Jesús Ramos-Kittrell Wins AAUP Award

April 15, 2021

Contributed by Maria Hernandez 

In his twenty years of teaching, Jesús Ramos-Kittrell charismatically highlights that there is no secret ingredient nor a unique method to teaching students but instead it is important to provide “a space for subjectivity.” Ramos-Kittrell, Assistant Professor in Residence of Music History and Ethnomusicology and Faculty Affiliate of El Instituto, has been awarded the AAUP Teaching Innovation Award. He believes that teaching is about providing students with a space that allows them to expand their critical thinking and align it with their desire to want something different. To Professor Ramos-Kittrell this is important in order for students to make sense of what information is presented to them and to excel intellectually.

Jesus Ramos-Kittrell

Ramos-Kittrell credits UConn in providing a space for him in which he can focus on a pedagogy that centers on students’ strengths, finding strategies for engaging students, and allowing him to choose content that benefits students intellectually. Although Ramos has been teaching for a long time, he humbly says, “I don’t know how to teach someone to feel something that they don’t know because they never felt.” To him, it is a work in progress which changes across generations, different social background experiences, and students that come with different strengths. When designing his syllabus and selecting courses to teach, Ramos wants students to be able to engage in questioning the production of differences, the question of diversity and exclusion in corporate rhetoric, and representational practices.

Part of pedagogical practices according to Ramos-Kittrell is “paying attention to student’s needs” as this is crucial for student’s learning. Ramos has worked with students who often do not come with academic strength such as writing but instead opts to work with them to find ways to work on their strength instead of losing the student’s interest completely. The pandemic posed another challenge for professors like Ramos-Kittrell who now has to find a way to engage with students virtually. He emphasizes that challenges such as lagging internet connections and having students who shared spaces with roommates, friends, and family made it difficult to build rapport through face-to-face communication. For Ramos-Kittrell, finding a methodology for teaching virtually is about creating engagement structures that vary. Some ways he would allow students to engage and be interactive would be through ice breakers, telling jokes, playing music in the background, and providing breakout rooms that allowed them to feel comfortable. Despite the success of these structures, they were difficult to implement in larger virtual classes.

One piece of advice that Ramos-Kittrell would provide to incoming educators is “if you want to be a university professor, we have a lot of challenges in higher education. Especially in American higher education.” He expresses that it is important for incoming professors to continue fostering a space for thought, critical thinking, and to continue to research ways to provide spaces in which students can succeed. For Ramos-Kittrell, teaching one student can make an enormous difference since they will pass this knowledge on to others.


An Evening with Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Contributed by Samuel Martínez

On the evening of Wednesday, 7 April, El Instituto, together with the Connecticut Democracy Center at the Old State House (OSH), Hartford, co-hosted a live-streamed conversation with Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Ecuadorian-American essayist and creative nonfiction writer, moderated by Fany Hannon, Director of UConn’s Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center. “The Undocumented Americans: A Conversation with Karla Cornejo Villavicencio,” focuses on Cornejo’s experiences in writing her celebrated book, The Undocumented Americans, based on her travels across much of the United States to talk to undocumented immigrants about their lives. The book was named one of 20 “must read” books from 2020 by Barack Obama and is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Jon Leonard Award for best first book.

After an introduction by OSH Museum Educator, Mariana García, Hannon asked Cornejo to speak about her motivation to write the book. Cornejo answered that the 2016 election changed her attitude toward her art. Before that, as an undocumented immigrant, she did not want her life to be defined by being an immigrant in the ways her parents’ lives had been. After Trump’s ascent, Cornejo said she found courage in James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, to write about immigration in ways that did not elide the costs that displacement to the North took from her mental health and that of other out-of-status immigrants. “I knew I had something different to say,” she remarked. “I don’t think that we necessarily have debts to anybody but ourselves, but I know that I could write about immigration in a way that was different than it had been written about before.”

Speaking of the psychological burden of feeling indebted to our parents, Cornejo said, “Our parents have lived lives not necessarily making their own choices or following their own dreams, and it’s a continuation of intergenerational trauma for us to try to repay debts to them and to live a life in not pursuing our own dreams and making decisions that are based on someone else’s decision.”

Cornejo accented the need for younger and older people to care for their mental health: “It means making boundaries with parents, with family; you’re not responsible for everybody. It means acknowledging that there’s intergenerational trauma in our families. … Encourage your parents to seek a sobriety group, or an AA class in Spanish, if you see that they’ve struggled with self-medicating for a while.” Whereas mental health and self-care concepts are already well-integrated into Latinx lifestyles, Cornejo said that there remains a hesitancy of Latinxs to talk about mental illness: “I guess there’s the cultural belief that you really shouldn’t let weakness show, and you associate a lack of an ability to tough it out with weakness, and therefore sensitivity, anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction, panic attacks, all these things … become scary.” “I think one way we could approach it is by describing them as medical, and as symptoms, rather than a diagnosis.”

Cornejo also shared insights gained from her living among immigrant communities, attending their places of work, worship and leisure, and listening to the stories of their struggles for dignity and justice in the cities of Flint and Miami. “When I traveled across the country, I [became] aware of the different kinds of jobs there are and the different ways of surviving.” Speaking of undocumented immigrants in Connecticut, she commented, “There’s so much undocumented diversity.” “I mean, undocumented immigrants do everything, right?” “I’ve learned a lot about undocumented people in Connecticut.”

About her next directions, Cornejo spoke of having struggled for many years with suicidal ideations, and of lately finding success in treatment for depression. “For the past few months, I have been feeling like I can make goals beyond just finding peace.” “I want to write this very good novel, that I’m working on now. … I’d like to move out of this apartment, and find a house with a backyard for my dog, and I hope to keep on writing the kinds of things that will help other queer kids, help the children of immigrants find a reason to keep going that isn’t their parents, or isn’t helping the community, or just surviving, but something that genuinely brings them some happiness, and not just peace.”


Translation Conference Brings Cuba Scholars to UConn On-line Event

Contributed by Jacqueline Loss

Over four afternoons between March 2nd and 5th, the symposium “The Translation of Letters and Ideas in Cuba’s Republic” took place virtually at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Sponsored by the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages, the UConn Humanities Institute, an Instituto Seed Grant, the John N. Plank Lecture Series, and the Office of Global Affairs, the event brought together more than a dozen scholars who reside in the United States, Spain, Cuba, and Mexico.

Organized by Jacqueline Loss (Professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages) and Reynaldo Lastre (Ph.D. student in the same department) the symposium served as a space to generate and elaborate upon debates related to the politics and poetics of translation in Cuba from a broad theoretical spectrum. The event’s online nature meant that despite the symposium’s seemingly specific topic, it attracted between 40-60 audience members from around the world on a daily basis, making the Q and A sessions especially productive.

The discussions were organized into four different panels. “Translation and Ethnography,” moderated by Jane Gordon (Professor of Political Science), explored racial debates within Cuba’s Republic, paying special attention to the way in which new “scientific” ideas penetrated literary discourse. Taking this topic as a point of departure, the panel “Disciplines and National Identity,” moderated by Melina Pappademos (Director of the Africana Studies Institute and Associate Professor of History), problematized concepts as dissimilar as choteo, respectability and refinement, universalization, the translation across Caribbean islands and languages, childhood, and the forging of psychoanalytical discourse through translation. As part of the second day’s program, Peter Constantine and Brian Sneeden (Professors of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages) familiarized conference participants with UConn’s leading translation program. The third panel, “Philosophies, Geopolitics, and Translation,” moderated by Samuel Martínez (Director of El Instituto and Professor of Anthropology), emphasized the impact of the Cold War in decisions regarding what to translate and how to translate, particularly in the framework of literary and cultural magazines. To a large extent, the authors and topics that were chosen to be translated were conditioned and reinforced by the ideological perspective of the editorial lines of these publications. Finally, with the panel “Traveling Discourses,” moderated by Guillermo Irizarry (Associate Professor at Literatures, Cultures, and Languages), the formal and ethical problems faced by translators emerged, as well as the extent to which figures such as José Martí have been “monumentalized” through translation.

As can be surmised, the discussions went back and forth between an analysis of literal translations and their political and ideological implications. For the particular case of Cuba between 1902 and 1959, the remarkable presence of the Cold War, the transition from the colonial system to a Republican government, growing cosmopolitanism, and the opening of the public sphere made the exercise of translation one of the emerging nation’s most important vehicles. The impact of these translations was not only seen within the framework of literary trends, but also in medicine (especially psychiatry and pediatrics), criminology, and ethnology.

Many of the presentations expanded the time frame of the Republic, connecting the politics of translation in the colonial and Republican periods and reflecting upon their repercussions in the present on the island and in the Diaspora. Just one of those approaches that exceeded the framework of the Republic of Cuba was evident in a brilliant keynote lecture by Rafael Rojas, professor and scholar at the Colegio de México, who addressed three ways in which the Cuban Revolution was reflected in translations of Cuban magazines in the 1960s.

While summarizing these exciting exchanges in a categorical and balanced way is challenging, it is worth remembering the questions that were posed at the end of the symposium—questions that we hope to return to within an edited volume on the topic of this conference: How does friendship influence the politics of translation? What can we learn about translation through anecdote? How does the practice of invisibility of translators impact the construction of disciplines? What role does solidarity have within the politics of translation? Who is allowed to enter into these relationships, and who is not? In what way can the desire to translate also imply violence, coercion, or manipulation? How does literature translate disciplines that were the product of translations in an emerging nation? To what extent might translation attempt to rectify practices of marginalization?

Nicaragua Performance Art in the Crossfire

Contributed by Samuel Martínez


El Instituto, together with the Human Rights Institute and the IIE Artist Protection Fund (APF) co-sponsored a live-streaming art event on the evening of Thursday, 8 April 2021, “Nicaragua: Performance Art in the Crossfire (Power, Relational Aesthetics, and Activisms). The event featured the Nicaraguan artists (and APF Fellows) Alejandro de la Guerra and Elyla. After a welcome by Instituto Director, Samuel Martínez, the event opened with a live performance, in which the two artists appeared on split screens in front of blank walls (Elyla from Nicaragua and Guerra in Connecticut). Seated with only their faces and hands visible to the cameras, each artist daubed each side of their face with paint of one primary color, and then executed a series of slow movements with their upper bodies and hands. The piece as a whole unfolded at a mesmerically slow pace, drawing attention to perspective and the frame as mediators of our perception of the human, and serving notice that this would be an event like none other. Afterward, as the artists wiped their faces clean, event moderator, UConn Professor of Art History, Robin Greeley, placed the event in historical perspective. She noted that both artists use symbols, slogans and images that were first generated by the Sandinista Revolution itself, to express widely-felt disappointment with the Ortega-Murillo regime’s betrayal of popular aspirations. In a double irony, Greeley observed that Ortega’s deployment of the Sandinista Revolution’s symbology for his own power stands alongside a younger generation’s creative use of that revolutionary rhetoric and imagery in protest. Elyla and Guerra then took turns sharing slides and videos of their earlier works, including Guerra’s La caída and Elyla’s Solo fantasía. A look at each artist’s work in progress was followed by question-and-answer. Among the topics discussed in Q&A were the liberatory reappropriation of public monuments, the perspective on their home country opened by their time as APF Fellows in the United States, the artistic institutional landscape in Nicaragua, and “artivist” collaboration. The artists gratefully recognize the support of the Artist Protection Fund.




Two Instituto affiliate faculty win AAUP teaching and service awards

March 26, 2021

Neag Assistant Professor in Educational Leadership, Milagros Castillo-Montoya, will be honored with a 2021 AAUP Service Excellence award, and Assistant Professor-in-Residence Jesús Ramos-Kittrell will receive a 2021 AAUP Teaching Innovation award.

A virtual ZOOM ceremony is planned on Wednesday, April 28th, at 1:00 pm.  Any and all who wish to attend are welcome.

Please RSVP to to receive the ZOOM link.

Felicidades, Milagros y Jesús!


Milagros Castillo-Montoya

Jesus Ramos-Kittrell

UndocuPeer: Dismantling Barriers within Higher Ed

February 12, 2021

The UndocuPeer training is a two-hour virtual interactive program facilitated by currently and formerly undocumented students that focuses on increasing educators, counselors, and administrators’ knowledge and skills for supporting undocumented students and advocating for institutional changes to ensure access, safety, and belonging for all students regardless of immigration status. Developed by undocumented students, trainers provide the necessary tools to begin or continue conversations on how to better support and work alongside undocumented students. Connecticut Students for a Dream will be offering five trainings during the Spring 2021 semester.

Friday, February 26th @ 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Wednesday, March 3rd @ 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm  (Session limited to NEAG students only)
Friday, March 26th @ 10:30 am  – 12:30 pm

Wednesday, April 14th @ 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm

Wednesday, May 19th @ 10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Link to register: 


For more information, contact: Kiara Ruesta at

La Colectiva Virtual Conversation

January 8, 2021

Contributed by Alonso Velásquez

El Instituto graduate students Nina Vásquez and Génesis Carela, together with UConn Political Science doctoral student Luis Beltrán-Alvarez and University of Oregon Philosophy doctoral student Rosa O’Connor-Acevedo, organized a virtual event on December 15, 2020, “Whose Heritage? What Heritage? Caribbean Black and Decolonial Feminist Confrontations against White and Heteropatriarchal Supremacies.” This event featured talks by Zoán Dávila-Roldán and Shariana Ferrer Núñez, two leaders of Puerto Rico’s pathbreaking Colectiva Feminista en Construcción. La Colectiva is a grassroots organization founded on Afro-feminist liberation, which advances struggles against heteropatriarchy and anti-Blackness on the island. Dávila and Ferrer were initially scheduled to visit UCONN for an extensive set of community-facing events in late March but these plans were abandoned in the early days of the pandemic shutdown. The Black Lives Matter justice mobilizations of 2020 gave added urgency to la Colectiva’s agenda. The presenters spoke from the island, focusing on black feminism, LGBTQIA rights, Women’s rights and the intersections of race, capitalism, and patriarchy.

In talking about the history of Puerto Rico, Dávila explored the theme of “Hispanidad,” forwarding an argument that the Spanish language and culture are colonial impositions, and that identitary constructs such as Hispanic, Latino or Latinx are all products of political violence. Race and patriarchy are the central axes of the colonial capitalist power structure. “Mestizaje” (racial mixture) functions similarly as a concept through which Puerto Ricans can ignore the racism behind anti-Black state policies, such as “Mano Dura” policing during the 1990s. Mano Dura exemplifies as well the use of Puerto Rico as a testing ground for policies later implemented on the mainland. Puerto Rico also has become the second largest housing authority in the US after New York City, with poor Black mothers among the most impacted. Dávila said that Black Puerto Rican lives only matter to island elites when and insofar as this helps elites sustain a neoliberal economic order imposed by the United States.

Ferrer Núñez said that Puerto Ricans should reexamine and question their culture, like their language, flag, and anthem. She said that Puerto Ricans must connect again with the heritages of their ancestors. Seeing how much of culture has been formed by colonization, she talked about how individuals could try to form their own identity.  She pointed to reggaetón as a symbol of music produced by and for the people.

The speakers view the pandemic as an issue manipulated by island politicians to inspire fear among the public and further isolate ordinary citizens from each other. Sensible limits on physical proximity only heighten the need to reach out and stay connected with others.

La Colectiva Virtual Event