Magdalena L. Barrera and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales on The Latinx Guide to Graduate School

Jul 12, 2023

In episode 152 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews education scholars and leaders Magdalena L. Barrera and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales about their new book The Latinx Guide to Graduate School

Magdalena and Genevieve teamed up to write this guide after many years of advising Latinx graduate students struggling to navigate the hidden curriculum of academia—a curriculum built around norms of whiteness, wealth, and settler heteronormativity. 

Demonstrating the brilliance, scholarly rigor, and leadership these graduate students bring to academia, they created this guide to center the worldviews and lives of Latinx communities in graduate education.

In their conversation, Magdalena and Genevieve share about their process for researching and writing the book, particularly how they navigated the co-authoring process amidst busy teaching and administrative responsibilities. 

They also explain how faculty and advisors can support prospective and current graduate students in embracing their full lives—lives that extend beyond many graduate programs’ myopic focus on research productivity alone. 

Cathy, Magdalena, and Genevieve close out their conversation with Magdalena and Genevieve’s vision for remaking PhD and MA programs in the service of a culturally liberatory education.

Cite this episode: Hannabach, Cathy (host). “Magdalena L. Barrera and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales on The Latinx Guide to Graduate School.” Imagine Otherwise. July 12, 2023. Produced by Cathy Hannabach and Ideas on Fire. Podcast. 24:07.

In this episode

  • How the hidden curriculum of graduate school harms Latinx students
  • Faculty and advisor strategies for supporting Latinx students
  • Finding one’s own path in academia beyond the assumed R1 norm
  • Learning from each others’ writing strengths while co-authoring a book
  • Building a culturally liberatory graduate education
Cover of The Latinx Guide to Graduate School, with people wearing graduation hats and one person holding a diploma up triumphantly

About Magdalena L. Barrera

Magdalena L. Barrera is the inaugural vice provost for faculty success at San José State University, where she provides leadership on all aspects of faculty recruitment and professional advancement.

Prior to this role, she was a professor and department chair of the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies. A former first-generation college student, she is an expert in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness.

She is the co-author of The Latinx Guide to Graduate School (Duke University Press, 2023), a groundbreaking guide providing prospective and current Latinx graduate students in the humanities, interdisciplines, and social sciences a roadmap for thriving in advanced-degree programs.

Magdalena trained as a cultural studies scholar focused on early twentieth-century Mexican American cultural production, and her experiences working at a minority-serving institution have led her to explore navigational and professional development pathways for first-generation and historically underserved scholars.

Her work has appeared in a wide range of journals, edited collections, and higher education news outlets.

About Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales

Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales is a professor in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco.

She is an interdisciplinary scholar of education and immigration whose research focuses on the educational and political lives of undocumented young people; deportation, immigrant families and violence at the border; and the educational navigations of Latinx communities.

Genevieve’s books include Encountering Poverty: Living and Acting in an Unequal World (co-authored with Ananya Roy, Claire Talwalker and Kweku Opoku-Agyemang, University of California Press, 2016), We Are Not Dreamers: Undocumented Scholars Theorize Undocumented Life in the United States (co-edited with Leisy Abrego, Duke University Press, 2020), and The Latinx Guide to Graduate School (co-authored with Magdalena Barrera, Duke University Press, 2023).  

Teaching and learning resources


Click to read the transcript

[00:00:00] Cathy Hannabach: Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about bridging art, activism, and academia to build more just futures.

[00:00:13] I’m Cathy Hannabach, and today I’m talking with Magdalena Barrera and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales about their fantastic new book, The Latinx Guide to Graduate School.

[00:00:23] Magdalena is the vice provost for faculty success at San José State University and Genevieve is a professor in the School of Education at San Francisco University.

[00:00:33] They teamed up to write this guide after many years of advising Latinx graduate students struggling to navigate the hidden curriculum of academia—a curriculum built around norms of whiteness, wealth, and settler heteronormativity.

[00:00:48] Demonstrating the brilliance, scholarly rigor, and leadership that these graduate students bring to academia, they created this guide to center the worldviews and lives of Latinx communities in graduate education.

[00:01:02] In our conversation, we chat about their process for researching and writing the book, particularly how they navigated the co-authoring process amid busy teaching and administrative responsibilities.

[00:01:13] They also explain how faculty and advisors can support prospective and current graduate students in embracing their full lives–lives that extend beyond many graduate programs myopic focus on research productivity alone.

[00:01:28] We close out our conversation with Magdalena and Genevieve’s vision for remaking PhD and MA programs in the service of a culturally liberatory education.

[00:01:39] Thank you both for being here.

[00:01:41] Magdalena L. Barrera: Yeah, we’re excited to be here.

[00:01:43] Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales: Thank you for the invitation.

[00:01:44] Cathy Hannabach: So, there are a lot of guides to graduate school out there and yours is unique in many ways. And I have to say it’s one of the best that I’ve ever read. Can you talk about how this book came to be?

[00:01:56] Magdalena L. Barrera: Well, first of all, thanks so much for that feedback. We’re just so excited to have the book out there and I’ll start the story and then I’ll pass it over to Genevieve to wrap it up.

[00:02:04] But Genevieve and I met many years ago when I was an assistant professor in Mexican American studies at San José State University

[00:02:12] and she was my lecturer colleague in the department. And I’ll never forget that early on, I was assigned to do a teaching evaluation of Genevieve and was just blown away by the interactions I saw her engaging in with her students. I was taking some serious notes on like, “Wow, like, I want to build this in my classroom.”

[00:02:29] So I just knew right away that Genevieve was a colleague that I wanted to be in conversation with about how to support grad students.

How do we do the work that we do in ways that are really sustainable for both us and the students, really drawing out the best of them, helping them to believe in themselves and the way we believe in them, and thinking about what this work looks like in ways that may be really different from what we had experienced ourselves as grad students.

[00:02:53] So that’s the kind of origin of how we came together and started a conversation about what graduate school means and how to guide people through it.

[00:03:03] Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales: Yeah. And then, you know, a lot of ways that was sort of like just a friendship and a professional relationship that blossomed through the work in a really concrete way.

[00:03:12] Yeah. And then, you know, in a lot of ways that was sort of like just a friendship and a professional relationship that blossomed through the work in a really concrete way. Things would come up with our students and we would consult each other, like, “Hey, you know, I have this student who’s struggling with this thing. Can we talk this out? Do you have 10 minutes?” Or “Hey, you know, I just wanted to pick your brain about this other thing that we have going on and, you know, wondering if you have any citations that I can pass on to this student with this thing that she’s thinking about?” Or you know, that sort of thing.

[00:03:29] And so we would consult each other as friends, as colleagues, as professionals. And that was true the entire time that we were teaching the same students in the department at San José State. And it also was true after I left San José State. As Magdalena shared, I was an adjunct there and I got a full-time position at the University of San Francisco.

[00:03:49] And as I moved on to my new institution, began my own tenure track position, we continued to, of course, nurture our friendship but also continue to consult each other professionally, pedagogically, mentorship wise.

She was always somebody that I trusted her judgment and knew that I could trust her judgment.

[00:04:07] And so I would often reach out and her the same to sort of troubleshoot and think through about really how to support the students that we were mentoring and supporting and teaching.

At a certain point, a few years ago, a colleague, a mutual colleague of ours, Kathleen Cole, reached out to both of us individually and she said, ” Hey, I’m looking for a book to give to Latinx new graduate students.

[00:04:30] And, I’m wondering if you know of anything that exists out there. I have this cohort of new graduate students that are coming into this program, and I would love to give them some sort of guide to navigating graduate school. And do you know of anything that exists?”

And I said, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that.”

[00:04:46] I did a quick search and thought, “No, nothing like that has ever come across my desk.” And she said, “Okay, well, I’m going to reach out to Magdalena as well and see if she knows of something.”

She said, “You know, I figured that if there was something out there that the two of you would know about it, and if there’s not something out there, the two of you should really write it.”

[00:05:00] And we kind of laughed and went on our own way. And then, I don’t remember if Magdalena texted me or I texted her and said, “Oh yeah, should we write this?”

And that’s kinda how it happened. We sat down together and had an initial conversation just to initially explore the idea.

[00:05:18] And then by the end of the hour-and-a-half conversation, we had a table of contents and had mapped out a plan. The meeting started with a general idea we were kind of bumping around and it ended with a really concrete plan and a sure sense that we were going to do it.

[00:05:34] Magdalena L. Barrera: Yeah, it was really amazing in that conversation. I’ll never forget.

[00:05:37] We were at an Indian chaat cafe in Berkeley. And we both just felt so excited to jump in and carry it forward. Also, each of us had particular areas that we knew we wanted to take the lead in and where we saw the other person as stronger in some areas and were like, “Oh, I know you would be perfect to address these particular aspects of the book.

[00:05:55] So it was also really nice flow between us as well as we got started in the project.

[00:06:00] Cathy Hannabach: I know one of your goals in publishing this guide is to give students, and also I think the faculty that advise them, insight into the hidden curriculum of academia. I’m curious what are some of your own experiences with navigating that hidden curriculum and how did those experiences shape your approach to introducing this topic for students in the book?

[00:06:21] Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales: Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, you’re right. It is for students, and it’s also for the faculty who support them. And part of that was wanting to make really clear, just acknowledging the fact that there is a hidden curriculum, that there are unwritten rules, because I think for so many of us who are first-generation college students, first-generation graduate students,

[00:06:41] sometimes what happens is that we hit up against these unwritten rules, this hidden curriculum and we think to ourselves, “Oh my God, am I the only one who didn’t realize this? Am I the only one who didn’t know this?” Am I the only one who didn’t know this? And it reinforces this idea that like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t belong here. I’m not smart enough for this.”

[00:06:57] And so part of it was just the acknowledgement and recognition that, yeah, it’s not just you.

This is an institution that is steeped in legacies of white supremacy and colonialism and racism and patriarchy and absolutely there are unwritten rules and that is steeped in privilege and it’s not an accident that people like us don’t know those things automatically and that’s okay and we can learn them.

[00:07:20] So part of it was a really explicit intent to just name that and acknowledge it and point to the institutional factors and structural forces at play when we think about unwritten rules.

[00:07:33] Magdalena L. Barrera: I’ll add that it’s striking to me that when I look back on my graduate education, the things that felt really challenging, right?

[00:07:41] There’s no way to see through them when you’re in the middle of that maze, right? That it’s only years afterwards and being post tenure that I can look back and say, like, “Wow, okay, now I get what that journey was.” And now being the leader in the classroom, as a faculty member, as trying to guide a set of students through a particular course every semester, it was easier for me to see some of the personalities and some of the power dynamics, the way that students engage with each other and are very anxious.

[00:08:10] We always have those kind of students, we may have recognized them from our own graduate experiences or sometimes you see them in your classrooms. Students whom you can tell are just really trying to show how much they know or engage in particular ways that is off-putting for other students. And as a faculty member, it’s incumbent to say, “Okay, how do I bring in a broader range of voices into this conversation?

[00:08:31] How do I reassure everyone it’s okay to be at whatever point of your journey that you’re at and we’re in this together?” Looking back, I think about being a grad student at Stanford. When I was wrapping up my dissertation, I almost walked away from a faculty career because I didn’t see myself

[00:08:50] reflected in the environment around me. And I thought, “I don’t know if I want to do this.” And it was really a felt like a quarter-life crisis of a sorts. I felt like I’d been training for seven years to complete this degree and now I don’t know that I want to be a faculty member. All right. So, I applied for a three-year teaching postdoc, mainly because it was renewable for up to three years.

[00:09:10] And I thought, “Great, now I’ve got a window of solid income to figure out my next steps”. But I’m so grateful to that experience because it was really my first time fully being an instructor in the classroom, not a TA but leading the students, and I realized I love teaching. And so, it got me looking at what would it be like to be a faculty member at the teaching-centered institution.

[00:09:32] That’s when I realized that when you get trained at an R1 school. there’s really an expectation that you aspire to build a career at another R1, that’s part of that hidden curriculum that I experienced. And it took me a while to see through that and realize this is the pressure I’m feeling, and I need to live my own journey in this career and find the kind of institution that’s the right fit for me, that reflects my values or the kinds of students I want to work with, the type of academic environment I want to be in.

[00:10:02] And I just want to share that one of our anonymous reviewers for the book said that our guide is the type of book sorely needed but also the type of book at times frowned upon for not centering on research results. And I just think, I wonder, could I have written this kind of book not being at a place where I landed and with the kind of colleagues and supports that I had particular to here that inspired me to be on this journey and that connected me with Genevieve in the first place?

[00:10:31] Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales: Part of what Magdalena’s story illustrates is really the approach that we take to the hidden curriculum and unwritten rules question in the book. I think for so many of us, we don’t even know that unwritten rules exist until we run afoul of them, right? It’s like you break them and then you deal with the consequences.

[00:10:46] Often those consequences are gendered and racialized. And our approach in the book is that it’s important to understand the unwritten rules not simply so that you can learn them and abide by them but that so that you can actually relate to them in a more nuanced way. And when you break them, that you can do so intentionally and strategically.

[00:11:04] There are times when it’s necessary to break those conventions, to break those rules, to run afoul of that hidden curriculum. I share a story in the book about an experience that I had when I brought my young son to an event on campus when I was an advanced doctoral student.

[00:11:21] He was sitting quietly in the corner with his books and his berries, and he was happy and not disruptive at all. A faculty member who I had a positive relationship with came over to me and leaned close to whisper something in my ear and told me that it wasn’t a good idea for me to bring my son to campus. I was confused.

[00:11:41] She leaned forward again and whispered to me, “You know, it’s not a good idea for you to bring your son around when you’re on the job market.” The insinuation being very clear that it looks like you’re not a serious scholar. That was a really pivotal moment for me, in part because it didn’t register for me at all that this would be seen as a negative thing.

[00:12:03] And also, it didn’t change my behavior moving forward. I brought my son, if anything I brought him more around, because to me, it felt important to break that convention, to break that rule. I wanted him to be visible on campus. I wanted him to be visible next to me. I was at that point then clear that I was breaking a convention.

[00:12:21] and it felt important for me to do so.

[00:12:23] Cathy Hannabach: I think the approach to a holistic way to participate in graduate school, and academia beyond graduate school as well, is certainly something that you center in the book and that you make a very clear political

[00:12:36] Cathy Hannabach: and ethical and intellectual argument for why this is so important.

[00:12:41] You situate graduate work and academic work more broadly within a full and complicated and idiosyncratic life, which is what we all have in our various ways. And that is very unusual advice for graduate students. I think it’s incredibly needed.

[00:12:59] Cathy Hannabach: Why was it so important to you to tell graduate students not only that that exists

[00:13:06] Cathy Hannabach: but also give them specific strategies for navigating that for themselves?

[00:13:11] Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales: I think you’re right. It is really unusual. That’s why it was so important to us. And we felt like it was really, really critical. Part of the work of this book is also about situating identity and racial identity as central to the experience of graduate education. Graduate school is different for BIPOC students.

[00:13:28] One of the ways that it’s different is that we bring our full selves to this work in the context of an institution that doesn’t often see our full humanity. In a very concrete way, my experience as a mom to young children was foundational to my overall experience as a graduate student.

[00:13:48] When we began this book project, I knew that I wanted to write a section about not just having kids during graduate school but your relationship with your kids during graduate school. And that was the starting point for a broader set of ideas and conversations that we had together about let’s have a whole chapter that’s about navigating personal relationships in graduate school.

[00:14:08] This is really not talked about, but there are some important considerations. If you’re dating somebody in your cohort, if you’re dating people who are not academics, if you’re single, there are important considerations when you think about what it means to navigate personal relationships. What does it mean to navigate a relationship with your parents who might really not understand what you’re doing and why the hell you’re still in school?

[00:14:28] The idea of situating personal relationships as central to that experience for us felt really important because we know that it’s important for the graduate students that we work with.

[00:14:39] Magdalena L. Barrera: When I think about our complicated lives, for me, it was important to include something about really complicated family dynamics.

[00:14:47] I share examples of I had a mom who really encouraged me to pursue my education. From a young age, she told me, “Because you’re a woman and because you’re a minority, you need at least a master’s degree, right?” And this was based in part on her work experience, not having a college degree at the time and seeing how people at her workplace were treated very differently according to different kinds of degrees and the status they had from those. She really aspired for my sister and me to go to college to make sure we had this kind of formal education.

[00:15:18] Even while I knew I had her support from early on, I think she at times grappled with feelings of envy that she would have loved to have been on a similar pathway herself had she been in a time and place where people in her life would have encouraged her to do that. So, the reality for many first-gen, minoritized scholars is that our families may well be cheering us on, but they’re also grappling with the impacts of our becoming different from them in particular ways.

[00:15:45] One of the brief stories I tell is my mom at one point pulling me aside and chastising me saying, “Don’t use your 25-cent words.” And it was so shocking to me because I’m not trying to make anyone feel small. It was just a word I knew, and it came out of my mouth because it’s like, this is the world I’m immersed in.

[00:16:01] This is in my classes. This is from the readings I’m doing and I’m not showing off. It’s just part of how I talk now. It’s the difference between using your knowledge in certain ways to flex over certain people but also just talking about things that interest you in the language that you’ve learned to talk about it.

[00:16:18] That’s part of the journey for us.

[00:16:21] Cathy Hannabach: Can we talk about collaborative writing? Because you make this look so easy in this book. But I also know that there’s a lot of thought and intentionality and care that went into your writing process. How did you navigate writing a book together?

[00:16:35] Magdalena L. Barrera: So, I think our first meeting that we had at that chaat cafe was in 2018.

[00:16:43] And then in 2019, we began to get a little more serious and we mapped out the chapters and split them up and agreed who would be a lead author on particular chapters. So, some chapters we took on clear leads on, other chapters we both wanted to contribute to and split the work evenly.

[00:17:01] And so, we had a rough template outline of what kind of topics would be covered in each chapter. And then worked via shared online Google Doc and just traded drafts back and forth. I will say we’re proud to have multiple voices in the text because we wanted to talk about a Latinx grad student experience that wasn’t essentializing, that recognized different pathways people have, different kinds of priorities that different grad students have in their lives. And having multiple authors on this just between her and I and then also some of our colleagues who contributed consejos or pieces of advice throughout the text.

[00:17:42] We wanted to have a multiplicity of voices. We also had the benefit of having a scholar, Carolina Valdivia, share an appendix on undocumented student success and what that’s like for the graduate school experience. The way in which Genevieve and I went about writing the primary chapters of the book, I will say, was a very, very healing process for me.

[00:18:04] I feel like Genevieve created a real safe space for me as an author and as someone who’s really grappled with issues of procrastination and self doubt in writing, like I know many writers do. It was really eye-opening for me to hear her say, we would have a check in, and she would say, “Okay, I’m going to write my part of this chapter by the weekend.”

[00:18:23] And then she would actually do it! She would send me an email a couple of days later. It’s like, okay, it’s there. Take a look. Let me know what you think. I loved collaborating with Genevieve because she was very free as a writer. And it’s like, hey, here’s the draft. Not perfect. We’re going to shape it up.

[00:18:37] That really encouraged me to do the same, seeing her model that. There was also seeing her ability to set very ambitious internal deadlines for us that made me really push myself. I did not want to let her down. Our deadlines that Genevieve helped us set were so amazing. We got our draft in like three months ahead of the schedule and when we submitted it to our editor at Duke,

[00:19:00] her email back to us was like, “I’m still trying to pick up my jaw off the floor.” So, I’m just really proud of the way in which we were able to collaborate on the writing and just crank this out and get really meaningful feedback from a group of faculty, colleagues, and former, current and former, grad students on an early first draft of the book.

[00:19:21] Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales: To me, I think trust and personal and professional affinity have a lot to do with it. I trusted Magdalena’s judgment about supporting and advising students because we’ve consulted each other about these kinds of things for years on these questions. And so, in many ways, the book was about documenting the practice that we have been enacting for years.

[00:19:39] It’s the same practice that solidified our friendship and our professional relationship. It’s what we do on a daily basis. I think so much of it came from a place of like confidence of we have so much to say, we have so much to write about this. Let’s just get it down. You know, I’m not going to say it felt easy.

[00:19:55] Writing is never easy, I think, for even experienced writers. But the collaboration always felt easy. I feel in a lot of ways like the book was inside of us, and it was just a process of getting it on paper.

[00:20:07] Cathy Hannabach: This brings me to my absolute favorite question that I get to talk with folks about, which is that version of imagining otherwise that is at the root of all of your projects, this particular book included.

[00:20:20] So I will ask you this giant question that I think is a really important one for us to ask each other and give each other a chance to respond to. What is that world that you’re working toward? What kind of world do you want?

[00:20:32] Magdalena L. Barrera: I love this question so much, and I will say, I am working toward a world where Latinx, first-generation, and other historically underserved scholars can feel visible and valued in academia. Where they feel connected to a deep sense of purpose

[00:20:55] that is woven throughout their writing, their teaching, and their service, which is really a form of university leadership and should be recognized as such. This is something that goes back to the heart of the book: we are navigating institutions that weren’t made for us. But we are here nonetheless, and we deserve to be here because we are leading the way for transformational academic work undertaken in community.

[00:21:21] And so that’s the world I want to imagine with others and work towards.

[00:21:26] Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales: I’m a scholar of immigration and education, so my immediate thought when I hear this question is to think about the world that I’m trying to help build and my vision for immigrant rights and educational justice. I’m working toward a world where people don’t die trying to cross borders and where citizenship isn’t used as a weapon to exploit people.

[00:21:43] I’m working toward a world where quality, culturally responsive, liberatory education is available to all kids, not just the kids who can afford it or who live in the right zip codes. The broader political and scholarly commitments in terms of the kind of scholar that I am, do tie into this book and the work that this book is trying to do.

[00:22:04] Yes, it’s a guide to graduate school, but what the book is really centrally grappling honestly and openly with is legacies of racism and white supremacy in the institution of higher education and how that shapes the kinds of educational opportunities that Latinx students and other underserved BIPOC students have

[00:22:23] and what that means for not only how we navigate those spaces and those institutions but how we support each other in doing that work, how we support each other in transforming ourselves and also in pushing the institution to transform as well. We talk about in the introduction that the book in many ways is a flashlight, a love letter, and a manifesto.

[00:22:44] And that is so much about the heart of not only the intervention we’re making in the book but also our practice as educators, as practitioners, as leaders, and that we hope can come through to the folks who read it.

[00:22:56] Cathy Hannabach: Well, thank you so much for being here and sharing the ways that you imagine otherwise and for putting this amazing book out into the world.

[00:23:03] Magdalena L. Barrera: Thank you

[00:23:04] Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales: so much.

[00:23:06] Magdalena L. Barrera: Yeah, thank you for this conversation, this opportunity, and we’re just excited. There’s so much more advice out there to give and let’s do this.

[00:23:17] Cathy Hannabach: Thanks for joining me for this episode of Imagine Otherwise. A big thanks as well to Magdalena and Genevieve for creating this amazing resource for students, faculty, and advisors. You can learn more about the book, The Latinx Guide to Graduate School, and their other projects as well, in the show notes for this episode on our website at

[00:23:37] The show notes include a transcript and teaching guide for this episode that includes related books, podcast episodes, and other resources.

This episode of Imagine Otherwise was produced and edited by Sara Bernstein and me, Cathy Hannabach.

Want to support Imagine Otherwise? We would love it if you would share this episode with a friend or consider teaching it in your classroom.

[00:24:00] You can also subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts.

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