WSU assistant dean, professor views promotion as call to action

Just 3% of faculty at U.S. colleges and universities identify as Latina. Reaching the esteemed rank of full professor, which requires innovation and leadership in addition to high-quality research and teaching, is even rarer for that demographic.

Formal portrait of Luz Maria Gordillo
Luz Maria Gordillo

Luz María Gordillo, assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence in Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, earned promotion to full professor in WSU’s Department of History earlier this year. She’s proud of her personal achievement and hopes to use her status to help others interested in higher education careers.

“Part of me wants to say this is a milestone, but a bigger part of me says this is a call to action,” said Gordillo. “I want to speak out and set an example of how others can do this while highlighting that it shouldn’t be so rare for Latinas to achieve this position. Institutions like WSU can do better.”

Gordillo, who studies U.S. history and is based on the WSU Vancouver campus, said minoritized groups in higher education institutions are affected by significant barriers.

“Academia is full of mysteries and shadows, especially for people with no family experience of going to college,” she said. “Universities are enrolling and appealing to more Latine students, but there’s such a low representation of Latine people in faculty and staff positions that it’s disheartening.”

Universities have enrolled more Latine students in the last decade or so, with WSU increasing its Hispanic and Latine enrollment by 75% during that timeframe. But so far, the increase hasn’t coincided with a proliferation in Latine faculty or administrative leadership in academia.

“The Latine population has grown exponentially, both nationally and in Washington,” Gordillo said. “But we need more faculty and staff representation to give those incoming students inspiring role models.”

Gordillo, who is originally from Mexico, said her interest in U.S. history started when she spent the seventh grade living in Port Angeles, Wash. as part of a study abroad program. That experience inspired her to return to the U.S. for college. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree from The New School, both in New York, and a PhD from Michigan State University.

Despite her prolific career and numerous academic achievements, her successes haven’t been easy. She hopes those experiences, however, have helped her clear a path for the next generation.

“I’m a strong-willed person, but I’ve been struggling against barriers my entire life,” Gordillo said. “I want that to be different for other Latinas. I want them to have an easier path.”