An American University in a Neoliberal World: The Making of a “Bilingual” Hispanic-Serving Institution
Michael Mena

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



City University of New York Graduate Center

Primary Discipline

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) opened its doors on August 31, 2015 as a “bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate” campus—the only one of its kind in the United States. This is a categorical achievement in the near 200 year-long quest for the educational advancement of Latinxs in Texas, who have been historically subjugated by state-sponsored violence, segregation, and political and economic disenfranchisement (Montejano, 1987; González, 1999, 2013; Blanton, 2004). This project focuses on one university located on the U.S.-Mexico border where English-Spanish bilingualism is afforded a recognition based on its potential economic value—as a commodifiable “skill”—while simultaneously downplaying, veiling, and/or erasing the historical political struggle against the racialization of Latinxs in the United States. Scholars note that marked difference, particularly with historically racialized groups (including Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Latinxs, etc.), is often produced such that institutional participation is deemed valuable so long as minoritized groups look and behave a certain way—that is, present as non-threatening to the political and economic status quo (Ahmed, 2012; Dávila, 2001). This ethnographic research focuses on the ongoing conceptual re-articulation of language and bilingualism, which in turn interacts with processes of racialization and neoliberal governance in an effort to better formulate practical responses to social inequality in higher education policy and instruction.
About Michael Mena
Mike Mena is a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistic Anthropology at the Graduate Center (NY) and focuses on how ideologies of race and language converge in ways that reproduce hierarchical arrangements and income inequality. His ethnographic research focuses on the neoliberalization of higher education at a self-purported “bilingual” university in Texas. Mike Mena is also an educational technologist and media-making consultant for educators. He specializes in creating public-facing, open-access video resources within the disciplines of Critical Race Theory, sociolinguistics, and linguistic anthropology In 2019, Mena’s YouTube channel, The Social Life of Language, was recognized with the Society for Linguistic Anthropology’s “Public Outreach and Community Service Award.” The Social Life of Language continues to receive national and international recognition for its multi-modal pedagogical approach and as intellectually informed public activism.

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