Juan F. Carillo

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Assistant Professor of Education, Cultural Studies and Literacies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,


Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, 2010


I was a former high school teacher in the barrios of Phoenix, Arizona. I also was high school coach, administrator, mentor. I developed curriculum in schools and worked with undocumented students, students that were in and out of gangs, and others that were just looking for someone to hear them out. I had to bury a few of my students. It was a rewarding and hard time. I battled through sleepless nights and even existential questions that diluted my idealism.

I came from the classroom experience. It was there that I began to test out my theories and then I wanted to learn more about my frustrations with the system and how I could be a change agent. I left Arizona and earlier, the barrios of south Los Angeles with big dreams. I was hoping that some net would catch me. Austin and UT, through all my ups and downs, became a place of tremendous growth.

Why UT?

I came to C & I and specifically to the cultural studies in education program because of the faculty. My research interests were compatible with the work being done in the program. I attended a conference in Austin a few months before I applied. While in Austin, I walked around the campus, did some research on the cultural studies in education program, and I knew this was the place for me. I also had this gut feeling that this program was “different,” “special,” “rare.” I wanted depth. Going to school just to get a degree was not good enough. I was starving for peers, ideas, and a community that was thinking about Latin@ education issues from an embodied locale where memory, trauma, and emotion were all put on the table.

While at UT, I attended research conferences, published articles, participated in community events, and was introduced to a larger community that supported me. I interacted with local school districts and even taught at Johnston H.S. in east Austin. Also, the cultural studies in education program was a space of incredibly bright, critical, and caring people. I found my little clique within this space. There were many times when I chatted with my peers at random restaurants, parking lots, and post-conference sites until 2 or 3 am. We pushed each other. I learned to fall in love again with contradictions, irresolution, and complexity. We all have gone on to influence education and schooling within various spheres.

Life After UT

In North Carolina, as an emerging Latin@ community, I have been able to take on leadership roles. For instance, I designed the first ever “Chican@/Mexican American Experience in Schools” course for our new education minor at UNC. I draw heavily from the knowledge and mentorship that I received at UT. My research, teaching, and the questions that I ask are pushing through long-held boundaries out here. To this day, I still use the work and advice of my UT mentors. My UT degree is also about responsibility. I am one of the few working-class kids that had access to professors who are leaders in their fields. I share, advocate, and push through various struggles with this in mind.

Advice for students

Apply to the cultural studies in education program 🙂 Bring humility, vulnerability, faith, and a critical lens. This will be a marathon for the soul.