Maria Cotera

“Stories of women overcoming huge odds and challenging themselves to expand what they thought they were capable of made a big impression on my students.”
Maria Cotera
Maria Cotera

Maria Cotera is an Associate Professor of American Culture and Women’s Studies, and Director of the Latino Studies program at the University of Michigan. As someone who often teaches a core course in feminist thought, Maria knew that there were serious gaps in the traditional narrative. Women of color, especially working class women, are underrepresented in university curricula, in part because the works they produced remained in small, poorly anthologized, self-published books and newspapers.

In 2008, Maria came to the Center for the Education of Women with a request: she was planning an oral history and archival recovery project on the Chicana women’s movement of the 1960s and 70s, and she needed to fund a research trip to Texas that would require the assistance of two undergraduates. “I asked CEW whether or not they funded this kind of thing: research opportunities for undergraduate women,” she recalls, “and they did, through the Riecker Fund.”
Maria’s project was designed not only to fill the historical gap, but also to create an accessible archive of Chicana feminist thought for scholars, students and interested individuals.

Maria recalls that her students were deeply moved by their interactions with the grassroots leaders of the Chicana feminist movement. “Stories of women overcoming huge odds and challenging themselves to expand what they thought they were capable of made a big impression on my students,” she says. Access to primary historical materials was also powerful for the two undergraduates. Maria says, “I can tell students a million times about a conference and that these women were at it, but when they watch a film of a conference taking place at the time, or when they look at a newspaper, it means so much more to them because they can see the hand of the maker. That is very profound.”

Maria’s two research assistants graduated in 2011. One currently works for Teach for America, and another at a nonprofit that provides summer camp and after-school learning opportunities for homeless children. “I can’t credit my project with their political commitments,” Maria says, “but our work was about women talking about their political commitments as young women. I think the project enabled them to understand that they can dedicate part or the rest of their lives to social justice.”

Maria’s experience conducting research with undergraduates was inspiring for her, as well. “It’s also profound for us, as mentors and advisors, to watch that kind of crystallizing moment when you understand that a student has opened a door to a whole world that they didn’t know existed.”