Get to Know Your Professors: Josen Diaz, Ethnic Studies

TOPICS: Academics, Faculty and Staff

Monday, January 4, 2016

Diaz Image

Josen Diaz is a new faculty member at the University of San Diego in the College of Arts and Sciences' Ethnic Studies Department. She comes to USD as the appointed College of Arts and Sciences Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow. Diaz answered a few questions from the USD News Center to introduce her to the campus community.

You are one USD’s first postdoctoral fellows. That’s quite a distinction! What responsibility/(ies) do you feel in being a trailblazer?

Thank you! It’s exciting. I think of them less as responsibilities, though, and more as opportunities. Since it’s a newer program, the college has been open to receiving feedback to make certain that it’s as effective as it can be for the postdocs themselves, students and faculty, and the college. In that way, it has the feel of a collaborative project where postdocs can discuss what we need to succeed in our early careers. As a member of the first cohort of postdocs and as an incoming faculty member, this process has been especially important for me because I want to help establish a system of support so that subsequent postdocs have that well-built into the position.

As a society, we are experiencing heightened racial tensions which in turn are igniting conversations and demonstrations across the country. What can we do here at USD to positively contribute to the discourse?

That’s a great question. Racial inequity permeates, I would say, every facet of U.S. society, and so the things that we can do together at USD to address this range from big and small things, and they’re all important. Having honest yet difficult conversations with each other is a good start because, ideally, it helps us understand that we each occupy different positions in relation to each other, and this shouldn’t hinder us from contributing to social justice. I actually think that implementing and continuing the postdoc program has been a meaningful way for the college to express its commitment to addressing these tensions. It provides scholars and educators of color the opportunity to share their expertise, knowledge, and work with students and faculty at USD. And for a lot of students of color who haven’t had the opportunity to learn in classrooms from professors who look like them, who share similar personal experiences with them, and who can advocate for them, it’s a fantastic way to let those students know that they matter. Students across the country are spearheading unprecedented movements to transform campuses into more diverse and equitable places. They’re imaginative and powerful, and they’re the heart of any campus, so providing them with the space and opportunity to explain what they want and need and then working with them to make it happen is a great step.

Which of your classes is most challenging to teach?

My Introduction to Ethnic Studies course is the most difficult to teach! For many students, it’s the only Ethnic Studies course that they take during their college careers, so I always want to make sure that they get a good range and depth of material. With all of the important, incisive, and groundbreaking scholarship about race and society and with all of the potential subjects and themes to address, it’s a challenge to condense everything into a single semester.

You’ve done research in the Philippines, as well as in the United States. How were the experiences similar? How were they different?

The weather, food, and traffic! In all seriousness, the topics and discourses in which I’m most interested — histories of colonialism, modernization and development, nationalism, migration, and labor — I’ve learned as a student in the United States and as one invested in how they play out in the United States. But doing research in the Philippines has been critical to my own development as a scholar and teacher because it’s showed me how these conversations take on different meanings there. That’s a challenge because it means I have to step back, listen, and learn a lot more. But I’m also interested in how all of these things are intertwined.

What has been the biggest change for you in making the transition from graduate student to postdoctoral fellow?

Strangely enough, I’ve tried to make more time for my hobbies after making the transition from grad student to postdoc. I enjoy hiking in San Diego and in other parts of California, and I’ve made it a point to tackle a new hike from time to time. It keeps me balanced and focused.

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