Lorraine Leu

Lorraine Leu

Cultural Studies/Literature; University of Texas at Austin, United States


Two of the guiding principles of my career have been mentoring and service. Very few of us probably enter the profession expecting those twin demands to impact our work as much as they do. I certainly didn’t, yet have derived great satisfaction from guiding or supporting students and peers (and from being on the receiving end of that kind of support). Whether overseeing my department in the UK, as an Associate Director of a world-renowned Latin American Studies Institute committed to socially engaged scholarship, or influencing my own area of scholarship as an Editor of one of its most respected journals, I have been able to appreciate how service can positively impact an organization, institution, or even field. For me, LASA is always a site of challenging intellectual production, and also a hub that links and values the other dimensions of academic life: mentoring and service. LASA could not survive without service, without the time and energy that colleagues give to running and sustaining this vital network of interlocutors. The expansion of LASA membership over recent years and the record attendance at our last Congress are testaments to the Association’s importance to Latin Americanism not only as a field of inquiry, but as a community of scholars seeking dialogue with each other. Belonging to LASA means this, and it also means participating in a constant process of self-questioning and self-improvement – an ongoing search for how an institution that represents more than 12,000 individuals can and should respond to the conflicts, crises, and challenges of our field and of the region and communities we care about.

We ask more of LASA all the time, although not everyone is in a position to contribute the labor necessary to help make our demands materialize. I have had the privilege of serving LASA this year as a Program Co-Chair for Boston 2019. This opportunity has brought many rewards in terms of imagining the kind of Congress we need and that will serve us in the current social and political climate across the hemisphere. Some of the values that LASA as an association has embraced over the last few years, or even in the last year, such as the valorization of otros saberes,or the condemnation of harassment, make us better not just in the present moment, but are enduring principles on which we will continue to build. For others, different initiatives may hold more importance, but I cite these two that have been particularly meaningful to me as a woman of color from the Caribbean. Initiatives of this sort lead to conversations that impact people, or at least make them uncomfortable, and challenge us to think and re-think the politics of our knowledge production. I believe that as LASA continues to take the lead in such matters, mentalities can and will change. To give a couple of personal examples, I imagine that in the future blind peer reviewers may censure my work less for “seeing race in everything.” And colleagues I meet for the first time may ask me what I teach or research on, rather than which professor I’m working with on my dissertation.

I am committed to a LASA that values critical self-reflection and that insists on working towards inclusion. It would be a privilege to continue to serve in a different capacity, as a member of the EC responsible for making such values permeate every aspect of the Association’s activities, discourse, policies, and practice. I would also like to ask more of LASA: that we focus in a sustained way on a variety of strategies for including and mentoring graduate students who are the future of our organization. I would be excited to lead an initiative, for example, that might eventually support a LASA-sponsored certificate program based on interdisciplinary workshops where students can interact with and receive feedback from leading faculty on a given theme, or focus on a particular set of skills to attain success in the profession or beyond academia.