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Saldaña receives President’s Distinguished Diversity Award

June 16, 2021
Saldaña receives President’s Distinguished Diversity Award

Profile photo of Lilliana Saldaña

Associate Professor and Mexican American Studies Program Coordinator Lilliana Saldaña has received the President’s Distinguished Diversity Award. By advocating for and supporting culturally-responsive Mexican-American education and its educators, Saldaña exemplifies UTSA’s commitment to being a Hispanic thriving institution. 

"I'm honored that my fellow colleagues at UTSA recognize the value of the MAS Teachers Academy in growing ethnic studies in our K-12 public schools," says Saldaña. "This has definitely been a community-powered effort, and I'm grateful to be part of a community of fierce MAS teachers, community partners, and fellow colleagues who have built this space from the ground up." 

Saldaña is passionate about creating spaces for students to learn the culture and history of the Mexican American community. She co-directs the Mexican American Studies (MAS) Teachers Academy, a one-week professional development seminar that provides a decolonial history of the Mexican American experience. The seminar helps high school teachers who want to add a MAS course or integrate the curriculum into their existing humanities courses. 

Saldaña also collaborates with local and national organizations to advocate for decolonial MAS curriculum in K-20 schools. Partnering with the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) Tejas Foco Committee on MAS in PreK-12 Education, Saldaña broke ground for MAS to be included in the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) for the first time. Nearly 800 students are now currently enrolled in MAS courses thanks to these efforts. 

Integrating MAS curriculum in school helps Mexican-American students develop critical consciousness and a stronger sense of identity. It also correlates with increased high school and college graduation rates as well as higher education attendance rates for first-generation students. 

"We are building on the legacy of community-created escuelitas (little schools) to ensure that present and future generations of children and youth have access to the transformative and humanizing practices of ethnic studies curricula and pedagogies, says Saldaña.

Saldaña’s scholarship and service are deeply invested in the community. Her co-edited book, Latinas and the Politics of Urban Spaces, examines case studies that place Latinas/xs, particularly of the immigrant and queer communities, at the forefront. The book is the first of its kind to use case studies to demonstrate practicable approaches for social and political activism. 

Saldaña helped organize the first Statewide Summit for MAS to provide updates on the advancement of MAS in public schools. She also supported the “Reject the Text” statewide campaign, which successfully got the SBOE to reject the initial Mexican American studies textbook recommendation due to its offensive and inaccurate representations. 

Saldaña is co-chair and board member of San Antonio’s Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. Through her service on the board, Saldaña is able to integrate the center’s cultural arts programming into MAS courses, thus further exposing students to Mexican American experiences through visual, performance and musical arts. 

Saldaña serves on the board of the first-of-its-kind Mexican American Civil Rights Institute dedicated to researching and documenting civil rights milestones in San Antonio and South Texas. She also serves on the advisory board for the UTSA Dreamers Resource Center, the first resource center dedicated to DACA and undocumented students attending a public university in Texas. 

Saldaña coordinates the Mexican American Studies program for the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in the UTSA College of Education and Human Development and is vice-chair of La Raza Faculty and Administrators Association. She is also a member of the SA2020 advisory council, the Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, both the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) and the NACCS Tejas Foco (regional chapter), and the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa. 

“Dr. Lilliana Saldaña embodies what it means to be a civically-engaged faculty member of a Hispanic Serving Institution,” says C. Alejandra Elenes, professor and chair of the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies. “A native of San Antonio, she is a scholar-activist who consistently advocates to open educational pathways for Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x populations of San Antonio and the greater San Antonio region. In doing so, she draws from personal experience and ancestral knowledge to produce community-centered research and pedagogies.”

The UTSA President’s Distinguished Diversity Awards are annual awards that bestow the highest level of recognition to individuals or groups for work that helps the UTSA community think about and practice diversity and inclusion in creative and collaborative ways.