The Ends of Education: Chicanx Self-writing and the Institution of Higher Education
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The Ends of Education: Chicanx Self-writing and the Institution of Higher Education


This dissertation examines literary representations of Chicanx experiences of higher education in autobiographical writing to excavate new insight into the past, present, and future of education for diverse students. Throughout the US, we continue to struggle to achieve equitable access to education across racial/ethnic, and though many universities and colleges make strides toward inclusivity and diversity, these institutions often fall short of meeting the needs of a diverse student population. As a first-generation Chicano student and teacher, troubled by these concerns in and around the classroom, I recognized similar preoccupations in various forms of self-writing—including autobiography, memoir, essay, poetry, and short narrative—of many Mexican American and/or Chicano/a/x writers. From Richard Rodriguez, Ruben Navarrette, and Sergio Troncoso to Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, to Ana Castillo and Sandra Cisneros, to, more recently, Reyna Grande and Rigoberto Gonzalez, education haunts their written lives—sometimes in the subject matter and sometimes in the formal qualities of their work. It is as if they cannot help but simultaneously account for their educational privilege while giving testimony to the racial trauma of education. Studying the self-representational writing of these highly educated authors, I argue that Chicanx self-writing is a particular site for the manifestation of the burden of representation—the pressure to perform as othered racial/ethnic subjects. These works, published from the late 1970s to the late 2010s and giving accounts of experiences as early as the mid-1960s, are indicative of the shifts in education for students from underserved communities in the late 20th century that we continue to see: mainly increased but uneven and precarious inclusion. Self-writing—operating less as a genre and more as a rhetorical mode in its unique constellations between writer, historical context, “truth,” and reader—becomes a critical space that calls for the interrogation of one’s own exceptionality. Each of these authors, to varying degrees, at times embraces and at others resists their exceptional status as all of them, on some level, express an understanding of how the rhetoric of exceptionalism can often function to justify the continuity and continuation of inequity. This project reveals that within these authors’ accounts of and reflections on higher education lie a basis for both a sustained critique of the shortcomings of the university for Latino/a/x people as well as the potential for reimagining what higher education can be and do.

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