Megan Figueroa

Megan Figueroa

Megan is a PhD candidate in Linguistics at the University of Arizona, where she also recently completed an MA. This is Megan’s first time attending the LSA Annual Meeting, where she is very much looking forward to the plenary lecture of Carmen Silva-Corvalán, whose research has inspired Megan and is related to her interests in Spanish-English bilingual children. For more on Megan’s inspiration to work in linguistics and make a contribution to society read the interview below.

How did you become interested in linguistics?
I grew up hearing my dad speak a language that I could not. In that way, I grew up struggling--both emotionally and linguistically--between English and the Spanish language I did not know. I quickly realized that my struggle is far from unique and I was driven to the field of linguistics because of my dad’s, and many others’, misinformed belief that being bilingual would be socially and linguistically harmful.

In what way(s) do you think that linguists can make a substantive contribution to society?
Linguists can play a role in shaping the public school system by educating the public and policy makers about minority dialects and non-standard English use.  I know many students make it through the public school system feeling invalidated because I have seen their struggles firsthand. Their experience is largely due to a curriculum that is insensitive to their cultural background and linguistic diversity.  I worked as a developmental English instructor at a community college in Phoenix, AZ where people of color comprise 85% of the student population. Some of my students were immigrants learning the grammar of a second or third language. However, many of my students were monolingual English speakers who made it through the U.S. public school system as native speakers of ‘non-standard’ varieties of English, as evinced by their speech and writing. I strongly believe that language research has the capacity to combat deeply embedded language biases that perpetuate underachievement in minority populations.

Where do you see you see yourself in ten years?  What are your professional goals?
My ultimate goal is to use the diversity of human experience to help shape public policy. State laws, like those that mandate English-only schooling, not only alienate minority children, but also have no basis in current scholarship on bilingualism. I will strive to close the achievement gap by first helping to fill the void of what is known about bilingual development. In addition to continuing my research on bilingualism, I would like to be working directly with children in my local schools in some capacity. Since ethnocentric language policies targeted against second language speakers only aid in intensifying the achievement gap, I hope to be an advocate for young children in the public school system that are learning English as a second language, or who possess a non-standard dialect of English.

What special challenges do minorities face in academia today?
Higher education is a daunting experience that can make insecurities that are intrinsic in the experience even more palpable to minorities with no role models. It is difficult to aspire to something when there is no referent. I still have moments of extreme insecurity because I grew up in a working-class environment as a first generation college student, and most of my peers obviously do not relate to this narrative.