Interim Director quoted in the New York Times

October 13, 2023

Charles R. Venator-Santiago, the Interim Director for El Instituto and the Puerto Rican Studies Initiative was recently quoted in the New York Times. You can read the article here.

Interim Director Venator-Santiago Radio Interview

Author Esmeralda Santiago, and Faculty Interim Director of El Instituto, Dr. Charles Venator-Santiago, was recently featured on the podcast Where we Live, produced by Connecticut Public Radio. In the podcast, they talk about Esmeralda Santiago’s new book Las Madres, which chronicles five women as they survive and are shaped by their experiences by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and the efforts at permanent relief resources in Hartford. The episode can be heard in CT Public Radio website.

Update on El Instituto’s Future

October 12, 2023

Contributed by Charles R. Venator-Santiago.

As some of you may know, El Instituto has been asked to join in the creation of a new interdisciplinary department that seeks to combine all the Non-Departmental Units, including the American Studies Program, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative, the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, the Africana Studies Institute, and the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute. The idea is to create one department that can consolidate all resources in one place. The administration has committed to providing generous support for the creation of a new department during its first three years. Some of the goals of this initiative include hiring full-time faculty that could define this new department as their tenure home. All institutes and programs would become content areas within a new interdisciplinary department. This would mean that El Instituto would cease to exist as an autonomous institute and would become a content area within a new interdisciplinary department. As of the time of this writing, El Instituto faculty has voted to remain an autonomous institute or not join the new department. The Provost’s Office has informed us that “units that decide not to join the new department should be aware that there are no central plans to continue growing those units outside of this new department structure.” I am not sure what the future holds for El Instituto, but I am committed to an open and transparent discussion of the issues. More to come in the future.


The Puerto Rican Studies Initiative

Contributed by Charles R. Venator-Santiago.

Charles R. Venator-Santiago received a $210,000 grant from the Connecticut General Assembly to continue working on the Puerto Rican Studies Initiative during the 2023-2024 academic year. The Puerto Rican Studies Initiative for Community Engagement and Public Policy (PRSI) is a research initiative seeking to document and support Puerto Ricans’ vital economic, intellectual, and cultural contributions to Connecticut and to provide research-based support for the development of public policies addressing the needs of Puerto Ricans in the State of Connecticut.

This initiative is part of a collaboration among various programs, including El Instituto (UConn Storrs, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), Puerto Rican and Latin@ Studies Project (UConn Hartford, School of Social Work), and the Hispanic Health Council/Mi Casa. This initiative was initially funded during the 2022-2023 academic year by the Connecticut General Assembly with American Rescue Plan Act funds. For more information, please visit the PRSI webpage.

La Comunidad Intelectual

We look forward to collaborating with Professor H. Kenny Nienhusser, this year’s faculty director for La comunidad intelectual (LCI). LCI is excited to welcome approximately 22 first year and 15 continuing students to its vibrant learning community. The learning community has a leadership team composed of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students. This year, the leadership team is adding a Campus Partner Engagement Mentor who will be working more closely with ELIN to build our engagement across those units. For more information on LCI check out their website. You can read more about their vision of expansion and growth for La Comunidad Intelecutal.


Congratulations to Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann on Her 23-24 Humanities Institute fellowship!

Contributed by Charles R. Venator-Santiago.

Congratulations to Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann on her 2023-24 academic year Humanities Institute fellowship!

Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann

Katerina, an Associate Professor of Spanish Studies and past director of El Instituto (2022-2023), will bring a project entitled “Aimé Césaire and His Cuban Comrades in Art.” Katerina writes that the project “examines the relationships of solidarity and translation between Martinican poet, dramatist, essayist, and politician Aimé Césaire and a set of Black and white translators and artists in Cuba who shaped Césaire’s Spanish-language legacy. Césaire’s collaborative legacy notably includes the contemporary Spanish-language adoption of his 1935 neologism, “negritude,” so that this radical intervention in French to name blackness in defiance of anti-Black racism has become part of Spanish-language Black consciousness discourse. This book examines the practices of solidarity and translation that gave rise to Césaire’s impact on the circulation of the Spanish-language race-proud discourse of “negritud” and contributes to understanding how practices of solidarity and translation create social and aesthetic meaning and impact beyond the framework of fidelity.”

In general, Katerina works with Caribbean literature and intellectual history more broadly, with a special focus on the routes of circulation and translation of anticolonial, Black consciousness, and anti-racist poetics and discourse in addition to the dynamics of gender and sexuality in these routes of circulation and translation. She initiated the project she’ll bring to UCHI with her 2012 Comparative Literature MA thesis, “Cabrera’s Césaire: Notes on an Afro-Caribbean Crossing,” which went on to become her 2019 article for MLN, “Cabrera’s Césaire: The Making of a Trans-Caribbean Zone.” As she studied archives for her first book, Writing the Caribbean in Magazine Time (Rutgers UP, 2021), she found most of the primary source materials that worked with for this project. Katerina has also recently published another essay from this project, available open access at Continents Manuscripts, “Colombes et Menfenil in Text and Image: Taking Flight from Conquest in Aimé Césaire and Wifredo Lam’s Collaborative Aesthetics.”

New Faculty Position to Support El Instituto’s Graduate Students

Contributed by Rodolfo Fernandez.

Rodolfo Fernández Ph.D.

In my five years teaching at UConn, I have had the opportunity to teach well over a thousand students.  I have no doubt that it would not be possible to teach so many people without the help of graduate research and teaching assistants.  I know how invaluable the labor and intellectual contributions of graduate students are, which is why I am excited to start a new position this year supervising El Instituto’s Graduate Assistants. 

The Instituto created this new position to enhance the support we give to graduate students and the faculty with whom they work. In coordination with the Director and Associate Director of El Instituto, the Supervisor of Graduate Assistants will be the dedicated liaison for our graduate workers 

At the top of the list of the supervisor’s duties will be to foster and maintain open lines of communication with graduate students. I want to know if students are experiencing any problems that affect their responsibilities in the classroom; this includes any conflicts that may arise between graduate assistants and faculty. In case of conflict between the supervisor and a graduate assistant, students can rely on the Director or Associate Director to mediate.  

We want to see all graduate students succeed, and we understand that multiple organizational issues must be addressed to create the conditions for success. With each new semester comes the challenge of TA (teaching assistant) or RA (research assistant) assignments. One of the supervisor’s duties will be to match the graduate students’ strengths and abilities with the faculty’s needs while prioritizing the students’ class schedules. Nothing should come between the student and their ability to complete their degree in a timely fashion.  

Graduate assistantships at the master’s level are not common, so we value the training our students receive through these assignments. To ensure that every student makes the most of these opportunities, the Supervisor of Graduate Studies will assist with orientation and training and will perform assessments of each assistant at the end of the academic year.  

Finally, the Supervisor will be a fixture on the graduate admissions committee. The cultural and intellectual vibrancy of El Instituto hinges on the process of selecting and recruiting prospective students. Each incoming cohort of graduate students brings unique skill sets and research interests; the Supervisor’s active involvement in the shaping of these cohorts will result in smoother transitions for our new students.  

This new position will evolve as El Instituto evolves, but its responsibilities to graduate students will remain constant. I welcome the challenges and opportunities coming my way and will always be open to feedback and suggestions from members of the Instituto’s community. Consider my door open as we all work together to support and empower our graduate workers. 

Welcome our Newest Joint Faculty

Contributed by Lorena Solis.

A Path to Social Justice

I am an assistant professor of industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology at the Department of Psychology and a core faculty member at El Instituto. My research focuses on understanding the manifestation of inequality in organizations and institutions. Specifically, I study inequality within the context of workforce diversity. I aim to produce research that brings awareness to the mechanisms that lead to the experience of marginalization for all women of color. I approach this work by incorporating three pillars: curiosity, inner work, and imagination.

Lorena Solis 2017 Graduation Photo
2017 Graduation from CUNY Brooklyn College Master’s Program in Industrial-Organizational Psychology.

Curiosity. My identities have been the most significant sources of knowledge in my personal and professional development. As a Mexican-American woman from a low-income household, I have been navigating systems of oppression that impact my reality in higher education. However, Black Feminist and Decolonial literature gave me the tools and resources to fight for my freedom from narratives of oppression. As I immersed myself in this literature, I began to experience curiosity about social justice. This curiosity allows me to critically evaluate the world and the conditions perpetuating oppression for people of color.

Inner Work. My introduction to Black feminist and Indigenous resistance also helped me view my experience with marginalization as a source of resistance. Take, for example, the beautiful words from Audre Lorde in her work, Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination,

“Offering subordinate groups new knowledge about their own experiences can be empowering. But revealing new ways of knowing that allow subordinate groups to define their own reality has far greater implications.”

For me, studying workforce diversity and incorporating Black Feminism and Indigenous resistance is an opportunity to 1) reconnect with my motherland, 2) understand the complexities of the Latino/a/x Identity, and 3) undue my internalized oppression that is very much rooted in colonization. Further, my self-awareness allows me to critically reflect on how I study and reproduce knowledge concerning groups that have been historically excluded from positions of leadership and power.

Imagination. I am excited to begin my career journey at the University of Connecticut. I will teach courses in psychology and Latinx studies. I plan to continue my research on workplace diversity. I have launched my research lab at UConn Hartford, The Resisting Inequality in Society (RIS) Lab. The work that my students and I will conduct is rooted in radical imagination. Imagination is vital in the abolition of systems of oppression. In my lab, we center the work of Black and Brown scholars who have provided us with theoretical and practical tools to challenge the status quo. We will use these tools to understand how women of color are navigating systems of oppression in organizations and institutions. In addition to examining the mechanisms that contribute to oppression, our lab will also investigate how women of color find ways to act (e.g., use voice behavior, advocacy, and expertise) against systems of injustice. Our mission is to center and amplify the stories of individuals experiencing marginalization due to their identities.