Wanda Alarcón and Kelsey Dayle John Receive Mary Bernard Aguirre Professorships

March 22, 2022
Mary Bernard Aguirre, Wanda Alarcon, and Kelsey Dayle John

Mary Bernard Aguirre, Wanda Alarcón, and Kelsey Dayle John

This year, Wanda Alarcón and Kelsey Dayle John are the recipients of the Mary Bernard Aguirre Professorship in the Department of Gender and Women's Studies.

The Mary Bernard Aguirre Professorship is awarded annually to a Gender and Women’s Studies faculty member through the generosity of Rowene Aguirre-Medina and Roy Medina. The professorship honors the career and spirit of Mary “Mamie” Bernard Aguirre – Rowene’s great-grandmother and one of the first women professors at the University of Arizona in 1895.

Wanda Alarcón

Wanda Alarcón, an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, is an interdisciplinary scholar specializing in Chicana literature, music, and decolonial feminist thought. Her current book project titled “Chicana Sonics and the Decolonial Politics of Listening” examines the writings of four contemporary Chicana authors whose collective works amplify how we hear gender and jotería through the concept of the soundscape. She is interested in the way such diverse forms of writing as poetry, stories, memoir, song, and drama remember and highlight East Los Angeles and the 1980s as important sites for seeing and hearing new Chicana representations and sonic worlds.

As a first-generation Chicana scholar, Alarcón is committed to mentoring first-generation, working-class students of color to demystify academic writing and help them cultivate their own voices.

"I am honored to be a recipient of the Mary Bernard Aguirre Professorship. The award keeps alive the memory and career of the University of Arizona’s first female professor and that is an important legacy," said Alarcón. "Having joined the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies during the pandemic, receiving the award with the enthusiastic support of my colleagues has been a wonderful source of personal connection."

Alarcón is creating "Sounding Gender in the U.S. Latinx Borderlands,” a research working group for faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows at the University of Arizona who are interested in doing Chicana-Latina feminist research with sound as the central methodology.

"The generous support of the Mary Bernard Aguirre Professorship allows me to bring a scholarly community together even when we can’t always be in the same room," Alarcón said.

Kelsey Dayle John

Kelsey Dayle John (Diné) is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Women's Studies and the Department of American Indian Studies.

John’s work is centered on animal relationalities, particularly horse/human relationships, as ways of knowing, healing, and decolonizing education. John’s research interests also include Indigenous feminisms, decolonizing methodologies, and Tribal colleges and universities. In her community, John organizes a reoccurring horse conference to promote dialogue about the sacredness of horses and to promote community-based education.

You can learn more about John's work by watching her Downtown Lecture Series on "Łįį’ (Navajo Horse) as Healer and Educator" and the Arizona Public Media profile "Navajo Mustang."

"I believe in the power of learning together with more than human communities. Learning in community is a practice that takes time, consideration, and care," said John. "The Mary Bernard Aguirre Professorship has provided resources for me and my team to build relationships with the College of Veterinary Medicine and a local Tucson community-based non-profit called ARCS-SPAN around equine-facilitated learning. Our working group is committed to providing equine-facilitated learning (EFL) to populations that wouldn’t otherwise have access to these relationships and to immersing ourselves in best practices for EFL."

The Mary Bernard Aguirre Professorship

Mary Bernard Aguirre, or “Mamie” was born in 1844 in St. Louis, Mo., the product of a restrictive environment, especially for women. In 1862, at the age of 18, Mary met and married Epifanio Aguirre, a Mexican trader. Early in her marriage, Mamie traveled extensively – visiting Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. She then traveled with her husband across the Great Plains and had three sons, Pedro, Epifanio. and Stephen.

In 1875, Mamie was named head of a public school for girls in Tucson. And in 1895, Mamie became head of the Spanish language and English history departments at the University of Arizona (at the time the UA had 15 faculty and 155 students.)

By funding the Mary Bernard Aguirre Professorship in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, Rowene Aguirre-Medina, who is an SBS Advisory Board Member, is not only honoring her great-grandmother’s indomitable spirit, she’s ensuring that current and future generations of women can live their full story.

“I see it as the past touching the present to educate the future,” says Aguirre-Medina. “That’s exciting.”