By Chris Ertel
Coming from a diverse background both culturally and educationally, assistant professor of English Aja Martinez brings a unique viewpoint to Harpur College through her specialization in critical race theory and ethnic studies.
Martinez, who is originally from Tucson, Ariz., earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Arizona before going on to study English for her master's degree and doctorate. As a result, she applies a multidisciplinary approach to her current studies on race and rhetoric.
"In anthropology you always have a site you're studying, and you apply whatever theory you've learned to the practice of what you're doing at that site," Martinez said. "The way it transfers to English is that pedagogically you're doing something in the classroom that theory informs, so you're still reading the theory and connecting it to practice."
After experiencing difficulty finding mentorship and access to education in graduate school as a result of her cultural background, Martinez began exploring how educational institutions can best serve students from backgrounds that they are not necessarily familiar with.
"I've encountered professors and programs who think it's a good idea to bring in students that are unrepresented, but once they have us, they really don't know what to do with us," Martinez said. "There's nothing setup to serve these students that have needs they haven't necessarily encountered before."
In coming to Binghamton University and Harpur College, Martinez hopes to improve the experience for students from backgrounds that are not traditionally represented in higher education.
"I'm exploring what we do as a program to best serve students who aren't traditionally part of the academy," Martinez said.
Because her work is often critical of how education is handled, Martinez often experienced some opposition to her work at other educational institutions.
"What Binghamton did that was different for me was provide a different sort of acceptance and excitement about the kind of work I do, which is critical work and critical of the institution," Martinez said. "Binghamton seemed excited about the work I do, and encouraging once I got here (in fall 2012)."
In teaching classes such as Critical Race Theory and Rhetorical Foundations, Martinez hopes to teach students new ideas contrary to the usual Western tradition.
"Rhetorical foundations is mostly focused on the Western tradition and canon. I'm teaching the interventionist version of the rhetorical tradition; what other rhetorical traditions exist out there, whether that be an eastern canon, something that's Mesoamerican, or indigenous," Martinez said. "I ask what other voices are being excluded when we're focusing on this very westernized, white-male oriented canon."
Martinez has found a positive reception to her work from students of Harpur College.
"I've found that the students here have a different sort of politics and ideological inclination that is more open to learning about contemporary racial rhetoric," Martinez said. "People think they know what the deal is with race or racism, but find that there's other stuff going on. I felt there was an openness to that more so than what I experienced at Arizona."
Martinez believes that it is always important to take a second look at things we accept as standard and universally accepted ideas.
"Liberalism, freedom and individualism are all these very nice concepts we hold true as Americans," Martinez said. "But what are they sprung out of and what ramifications do they have for groups of people living today?"
Last Updated: 6/3/15