Posted on November 10, 2021 by Christopher Reichert


Sonya Alemán, PhD, an associate professor of Mexican American Studies in the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, has been selected as the newest director for the College of Education’s Women’s Studies Institute (WSI). The WSI is one of COEHDS seven research and service centers, funded by multiple grants including a three-year, $5 million Mellon grant to advance racial justice . The mission of the WSI is to promulgate knowledge about women, gender, and sexuality through research collaboration and public programming.

Alemán, a South Texas native and graduate of Saint Mary’s University, had been living in Salt Lake City with her husband for eleven years when they decided to return to San Antonio for her to teach at UTSA and he at Trinity University.

“We wanted to come back and teach in spaces with student populations that mirrored our experiences growing up in South Texas, so we were both thrilled when UTSA made it possible to come back and teach,” she said. “I’m very happy to be back in San Antonio and at an institution that is an HSI; that was really important to me, it was always part of the impetus for pursuing a doctoral degree, for wanting to be a professor.”

Now in her sixth year at UTSA, Alemán was named director of the Women’s Studies Institute (WSI) in September. During her time in the REGSS department, Alemán says she had done some work with the Institute but had mostly served as a supportive faculty member. But when WSI director Jackie Cuevas stepped down it presented both a challenge and an opportunity for the Institute and the REGSS department.

“We saw really strong connections with the WSI in supporting the overall curriculum goals of the department and providing experiential learning opportunities for our students, so we knew that we needed to maintain that connection,” Alemán said.

It was also important to keep the WSI moving forward. So when she was asked to step into the director role, Alemán agreed.

“I believe in the mission of the Institute and the direction they were going, and its importance to the students that we serve,” she said, “so I felt that was something I needed to do.”

But steering the WSI is not Alemán’s only contribution to her field outside of her role as a researcher and educator; since 2017 she has also served as editor for Chicana/Latina Studies , a journal devoted to Chicana/Latina feminist scholarship. While she acknowledges the difficulties in managing these many roles, Alemán says both the editorial and directorial positions align well with her research interests and experience.

“...the director role helps support me developing that area of expertise and draws from the experience that I’ve gained over the past four and a half years, which I think is apt for where the institute is, situated at an HSI, at a student population that’s over 50% Latino; I think that is an asset.”

“I’m waist-deep in the innovative work using those particular theories and perspectives and I’ve been able to keep abreast of the newest scholars that are contributing to that, the ideas that are being generated,” she said. “So in that way, the director role helps support me developing that area of expertise and draws from the experience that I’ve gained over the past four and a half years, which I think is apt for where the institute is, situated at an HSI, at a student population that’s over 50% Latino; I think that is an asset.”

Despite her schedule, Alemán says she was flattered to be asked to lead the WSI, and excited to help it advance. Her immediate focus is on finalizing preparations for El Mundo Zurdo, a conference sponsored by the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa being held at UTSA in November. Alemán says that, as a previous attendee and presenter at the conference, she knew how important it was to tackle that challenge to ensure the conference goes smoothly.

“For it to happen at UTSA, for UTSA to be the home base for those conversations is incredibly exciting for the institution, for the WSI, and for my department,” she said. “So all those feelings of excitement, flattery, and then nerves were manageable knowing that it was important to take a leadership role and make sure the conference happened successfully.”

Alemán says her next goal is to plan what the WSI will do to celebrate Women’s History Month, in March. She says some of her key challenges include trying to predict whether that programming will be in-person or virtual, depending on the state of the Covid-19 pandemic, and trying to balance the benefits of virtual spaces, such as increased accessibility, with some of its drawbacks.

In addition to planning and coordinating events, Alemán also has a role in keeping the WSI’s grant projects on track. She sees this as helping ensure the Institute continues moving toward establishing itself as a site renowned for research of national importance. To this end, she is working on familiarizing herself with various grant proposals within the College of Education, as well as continuing to sharpen her grant writing. And yet, given that appointment as director is for one year, Alemán says she isn’t entirely sure what the next year will hold. She says her decision to serve is largely determined by where she’s needed most.

“I’m looking at the larger picture of the health of my department and as someone who’s a firm believer in that kind of scholarship in the academy and that kind of perspective,” she said.

Nevertheless, she says the experience she gains as director of the Women’s Studies Institute will prove advantageous to her research and pedagogy. One of her long-term goals is to see more crossover between programs in the REGSS department. For example, having a Mexican American studies professor teach a class for women’s studies, or establishing classes that combined students from each program.

“I think that would be a really positive thing, not only for our department but for our students, and students university-wide,” Alemán said.

For more information on the Women’s Studies Institute, visit .

 - Christopher Reichert

— Christopher Reichert