Diversity and Democracy

A Legacy of Education for Liberation

Fernando Esquivel-Suárez joined Freedom University as a volunteer instructor in 2017. His main research interests focus on African American/Latinx relations, overlapping oppression, and solidarity.

Why did you decide to teach at Freedom University?

To me, serving at Freedom University represents learning from historically Black colleges and universities and Freedom Schools and carrying on their legacy of education for liberation. As many scholars point out, racist and xenophobic narratives legitimize segregationist policies and violence against migrants and people of color. Freedom University allows students and faculty to contextualize our personal stories in history and resist the criminalization of our bodies and identities.

I believe in the strength of multiracial political solidarity. Freedom University is a great example of diverse oppressed communities working together. We are not only inspired but also guided by leaders and institutions that formed the Civil Rights Movement. As a documented immigrant from Colombia who has lived in Atlanta for more than a decade, teaching at Freedom University inserts me into the history of the struggle for human rights historically led by activists from this city.

What are some of your most memorable teaching moments at Freedom University?

Beyond training students in the academic uses of Spanish, our course Introducción a las Literaturas en Español (Introduction to Spanish Literature) became a space for both native speakers and heritage speakers (those who grew up in homes where Spanish was spoken) to reflect on the role of the language in our lives. I find this exercise crucial during this latest resurgence of nativism, as we experience shaming for speaking Spanish in public.

I particularly treasure two moments from this course. The first occurred as students read their own poetry, exhibiting great artistic control and the ability to powerfully convey their experiences as they fluctuated between Spanish and other languages. In the second instance, one student described how, for her, Spanish was contained in family and religious spheres, and how our class helped her tap into another dimension of the language and reflect on the multiplicity of her identity.

What have you learned most from your students?

Working with students at Freedom University has given me a glimpse of how education might look in the margins of capitalism. There are no financial transactions. This transforms the school into a place where people willingly meet to learn from each other, produce and interrogate knowledge, and develop academic skills. To me, Spanish-speaking students and faculty at Freedom University have become an invaluable intellectual community in my first language.

What are your hopes for your students for the future?

The goal of segregationist policies in education—like the policies passed by the Georgia Board of Regents—is to constrain oppressed populations’ access to social mobility through professionalization and force them to be a reservoir of cheap labor. I hope for a future in which our students can determine their own destinies without the burden of laws designed to curtail their freedom. They are already actively building that future.

Fernando Esquivel-Suárez is Professor of Spanish Literature at Freedom University and Senior Instructor in the Department of World Languages and Literature at Spelman College.

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