Silver City, NM- Social Justice and standing up for the rights of others is something that has always defined Dr. Lydia Huerta, Assistant Professor of Spanish and Cultural Studies. She is also an adviser who helps guide the direction of The Center for Gender Equity, an organization that host numerous events around campus and provides a safe space for students to discuss issues of gender and social justice.
Born in Tuscon, AZ, Lydia grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico for the first 16 years of her life. Considers herself Bi-national. Social Justice was a major part of her youth; her father was always involved in assorted social justice issues occurring while she grew up and that ultimately played a major role in both hers and her siblings’ ideological upbringing. Her father also loved the works of Paulo Freire, an acclaimed Brazilian educator and philosopher famous for the work Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Her father worked as a sexologist, a doctor who studies human sexuality as well as interests, behaviors and functions, so the idea of gender and sex inequality was present in her upbringing. Lydia would often go with her dad whenever he distributed condoms to their community and gave sex education talks.
Moved to United States when she was 16. Her father began working with immigrant community. Realized how privileged she was, being bi-national. Could be American in the States and Mexican in Mexico.
After completing high school, Lydia pursued higher education on a full-ride scholarship at Boston University, where she received both her Master’s and Bachelors. Her undergraduate was originally in Pre-Med, but in her Junior year she switched her focus to Hispanic Languages and Literature. She normally took courses in the humanities, since she was drawn to them due to her interest in finding more of a connection between Mexico and her culture. She eventually got her Masters in Hispanic Language and Literature.
Lydia then received her PhD in Latin American Languages and Culture from the University of Texas at Austin. While studying for her PhD, she was able learn the Portugese language, and gained more about Brazilian culture and history. Her dissertation, Affecting Violence: Narratives of Feminicides and Ethical and Political Reception, was about “feminicide” in Ciudad Juarez. Feminicide is the murder of women.
Lydia came to WNMU in 2013, falling in love with the potential of Western. As a Hispanic Studies Professor, Lydia felt WNMU had huge potential for students to be served and that she could make a huge difference teaching students, not only with Spanish culture but also with gender studies.
Five years ago, Lydia was having coffee with her friend and colleague Dr. Emma Bailey and questioned why the university didn’t have a women and gender studies minor. That spring, a minor in women and gender studies was passed by the university and it was on to the next step. Both professors felt that spaces for community were important and began working toward creating a space for students to build community and provide transformative programming centered around issues of gender and social justice. Lydia says that Dr. Bailey was instrumental in getting the university to support a building located just off campus at 1211 N. Mississippi St. The Center for Gender Equity and Social Justice was founded on October 31, 2013.
“The Center has become what it is because of the student coordinators,” Lydia said. “It is only what it is because students have brought new ideas to the table and embraced it and carried it. It is also because other student organizations have approached us and collaborated with us.”
Lydia’s work with The Center caught the eye of the Gender, Race and Identity program at the University of Reno in Nevada, and after five years at Western New Mexico University, Lydia will be departing the University after this Spring for a new opportunity. She was recruited by the University of Reno to be an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Gender, Race and Identity in a dual appointment.
Among what she is most proud of during her time at WNMU is her role creating a space where discussions can be had about gender, re-defining the Spanish minor to work within the new Applied Liberal Arts and Sciences program and teaching numerous course in Latinx Studies and realizing that students wouldn’t get this information anywhere else.
When asked what she’d like to teach young women today, Dr. Huerta instead gave a message for all young people. “For all students today, feminism and a lot of the things that are possible today started with the women’s movement of the 1960’s. However, it isn’t just about women, it also applies to men and re-defining what masculinity is, and what men and women are capable of. It needs to be a very symbiotic relationship in order for all of us to create a culture where we can all have respect and feel included.”