De La Salle teacher brings lessons on anti-racism to the classroom

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Luisa Marcela Ossa, Ph.D., is a prominent voice at La Salle, with a growing national profile, due to her work on equity and inclusion.

In her classes, like Afro-Descendants in Latin America, Luisa Marcela Ossa, Ph.D., illustrates the pervasiveness of racism. She shows her students that it doesn’t always come in forms that make the headlines, like police brutality or hate crimes.

“I draw parallels between the United States and Latin America,” said Ossa, associate professor of Spanish in the department of languages, literatures and world perspectives at La Salle University. “I showed students stories about black women who are news presenters in the United States who wanted to wear their hair naturally and were not allowed and were fired. We discussed hair discrimination in the Dominican Republic, for example, where it is still difficult for black women to wear their hair naturally because it is considered unprofessional. There were African-Dominican students in the course ready to share their personal experiences with these issues and their own struggles, which was an impactful learning experience for their non-Black peers.

Ossa knows firsthand what hair discrimination looks like. As a child, she regularly saw her mother, a black woman, straighten her hair before going to work. She shared this experience with Lasallian educators and students during a discussion on systemic racism held shortly after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, explaining how her mother “felt pressured” to change her appearance. in order to strengthen their job security.

This first life lesson on racism – the pressure she said her mother and women of color often feel to conform to society’s Eurocentric definition of acceptable – is an example of the lessons on diversity, l equity and inclusion that Ossa incorporates into his classes.

Image by Luisa Marcela Ossa, Ph.D.
Luisa Marcela Ossa, Ph.D.

Ossa is a leading voice on the La Salle campus for equity and inclusion. She was one of three co-chairs of the De La Salle Joint Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, a campus-wide enterprise for which its members were tasked with conducting an in-depth review of the environment, culture and policies of the La Salle campus to develop a workable plan and recommendations for the University.

A renowned researcher in her field, Ossa has co-edited a book highlighting African and Asian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean titled Afro-Asian Connections in Latin America and the Caribbean, which was recently published in paperback. After the 2020 elections, her expertise reached national audiences when she wrote an editorial for Marie Claire in which she dispelled the myth of the ‘Latin vote’, a problem which she says stems from a general lack of understanding in America what the terms Latino and Hispanic represent.

“There’s this idea that Latino is a race because the Hispanic-Latino category was started by the US census, not by the people themselves,” Ossa said. “Latino is not a race; it is a group of people with very loose geographic ties. Latino is generally used to refer to people of Latin American descent, which doesn’t even mean you speak Spanish, but it’s a term that has been used almost like a racial group. So that has the effect of erasing people because there are White Latinos, Native Latinos, Mixed Latinos, Black Latinos, and Asian Latinos.

Ossa is also an advocate for incorporating courses on diversity and anti-racism into the curricula of all subjects, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It’s very relevant to (STEM), as an example,” said Ossa, whose areas of scientific expertise include Afro-Hispanic literatures and cultures. “In the past, science has been used to exploit black people and other people of color. One of the best-known examples is the Tuskegee experience, but there are many more examples. Another example is the erasure of black scientists and mathematicians from curricula. Justice, diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racist curricula are relevant in all fields.

– Patrick Berkery


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