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Dr Sánchez-Rivera and the study of race and anti-racism

  • 01 December 2021

Dr Rachell Sánchez-Rivera, the successful candidate in the competition for the Research Fellowship in the Study of Race and Anti-Racism, took up their position as a Fellow of Gonville & Caius College in October.

Dr Sánchez-Rivera specialises in the study of critical race theory, the critical study of eugenics and scientific racism, historical sociology, and the sociology of health and illness with a focus on reproduction, decolonial theory, gender studies, queer theory, and social inequalities.

Their recent articles submissions are based on the impact and legacies of eugenics in cultural studies. For instance, they have organised two special issues, one that will be published with the Bulletin of Latin American Research (BLAR) and another one with the Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies (JLACS). This term, they have already submitted two articles for publications. One based on the novel titled Eugenia (1919) – the first novel about eugenics written in Spanish – and, another works on the impact of internalised eugenic ideas in both Spanish trap and Reggaetón.

Dr Sánchez-Rivera has also started the Reproductive Justice Research Network, a series of 12 events, finishing with a conference at the end of the academic year.

“One of the most important themes of my work is stating that eugenics is not a thing of the past but something that continues in different ways and forms, from policy to common understandings of race, science, sexuality and gender,” they said.

“I usually work on the Americas, with a special focus on Puerto Rico and Mexico. One of the most interesting things about the legacies of eugenics there is it can be seen in the way in which they implement different sterilisation practices, especially in the way in which they target indigenous women to get sterilised without their consent. You can see this not only in Mexico and Puerto Rico, but also in places like Peru. From 1996 to 2000 they sterilised about 250,000* women without their consent.”

*According to official figures from Peru's health ministry (BBC story). The sterilisation programme was introduced to cut birth rates among poor people in an anti-poverty drive which targeted indigenous people and which could see former President Alberto Fujimori face a trial.

They add: “In the case of different human rights violations, it might be good to quantify how many people are being affected by this. For example, in the case of Mexico, it’s very hard to get a number of how many women have been targeted to get sterilised without their consent.

“Our whole structure is very much embedded in the legacies of eugenics, even if we see it or don’t see it, find it as something that is very common nowadays or considered normal. Especially when it comes to people with disabilities and the way we say or do certain things that contribute to the maintenance of an ableist structure.

“One of the biggest contributions that I can make is highlighting the different legacies of eugenics and provide the tools to be able to work on it and be as honest as possible without erasing the long history of eugenic ideas and practices all over the world.”

For Dr Sánchez-Rivera their work is more than an academic pursuit, with humanitarian and personal interests in the topics.

They add: “Highlighting the struggles for reproductive justice is a big goal, both in scholarship and outside of academia. One way to do that has been with Cuerpa Politica, a podcast dedicated to highlighting the voices of not only scholars, but also practitioners and activists that work on the quest for reproductive justice in Latin America. The podcast has been very well received.”

Dr Sánchez-Rivera, whose preferred pronouns are they/their, believes it is important that gender is highlighted to grow awareness, and praised students of Caius and the University of Cambridge.

They add: “I do identify as non-binary and a person of colour – I come from Puerto Rico – and in my lectures and supervisions and scholarship I do make an effort to bring in intersectionality and talk about the different axes of oppression and how they operate together.

“In Latin America, the average life expectancy of a trans person is 35 years old, due to mental health and being the victims of physical violence.

“It’s good to see the LGBTQ officers here at Caius being so engaged in the new ways of thinking about gender, sexuality and identity.”

Further information about the Reproductive Justice Research Network can be found on social media: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and by email.

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