Claremont, Calif. (March 8, 2018)—Pitzer College Professor Suyapa Portillo Villeda ’96 was awarded a 2018 Claremont Colleges Diversity Teaching Award, which honors innovative educational activities and programs that address issues related to diversity and inclusion both inside and outside college classrooms. Portillo’s contributions to teaching and learning, along with those of Pomona College Professor Sara K. Olson, were recognized by the Claremont 7Cs Diversity Working Group on February 28 at Scripps College
An assistant professor in Chicana/o Latina/o transnational studies at Pitzer, Portillo specializes in social movements in Honduras and throughout Central America. She teaches and writes about the intersections between labor, gender and race in workers’ lives in the history Honduras and the region. Her courses at Pitzer include Gender, Radicalism & Revolution, Immigration: From the “Tropics” to the Borderlands and Central Americans in the US.
Portillo, who is in Honduras this semester on a 2017-18 Fulbright US Scholar Research Fellowship, stated that she was “honored and humbled” to receive the award.
“This recognition means a lot to me because it is a recognition of not only my own teaching and mentorship of students, but also of the professors who taught and mentored me,” said Portillo, who graduated from Pitzer with a BA in Spanish and psychology.
Portillo said she sees the classroom as a place for exploration where building critical consciousness is an ongoing and shared process.
“I see students as partners in their own transformation, not in one class, or in one semester, but throughout their four years at the colleges and beyond,” she said. “I strive to walk with students in their journey and attempt to challenge them where need be, but often it is they who challenge me and teach me about the importance of communication, leadership and action.”
In November 2017, Portillo and three students who had taken her course Central Americans in the US—Alex Brown-Whalen ’18, Clara Fuget ’20 and Javier LopezCasertano ’19—served as accredited international observers during the general elections in Honduras. After reporting on the Honduran elections for numerous news outlets, including Democracy Now!, Portillo was named NPR’s Source of the Week in December.
In her acceptance speech, delivered by Pitzer Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle, Portillo described growing up in rural Honduras in a “family of teachers.” Her parents didn’t have college degrees, she wrote, but they had a passion for education and valued educators “as partners in change.” Then, when she arrived in Los Angeles as an undocumented youth, “teachers not only taught me English, reading, language and math, but also advocated for my mother and me outside the classroom,” said Portillo, who went on to earn her MA and PhD in history from Cornell University.
“What a journey and what a great opportunity it has been for me to come to Pitzer, where my own view of educators was reinforced, and, of course, it is these educators whom I now aim to model,” she said.
The Claremont 7Cs Diversity Working Group created the Claremont Colleges Diversity and Inclusion Awards in 2016 to recognize faculty members who have made exceptional contributions to enhancing and supporting diversity and inclusion within The Claremont Colleges community.