Innovative Pedagogy Interview Series

A Conversation with Professor of Ethnic Studies, Alberto López Pulido

Alberto Pulido

Between Ocotber 8-11, 2015, Dr. Pulido traveled to Howard University, Washington D.C., in order to attend the 7th Annual Association For Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACHME) Conference: Building Just Communities. While there, Dr. Pulido co-presented a workshop entitled Transformative Contemplative Practices in Ethnic Studies. What follows is a conversation Dr. Pulido had with CEE Program Coordinator, Johnny Bobé, disucssing his trip and his work revolving around contemplative pedagogy.  

Thank you for joining me today, Dr. Pulido. Could you provide the readers and me some background information on who you are? Particularly, how long have you been at USD, where did you receive your education, what classes do you teach, and what are some of your general interests in teaching and in research?

I am a professor of ethnic studies who arrived to the University of San Diego in 2003 with the goal of building an ethnic studies program.  There was a a lot of activity happening on campus back in those days with students organizing and asking for ethnic studies led by professors such as Gail Perez and Eugene Labovitz. Their demands were supported by WASC. Since then, it makes me quite proud to say we now have a major, minor and full-fledged department. We have 5 full-time faculty in the department with a growing major.

I grew up here in San Diego along the U.S.-Mexico border that deeply affected my view of the world as I saw people navigate this 'prohibited space' known as the “frontera” for purposes of survival and reproduction of themselves. I was trained at the University of Notre Dame under the guidance of Julian Samora and am a proud graduate of the Mexican American Graduate Studies Program. As an ethnic studies professor and researcher I am most engaged in affirming the voices and agency of communities of color throughout the history and evolution of our nation. My goal is to bring engaged pedagogy into the classroom and university.  My scholarly interest range from Chicano Religions, Migration, Lowriders, pedagogy in higher education and Chicano History via my engaged teaching and scholarship regarding the study of Logan Heights and Chicano Park.

I am a great admirer of your community involvement, particularly your work in Chicano Park and Logan Heights, as well as your film documenting San Diego’s Chicano and Lowrider history and culture – Everything Comes from the Streets. Earlier you mentioned an interest in pedagogy. From previous conversations we have had, you noted an active interest in contemplative pedagogy. Could you tell us more about what contemplative pedagogy is, and what prompted you to pursue this form of teaching? Additionally, could you discuss how you use contemplative practices in the classroom?

I understand contemplative pedagogy as a form of teaching that allows students to become more mindful and introspective of themselves and their surrounding world. In ethnic studies – we focus a great deal on autoethnography where we invite students to produce an inter-subjective reflection of themselves and their social location. Our objective is to seek new narratives and the affirmation and transformation of marginalized communities and communities of color.  

I became interested in contemplative studies when the scholar Laura Rendón linked my teaching strategy of "cajitas" to contemplative practices where students are invited to literally create “boxes” of themselves as members of a community and as emerging scholars. This tuned me into my students of color who I came to discover had an inherent mindful and introspective way about themselves because they always felt like outsiders – never fitting in, and therefore, having to be mindful of themselves and their social location.  This idea is captured beautifully in the work of W.E.B DuBois' idea of double consciousness or Gloria Anzaldúa sense of people of the borderlands. I use this in class as a way to affirm students of color – their identities – and the communities and histories they represent in order to give them a sense that they belong in the university and that what we have to say and teach in higher education is relevant to their lives.

Recently I attended a workshop of yours that featured a reflective exercise that could be categorized as a form of contemplative pedagogy. I left with a more astute sense of myself and how my upbringing has and continues to influence the way I approach and live life. Thank you very much for that opportunity. I understand that you recently attended and presented this same workshop and reflective exercise at the 7th annual ACMHE conference in Washington D.C. The focus of the conference was on “Building Just Communities,” and your presentation was entitled Transformative Contemplative Practices in Ethnic Studies. Can you tell us your motivations behind this project?

Last Spring Semester (2014) we began to think of an idea of how we could utilize contemplative practices at Chicano Park. I have been working with Chicano Park and the Chicano Park Steering Committee for the past five years. The park is a historic place and symbol of resistance and struggle and it’s story can be captured in the 88 murals and statues that are located at the park. Many of us @ USD take out students to Chicano Park to learn about its history yet we do very little interacting with the monumental murals that tell us stories about a people and their history.  As Tommie Camarillo, the Chair of the Chicano Park Steering Committee says, the murals are like an “open school” that provide an education.  So with this in mind, we took Laura Rendón's notion of sentipensante ( our feeling and thinking sense of self) and asked students to apply this “contemplative method” as they encountered the murals. We asked them to write up a pedagogy and teaching unit about the murals that could be taught to high school students and we worked with the students from King Chavez High School. Through this process, I invited Ruby Beltran to assist me in building this project, and as a result, came up with a wonderful presentation on how to contemplate the murals utilizing what we call “situated contemplation”.  With support from our wonderful undergraduate research program here at USD, Ruby did some incredible work with me and started a webpage outlining what we do..  All of this was presented in Washington DC at the ACMHE conference and was received with great enthusiasm.  We plan to continue this work and to transform it into a public document.

Can you tell us how this project came about?

This specific project came about in several ways. During the 2014-2015 academic year, I applied for and received a Community Based Research Grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) – a grant funded in partnership with the Center for Inclusion & Diversity, the Changemaker HUB, and the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action. The title of this project is Archiving the History of Logan Heights: Empowering Youth through History.  As I mentioned earlier, Ruby Beltrán, then a student of mine and now a proud 2015 USD alumnus, partnered with me on the project as an undergraduate research student. Additionally, Ruby received a Changemaker Summer Research Fellowship from OUR, which allowed the two of us to continue our research partnership throughout the summer.

I think this project went really well and I really appreciated the collaboration and the opportunity afforded me by OUR to do this work.  

How do you think contemplative studies and the reflective pedagogy associated with this method of teaching will possibly affect your students learning in the future?

My hope is that contemplative studies  can serve to help students  better know themselves – to become “healthier and more holistic” people through their education. To integrate liberal arts within contemplative ways of knowing. To use what I learn, for example, in ethnic studies, english or philosophy as a way to become a better human that affirms our university’s commitment to human dignity and social justice.

Do you think there’s a future for contemplative pedagogy here at USD?

Yes I do! We have a history here at USD of doing this work. For example, the Center for Educational Excellence, during the 2011-2012 year, hosted a Professional Learning Community entitled The Spirit of the Academy: Investigating Tradition’s and Practices of Diverse Spiritualalities. (Contemplative Pedagogy PLC for short) Joining this learning community afforded me the chance to meet, engage in research, and collaborate with faculty from a diverse range of disciplines here at USD on the topic of contemplative and reflective pedagogy. A colleague of mine from the learning community, Louis Komjathy (Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies), is the Program Director of Contemplative Studies here at USD. He is doing remarkable work in this emerging scholarly area and is a leading scholar in the field. He just published a critically important work: Contemplative Literature: A Comparative Sourcebook on Meditation and Contemplative Prayer that will be referenced for years to come.  Last year, he hosted a groundbreaking Contemplative Studies Conference at USD that was well attended by scholars and practioners from throughout the world.  In many ways, this conference was a catalyst for me to imagine and coordinate the current work I am doing.

I  also know that University Ministry, through the guidance of Sister Virginia Rodee, regularly hosts a faculty and staff contemplative living group entitled “Mission, Religion and Spirituality.” This group explores the contemplative practice of finding God in the midst of everyday experiences. I’m sure there are other great examples of contemplative work already occurring here at USD, yet there is more work that could be done.

There is great hope and potential for contemplative studies at USD, and room for contemplative practices to be incorporated into the classroom to provide a richer learning experience for our students. I invite everyone to explore it in deeper ways through the work they do here at the University of San Diego.

Thank you for taking the time to have this conversation, Dr. Pulido. Best of luck to you as you move forward with your contemplative work.

-Johnny Bobé II

Do you use an innovative pedagogy in the classroom or practice the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL)? If you would like your work highlighted on our website and in the next issue of the CEE newsletter, contact CEE Director, Dr. Sandra Sgoutas-Emch (emch@sandiego.edu ), with your ideas today!

Helpful Links:

Contemplative Pedagogy PLC: .http://www.sandiego.edu/cas/contemplativestudies/resources/plc.php

USD Contemplative Studies: http://www.sandiego.edu/cas/contemplativestudies/

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society: http://www.contemplativemind.org/

The Seventh Annual ACHME Conference: Building Just Community’s (Program): http://www.acmheconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2015_ACMHE_online_program.pdf