Retiring ASU Professor Sarah Amira de la Garza plans to continue community collaboration

Sarah Amira de la Garza

Associate Professor Sarah Amira de la Garza


Associate Professor Sarah Amira de la Garza is retiring after more than three decades at Arizona State University and the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication

Her extensive research and leadership roles at are immeasurable, and her teaching has been described as "inspirational, innovative and empowering."

An expert on qualitative methodologies and decolonial and Indigenous approaches to inquiry, she specialized in studies of performance, race, spirituality and identity.

De la Garza's research has resulted in two books and more than 70 scholarly essays published in a range of top disciplinary outlets. Her research has been published in both Spanish and English and has been included in numerous juried scholarly performances.

Reflecting on her early days at ASU, De La Garza said she is deeply grateful for the opportunities she had to collaborate on research and teach across disciplines on work that has direct relevance today, including connection and engagement with the borderlands and Indigenous cultures of Arizona and the Phoenix area. 

“ASU was a much smaller institution in those days, and I am proud to have been here during the years where the imperatives to serve and engage with the issues and communities that surround us have become central to the university’s mission and charter.” 

In fall 2002, De la Garza served as ASU’s first-ever Southwest Borderlands Scholar. She worked to found and ultimately direct the North American Center for Transborder Studies, served in administrative roles in Barrett, The Honors College, and was an officer in the Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association and the ASU Faculty Women’s Association. In these roles, she organized numerous conferences, speaking series and workshops related to Indigenous and feminist scholarship.

"Professor de la Garza has made a difference from the time she arrived at Arizona State University as one of ASU’s first Southwest Borderlands faculty," said Karen Leong, associate professor at the School of Social Transformation. "Through her mentoring and program-building, Amira has proven to be an exceptional leader who consistently advocates for the success of graduate students and faculty of color at ASU. She has created spaces for women of color and underscored the significance of their research across the college and the university.

"For example, as a founding member of the Faculty Women of Color Caucus, Amira worked steadfastly behind the scenes to organize the caucus, effectively communicate its goals and render it a visible presence across the university, while also mentoring faculty women of color to be effective leaders. She forges innovative collaborations, including when, as founding director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies from 2004 to 2007, she articulated a transdisciplinary vision that brought businesses, policymakers and, most importantly, communities together across North America’s borders. Her transformative scholarship is evident as well in her development of the Four Seasons of Ethnography, a methodology that she has taught to students across the university and the world."

Richard Knopf, a professor in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, also praised De la Garza for her work mentoring students.

“Dr. De la Garza puts students at the center of everything,” Knopf said. “She has mentored countless doctoral students in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, teaching them the power of curiosity, advocacy, and raising the voices of those marginalized or left behind because there were few in their paths who believed in their capacities. She will always stand as one of ASU’s finest methodologists, illuminating in the most miraculous of ways the deepness of the human drive and spirit. Her passion, compassion, authenticity and joyful pursuit of servant leadership will benefit generations to come.”   

He added, “She is the consummate wisdom weaver, paradigm shifter, systems thinker and discipline fuser.”

De la Garza

ASU Professor Sarah Amira de la Garza served as emcee for a student rally held outside of Hayden Library in 2017.

De la Garza also made a lasting impact on performance studies in the Hugh Downs School and has mentored the creative scholarship of undergraduate and graduate students across many units at ASU. She introduced her students to a variety of critical performance methods that embrace creativity and innovation, rigorous interrogation of the body as a site of knowing, and decolonial performance practices.

“Amira’s performances at The Empty Space (Theatre) and in the broader community have exposed audiences to her poetic texts and personal narratives grounded in ancestry, spirituality and culture,” said Jennifer Linde, Hugh Downs School artistic director.

“Her service to the performance studies divisions of the National Communication Association and Western States Communication Association has been enormous. Amira worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for performance scholarship to be celebrated and shared with others.”

She received the Gary Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award, the National Communication Association Francine Merritt Award for outstanding contributions to the lives of women in communication, the NCA's Córdova-Puchot Scholar of the Year Award from the Latina andLatino Communication Studies Division, the National Communication Association’s Ethnography Division’s Legacy Award and the Victoria Foundation’s Dr. Eugene Garcia Outstanding Faculty Research in Higher Education Award.

"Together, these awards recognize Amira's career-long excellence in ethnographic and qualitative research," Hugh Downs School Director Sarah J. Tracy said. "However, these accomplishments are a mere outline of the impact she made as a scholar, teacher and friend.”

Reflecting on the past three decades at ASU, De la Garza said, "I have taken seriously my commitment to the community of scholars, professionals in higher education and students that make up our university, and to be in a university where my work could serve as a model and resource to the Chicano/a community within and off campus, as well as to serve the Indigenous communities of Arizona.

"I have celebrated the vision brought to ASU by President Michael Crow and his capacity to foresee and lead the arduous path to make our university capable of representing and substantively including marginalized populations in all aspects of university life and leadership."

As for her post-retirement plans, De la Garza looks forward to many years of continued collaboration with the ASU community as a member of the emeritus faculty.

“I will be collaborating with scholars in Arizona, Texas and Mexico on research begun here as an affiliate faculty member with the School for Transborder Studies, exploring the benefits of expressive arts, including writing and performance, to mitigate the social fear and anxiety experienced by borderlands youth in today’s sociopolitical realities and continuing my work globally training scholars in Four Seasons methods of inquiry. I'll also take time to enjoy life,” De la Garza said. 

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