability to build communities because marginalized people are pitted against each other to become The One—the privileged of the marginalized. García Peña has given WOC readers a label for their violent experiences and divulged the violence that that label creates. She has exposed the institution’s true inner workings, even for institutions that portray an inclusive façade. Despite the efforts of inclusive institutions that allow diverse programs like Ethnic Studies, which García Peña argues for, “inequality is so engrained in our institution” that it becomes the default setting that constrains marginalized people “to wait for change.” She paints this dark reality for her readers by immersing them in some of the lived experiences she has faced throughout her academic career, furthering the teaching lessons of survival through the syllabus format of the book.
For these reasons, García Peña advocates for rebellion, both individually and communally, to regain power. Violence that comes with the model of “The One,” both within the White institution and marginalized communities, includes the institution using racialized bodies to portray ‘diversity,’ being viewed as an enemy by fellow WOC, constantly being asked to serve on diversity committees solely to be the ethnic token, and other instances of systemic violence. Therefore, to rebel against these violences and exploitations, García Peña argues that we should take the university’s “resources and structures and repurpose them to create freedom spaces, freedom schools, and liberation moments within and through its violent exclusion.” To do that, to contradict the violence the institution created with “The One,” she advocates for building, maintaining, and fostering community. Herein lies García Peña’s most prominent argument for this book: community is a form of rebellion. Standing together against violent institutions like academia is a form of rebellion because united, they contradict The One model of being separated, alone, powerless. Hence, García Peña calls for working together to build spaces where marginalized people are valued. She argues for rebellion through community because community has the potential to create new structures, new spaces where marginalized people can share stories and knowledge beyond the purposes of survival.
More than anything, García Peña calls for this rebellion for the benefit of her students and students in general. Throughout this book, and also reflected by the syllabus format, García Peña writes a guide for WOC educators and students struggling through academia. She offers a snapshot of the violence WOC experience in academia—like a syllabus includes an overview of a course—and this book provides an instructional how-to for educators to engage their students with Ethnic Studies materials and for students to feel represented and heard. Syllabi inform students how to successfully navigate a course; García Peña’s syllabus helps WOC navigate the violences and aspirations of academia. For instance, when discussing one of her Latinx studies courses in which her students performed a poetry taco truck as a multimedia project, one student—not even in her class—thanked Dr. García Peña for making her feel seen. Moments like that visually display García Peña’s argument that rebellion gives community, reflecting the argument that community is rebellion. And that is what she advocates educators should fight for, to give their students moments of representation, rebellion, and community.
Without a doubt, Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving Academia as a Woman of Color is a groundbreaking book because it displays the lived experiences WOC face in a way that fosters community. For non-WOC readers, this book offers insights into the experiences of WOC, providing an opportunity for allyship and support. Furthermore, this book inspires action. It reminds educators and administrators to think of their students, the population they serve as academics. As a Woman of Color academic myself, I find solace and community in this text. I find home because I find understanding, acknowledgment, and representation. This book fuels my drive to remain in academia, to fight for my students, and to change the system because “la lucha sigue.”