“I Want to Learn More about My History!” Innovative Approaches to Engaging and Retaining Borderlands College History Students

AHA Session 19
Thursday, January 6, 2022: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Preservation Hall, Studio 7 (New Orleans Marriott, 2nd Floor)
Natalye Joann Harpin, Grossmont College and University of California, San Diego
Monica Hernandez, Moreno Valley College
Jaleesa Harris, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Session Abstract

Chicana feminist, Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) writes, “The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abiertawhere the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country-a border culture” (p.3). The present-day Tijuana/San Diego area is a microcosm of continued attacks on Chicanx/Latinx, immigrant, working class, LGBTQ, and indigenous communities. The community college system in this area is no exception as marginalized students and faculty continuously struggle for visibility, dignity and respect, ironically during an era in which the institutional discourse is one of “equity” and “cultural competency.” This session illustrates how community college professors in the San Diego region who teach courses that are cross-listed as History and Ethnic Studies courses, create strategic lesson plans, innovative assignments, and pull resources from various outlets to engage students in a transformative learning process that is crucial for these students who must consistently negotiate their borderland identity while traversing a complex community college terrain.

By discussing alternative knowledges, critical textual literacy, and the history classroom as a site of politicized learning, presenters aim to share curriculum modifications, pedagogical approaches and data driven student outcomes that illustrate successful engagement and retention of community college students. The goal of this session is to highlight tools that community college history professors use to center and validate alternative knowledges as a means for student engagement in the classroom, community involvement and a deeper appreciation for the study of history. These alternative knowledges are activated through course materials and assignments that bridge traditional historical methods with participatory action as part of a learning process. In doing so, this session further situates these approaches to teaching history at community colleges as pivotal tools that empower students in their educational journey.

Through classroom visitations, student evaluations, declared majors, and preliminary findings show that what these professors implement in their history classrooms inspire students to recognize their agency as critical thinkers, creators, artists, and activists across the geopolitical U.S./Mexico border. Furthermore, the recognition of their value and transformative shift in identity, positively impacts perspectives about their journey and goals within higher education. Each presenter will contextualize their teaching within their specific field of history and departmental leadership experience to speak to the ways they can and/or have successfully engaged and retained community college students.


Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands: The new mestiza, La frontera. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute.

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