Xicanas/Latinas and Intellectual Freedom in College: When Reading is Political

Academic Freedom, Education, Political Viewpoint, Self-Censorship, Social Justice

By: Eva Rios-Alvarado

Who are college students in 2018?

Colleges have thousands of students who been neglected, preyed upon, used for pleasure, labor, and victim to violence. This population is our nation’s largest college student population: Xicanas/Latinas. These students require some of the most support and encouragement in understanding their rights, especially if they get the opportunity to participate in higher education. In Southern California alone, almost half of the students who attend the California Community Colleges are women of color. For instance, in Spring of 2017, at the college I work at, Mt. San Antonio College, more than 54% of students identified as Hispanic and female (Datamart). Federal Statistics show similar trends where Latinos will be more representative of students in college and thus the future workforce (Azziz 2017).


Luna Roja, painting by artist Adriana Gallegos (1998)Chicana/Latina feminists through time have urged womxn — especially Xicana, Indígena, Afro, Asian-Latina womxn — to analyze and disrupt oppressive masculinities. Oppression is caused by patriarchal sources and practices. Even within education, there is no such thing as a hiding place. In my expertise, as a community college librarian, I am witness to how violence and trauma impair, pervert learning and the expression of women of color. Research shows violence against women is frequently related to patriarchal cultural values, according to which men are assumed to be superior to women (Tani 2016). The link between values which silence and even control women, especially Latinas, is exhibited in the lack of practice of intellectual freedom due to destructive experiences.

Violence, also a public health issue, restrains the ability to participate fully in the classroom and in scholarly communication. Identifying the origins of PTSD [trauma] based on race/ethnic[ity] resolves a moment of action (Roberts 2011). Women of color are at larger odds in the academy, as many academics have shared and come forward to acknowledge, even in librarianship. Essentially, where does violence and trauma begin and what is the cure? Who will listen responsibly and responsively? And what actions can be taken?

Patriarchal violence is censorship

Patriarchy is the vein of social censorship which degrades and undermines the physical and cognitive abilities of women to exist and act. Even in education, women in the United States, and in particular Xicanas/Latinas, are exposed to socially imposed censoring through patriarchal systems. According to researchers, “Latina women experience more mental health issues than do Latino men, or non-Latina women, and they are also less likely than their non-Latina counterparts to receive mental health support” (Hsieh 2016). Endured trauma, violence with limited-to-no support is the precursor to an imperfect ability to engage, fully, in intellectual freedom in college.

What does it mean to be serving a majority of students who carry socially imposed trauma in learning? Think deeply about it… As information communities, as librarians, and educators, information literacy principles and First Amendment freedoms are at the core of motivating students in college. Confronting self-censorship, academic development, and the ability to practice intellectual freedom is what Xicana/Latina students encounter in higher education. These students are re-traumatized through the learning process and encounter discrimination all the way to the top. I personally am witness to it. I see it in the womxn I love and care about; I see it in my own struggle; and I identify it in the students at my college. There are whole generations of students, who likely, have or will suffer some form of discrimination, sexual violence, abuse, trauma, or other situations of demoralization. I do not want to generalize, but the fact remains, Latinas are the largest student constituency on my campus and likely yours. If trauma is carried in the body and the mind, take this story into account and how it would be relevant in higher education.

Born and raised in Boyle Heights, CA, and one of the many female students who currently attend East Los Angeles College, is a young Latinx mother who has been told all her life by teachers, family, and essentially the world that she is uneducated and unworthy. Imagine how you might feel? Do you think this might start a pattern of self-silencing even? Tack on, from birth to present, she suffered violence by her father, including a slew of ongoing physical violence against her siblings and mother. Her father would often make fun of her ability to learn, causing stress and self-imposed silencing in her education. Surely, such an experience as this would delay or manifest anxiety and the ability to articulate. Scared to read, learn, and participate even in college, because it triggers. She relives moments where her dad would beat her because she struggled with reading. In a climate of student equity and the calling out of violence against women, I also urge academics, administrators, and anyone who cares to consider and think about this student: my niece. Where trauma and violence derail, censorship is present. How many students like her exist in cities across this country?

Chicana Feminist Thought and other feminists of color have confronted and identified patriarchy as a virus with a symptom of silence. Yet, only when it is popularized does anyone care to listen. When will women of color not be used to the gain of others and also be given credit with finding solutions? Most librarians and educators want students to feel empowered, to have ability to think and seek. I’m unsure of all the answers at this moment, but here are some to take to heart: Plan classes, workshops, programs, and reference interviews, knowing performing patriarchy is a form of censorship. Also, remind students the power of reading. Reading is a political act, and not just a passive act. Reading and writing confront, and identify imposed violence, and present an opportunity to be expressive, creative, heal, and even participate in higher education. Celebrate feminist ideas, learn from social justice movements and acknowledge the denial and dis-empowerment of women in education, literacy, the erasure of culture and language in history. Think about the many students, perhaps even you, who are trying their best but need it to be said and practiced: Patriarchal violence is censorship.


Azziz, Ricardo. “The State of Latinos in U.S. Higher Education.” Huff Post, The Blog. 6 Dec. 2017.

Chem-Chen, Jian. “Advocating for Students Impacted Trauma.”Clinical and Pro Bono, Harvard Blogs. 7 Jan. 2017.

[Datamart] “Management Information Systems Data Mart”. California Community College Chancellor’s Office. 2013.

Garcia, Alma. Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. Routledge, 1997.

“Trauma and Learning – Some Tips for Faculty and Instructors.” Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, Northern Illinois University. 12 Oct. 2014.

Hsieh, Yu-chin, et al. “Social, Occupational, and Spatial Exposures and Mental Health Disparities of
Working-Class Latinas in the US.” Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, vol. 18, no. 3, 2016, pp. 589-599, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10903-015-0231-z.

Roberts, A. L., et al. “Race/ethnic Differences in Exposure to Traumatic Events, Development of Post-
Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Treatment-Seeking for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the United States.” Psychological Medicine, vol. 41, no. 1, 2011, pp. 71-83, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291710000401.

Tani, Franca, Carole Peterson, and Martina Smorti. “The Words of Violence: Autobiographical Narratives of Abused Women.” Journal of Family Violence, vol. 31, no. 7, 2016, pp. 885-896, Research Library, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10896-016-9824-0.


Eva Rios-AlvaradoEva Rios-Alvarado is your glocal librarian. Her empowerment, spirituality, and beautiful-resistance stem from Xicana Feminist practice and philosophy. Currently, she leads projects in equity and outreach as Student Equity & Outreach librarian at Mt. San Antonio College Library. With a B.A. in geography and MS in Library Information Science, she serves community college students exploring and crafting their information literacy repertoires. Eva’s leadership, through Banned Books Week, allows students and faculty to explore, participate, and interpret topics in intellectual freedom, freedom of speech, and censorship. Find her on Twitter @EvaRiosAlvarado. #XicanaMLIS #LAallDay #librarianOfColor #locLA #ThisIs4theraza

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