Faculty News

Great teachers never stop learning. They never stop asking why and how, never stop seeking answers to questions and sharing their findings with students who are on their own journeys of discovery. A sampling of recent faculty research, publications, and more gives a glimpse into some of the projects and passions that Pitzer professors bring to the College’s classrooms and introduce to the world every semester.

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The Roots of Resistance in Honduras

Suyapa Portillo Villeda ’96 explores contemporary Honduran history through the lens of a 1954 strike among workers on the banana plantations of northern Honduras in her new book, Roots of Resistance: A Story of Gender, Race, and Labor on the North Coast of Honduras, published by University of Texas Press. Portillo Villeda brings the pivotal role of women—in both the strike and the broader labor movement—to the forefront of the story. Roots of Resistance constructs a nuanced history of Honduras and the region. From Honduran worker oral histories to analysis of recent political upheaval, Portillo Villeda’s book uses lessons from the past to illuminate urgent issues in the present.

Portillo Villeda also brought the past to bear on the present when she spoke with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! about the conviction of a US-trained Honduran military officer in the assassination of land and water activist Berta Cáceres. Learn more by reading “Roots of Resistance: Professor Suyapa Portillo Villeda’s new book explores gender, race, and labor in Honduras” and the Democracy Now! story “Glimmer of Hope in Honduras: Ex-Dam CEO & West Point Grad Convicted in Murder of Berta Cáceres.”

$923,000 NSF Grant to Study an “Extra, Weird, Mysterious” and Selfish Chromosome

W.M. Keck Science Department Associate Professor of Biology Patrick Ferree received a $923,538 National Science Foundation (NSF) four-year grant to study how certain “selfish” genetic elements alter inheritance patterns at the molecular level. The project will facilitate rigorous research training opportunities at Keck—the interdisciplinary science department for Pitzer, Scripps, and Claremont McKenna Colleges—with the goal of enhancing STEM retention in higher education. Read “Keck Professor Patrick Ferree Receives NSF Grant to Study a ‘Selfish’ Chromosome” to hear Ferree and Pitzer student Max Richmond ’23 describe this cutting-edge research into a “creepy concept of a chromosome.” Read more:

Image: Photo of Phil

Endowing Secular Studies

When Pitzer Professor of Sociology and Secular Studies Phil Zuckerman established Pitzer’s groundbreaking Secular Studies Program in 2011, it was the first of its kind in the nation—and as far as we know, in the world. Ten years later, Pitzer received a $300,000 grant from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) that will help ensure the College continues to be a leader in the study of secularism. The FFRF Secular Studies Endowment will generate more course offerings, student and faculty research, and campus programming and, Zuckerman says, it “aligns perfectly with the goals of both FFRF and the Secular Studies program: to support education around secularism, atheism, and humanism.” Read more: https://www.pitzer.edu/communications/2021/03/31/freedom-from-religion-foundation-endows-secular-studies-fund-at-pitzer-college/

A Legacy of Exclusion and Detention

Pitzer Professor of Asian American Studies Kathy Yep and Executive Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Summer Espinoza wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed, “Migrant children are being sheltered at Pomona’s Fairplex. It’s not the first time the fairgrounds has housed detainees.” Their first lines were: “Today, something far more serious than carnival rides and arts and crafts competitions is occurring at the Fairplex. As of May 1, it has been used as a temporary shelter for more than 500 migrant children who have arrived unaccompanied at the U.S.-Mexico border since March.” Read more of Yep and Espinoza’s op-ed by visiting the Los Angeles Times.

Image: Headshot of Melissa Coleman?

Ever wonder how songbirds sing in sync?

New research from Professor of Neuroscience Melissa J. Coleman and a team of scientists explores how the brains of plain-tailed wrens keep the duet-singing birds from missing a beat. They may be talking about birds, but their research has evoked analogies to Simon and Garfunkel. Read the full story about how neural sensory cues and motor activity enable plain-tailed wrens to take turns while singing, producing an in-sync duet.

Image: Headshot of Jose?

Creating Cross-Movement Solidarity

How can organizers of separate issue-based campaigns come together to create a united educational justice movement? José Z. Calderón, professor emeritus of sociology and Chicano/a-Latino/a studies, explores that question in “Intersectional Organizing and Educational Justice Movements: Strategies for Cross-Movement Solidarities.” Calderón co-authored the article, which appeared in a special spring 2021 issue of The Assembly: A Journal for Public Scholarship on Education. https://www.pitzer.edu/communications/2021/06/17/professor-jose-z-calderon-co-authors-paper-on-intersectional-solidarity/

American Mathematical Society Honors Professor Judith V. Grabiner

Pitzer Professor EmeritaJudith V. Grabiner is a historian of mathematics who has spent much of her career studying legendary mathematicians from the 18th and 19th centuries. Along the way, she has become something of a legend herself in the history of mathematics field. The most recent proof (pun intended)? The American Mathematical Society (AMS) named her the winner of its 2021 Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize, which is only awarded every three years in honor of “notable exposition and exceptional scholarship in the history of mathematics.” In 2012, the society also selected her as an inaugural member of the Fellows of the AMS. Read more about Flora Sanborn Pitzer Professor Emerita of Mathematics Judith Grabiner and watch a 2016 video profile of Grabiner to hear about her time at Pitzer—and her theory of everything—in the story posted on Pitzer’s website in March.

Pitzer Professor and Students Screen Collaborative Documentary

Crystal Diaries, a feature documentary produced over three semesters in Professor Gina Lamb’s Media Arts for Social Justice course, premiered at the Outfest/Fusion Film Festival, in April 2021. In Crystal Diaries, five members of the Los Angeles LGBTQ+ House & Ball Community share their experiences with methamphetamine addiction in response to the death of Ballroom community member Gemmel Moore, who died in the home of Democratic political fundraiser Ed Buck. Two months after the film’s premiere, Buck was convicted of providing fatal doses of meth to two men. The documentary, produced in collaboration with Enyce Smith and Beyond the Runway, was streamed at the film festival. Read more in the story “Documentary Produced by Pitzer Professor and Students Premieres at Outfest Fusion Film Fest.