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My Workplace Is My Real-Life Case Study’: Urban Ed Ph.D. Student and CUNY TV Correspondent Is Also a Full-Time Professor at FIT

Elena Romero

Elena Romero is a third-year student in the Ph.D. program in Urban Education, an assistant professor in FIT’s Marketing Communications department, and a correspondent and producer for the monthly newsmagazine program Latinas, which airs on CUNY TV. In her spare time, she wrote the book Free Stylin’: How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry, published by Praeger. She is currently co-editing a second book, forthcoming from Rizzoli in 2023, which is itself an extension of a multilayer project for the Museum at FIT: a permanent collection, two-day conference, and exhibition titled “Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: 50 Years of Hip Hop Style” that she will co-curate. 

Romero recently spoke to the Graduate Center about how her varied interests come together in her work: 

The Graduate Center: How are you managing so many different roles and projects?

Romero: Just to make it sound even crazier, I’m also a single mom of three daughters, ages 9, 10, and 15. I am super busy, stretched thin, but all for good reason. The wonderful thing about journalism is that there are plenty of transferable skills, and one is learning to work under pressure. In a sense, all the things that I’m doing, although they seem so different and in different spaces, work really well together.

GC: Are the classes you’re taking for the Urban Education program influencing your work for CUNY TV?

Romero: Being a student in the Urban Ed program is something that influences all the things that I'm interested in, including teaching and my work for CUNY TV, and a perfect example of that was our September episode: I did a segment on critical race theory and what Latinos need to know. There’s no way I would have been able to do that piece in the manner in which I did without having had that foundational knowledge that I gained through the Ph.D. program.

As the show has progressed, I’ve expanded the lens in which I tell the stories of Latina women. I was a fashion reporter for several years, and in my first year for CUNY TV I focused more on entertainment- and fashion- related stories. In season two, I started doing more hard news stories — for example, I interviewed someone who currently is battling stage four metastatic breast cancer. I've also done education stories, such as whether or not Latino parents would send their children to school or select remote learning, and one on why Latinos are choosing not to be vaccinated. I enjoy putting the spotlight on issues that people need to know about, even if it makes them uncomfortable. 

GC: You did a segment on Latinas who are earning Ph.D.s. What did you discover in your research? Have you felt any particular challenges as a Latina who is earning her Ph.D.?

Romero: I interviewed Dr. Shirley Leyro, a critical criminologist, at BMCC and used her personal story and journey through the Ph.D. process as a Latina to highlight the challenges that Latina students face in attempting to obtain a Ph.D. To show the lack of Latinx professors at the college and university level, I also looked at data, particularly from the National Center for Education Statistics, such as stats on faculty hires by race/ethnicity as well as by college ranking (lecturer, assistant prof, associate prof, full professor). 

I am currently the only Latina faculty member in my department [at FIT]. There is an extra burden of responsibility placed on me by me as the only. Thankfully my colleagues have embraced me and I have been able to utilize my strengths to help our DEI initiatives. My colleagues have welcomed my distinct viewpoints and desire for real change in regards to DEI.

I currently sit on several committees including the president’s diversifying curriculum committee, where I serve as co-chair. It is exciting because I can take what I’ve learned at the Graduate Center and Urban Ed program and directly apply that to my position. My workplace is my real-life case study. The challenge is when you are the only person like me in the room with a distinct POV that others may or may not share or understand.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to draw attention to the need to recruit more Latinx students into Ph.D. programs and also the need for colleges and universities to recruit, hire, tenure, and support Latinx professors. The diversity of the student community should be reflected in the core faculty. I am proud that CUNY has been working on this through the CUNY Latino Faculty Initiative, established in 2006.

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Submitted on: OCT 14, 2021

Category: Diversity | GCstories | General GC News | Student News | Urban Education | Voices of the GC