Q&A with Educational Studies Instructor Edwin Mayorga

Edwin Mayorga

Edwin Mayorga

Edwin Mayorga, an instructor in the Educational Studies Department, is on the front lines of the fight for educational equity. In 2013, he launched the Education in Our Barrios Project (#BarrioEdProj) in the historically Latino neighborhoods of New York City. Young people from the neighborhoods are co-researchers for the project, gathering information from their communities to share with public officials in the hopes of re-shaping the public education and very future of their neighborhoods. Earlier this year, Mayorga expanded the project into the Latino communities of Philadelphia, incorporating Swarthmore students into the effort.

Swarthmore students have also formed the Critical Education Policy Studies (CEPS) group, which provides an online clearinghouse of education policy data, analysis, opinion, and calls to action. Collaboratively managed and edited by the students and Mayorga, the site hosts student-generated material from various education courses at Swarthmore.

Looking back on an eventful year at the College, Mayorga explains the origins and aims of these projects as well as the root of his passion for educational equity.

When did your concern for educational equity take root?

It began when I was in high school just outside of Los Angeles. Baldwin Park is a working class, primarily Chicano, Latino, and Asian immigrant suburb. When I was taking SATs and getting prepped for applying to college, it became clear to me how few of us even had access to four-year colleges, let alone were prepared to attend and complete college. This injustice really disturbed me and I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t just about my friends and peers not caring. Something was wrong with education. This was only reinforced once I went to college (UC-San Diego) and I realized how few people of color and working class students were in my classes. Something needed to be done and I felt it was my responsibility to be part of the change. As a result, I spent the last 20 years doing educational justice work, including being an elementary school teacher in New York City public schools and being an educator-activist with the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE).

What led you to initiate the Education in Our Barrios Project?

The project is a braiding of my research interests and political commitments. First, it’s about the intersections of urban education, urban politics, and Latino communities. What happens in our cities' schools is always linked to the policies and issues that shape the neighborhoods and city that surround those schools.

While urban education, politics, and Latino community are the heart of the study, the design of the research study and what we do with the information gathered from the study, is something that the collaborative creates together. As a researcher, I want to use research to engage the public and put questions into public conversation. As we say within the collaborative, “We don’t want the research to just sit on a shelf, we want it to have an impact on the world.” The digital aspect of the work is a recognition that we live in a digital society, and if we really want to be doing engaged public science, it is essential to understand how digital technologies and social media both inspires and limits the reach of the research.

What are some of the highlights of the project thus far?

Mainly the outreach to get the research collaborative together and working, and the week-long summer research institute we held for the collaborative at Swarthmore and around Philadelphia. Reaching out to students in the Tri-Co consortium and Philly-area high schools like Nueva Esperanza Academy and South Philadelphia High School has been great. I visited schools, read resumes, and met with these amazing young people. It’s just inspiring and comforting.

During our summer research institute, we met at the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility to do community building work among ourselves and to learn about the process of doing participatory action research (PAR). We also visited the urban archives at Temple University and the archival collection at the Taller Puertorriqueño to just get a taste of the history of Latinos in Philadelphia.

Being out and about with this group of students, I found that while they are different in their experiences and perspectives, they have all expressed a commitment to identifying issues that are affecting their communities and taking action to improve those conditions. They are open and honest in their ideas and acts, which has inspired me to be a better educator-activist-scholar. Most importantly, their efforts have comforted me because who they are lets me know the earth is in good hands.

What are the aims of the Critical Education Policy Studies (CEPS) group here on campus?

While #BarrioEdProj digs deep into place and history, CEPS is my way of working with Swarthmore students to look out into the socio-political world.

I look at education policies as more than just documents. Instead, I think policies are the products of competing views on how social and educational problems can be addressed. And once policies are put into play, they have very material and cultural consequences that have both positive and troubling effects on lives on the ground. CEPS is a way for students concerned with educational policy issues to develop a nuanced and broad view on the issues, and to have a platform for articulating their perspective within policy conversations that exist beyond the college.

In what other ways are students getting involved?

We will be working with the students in my courses (Education Policy, Urban Politics, and Urban Education) to sharpen their various texts to post on our website, and we will be recruiting more students to serve as peer reviewers for website content. The success of #BarrioEdPHL relies heavily on the efforts of Tri-Co students as well. They are key contributors to designing the collaborative research project we will be conducting this fall and facilitating our summer research institute. In addition to their responsibilities as co-researchers, the students are serving as mentors to the high school co-researchers. They have each been paired up with a high schooler to discuss college and life trajectories. After the summer institute, all of the high school co-researchers said they would love to come to Swarthmore! So maybe the Swat students are also recruiters.  

What is your favorite thing about Swarthmore?

Without a doubt, it’s the students and my colleagues. The students that I have had an opportunity to work with thus far are not only critical thinkers but so diverse and well rounded in their interests. Those that I have crossed paths with are also profoundly interested in being agents of change in the world. It’s been a pleasure to engage in conversations about educational and social issues in the classroom and in office hours. I’ve also enjoyed working with students to host talks and film screenings, particularly with Enlace, the Latina/o student organization on campus. Similarly, I have found my colleagues in various departments, but particularly the ones that I affiliate with (Educational Studies and Latina/o and Latin American Studies), to be tremendous scholars, and very generous with their time and attention.