Skip to content Skip to navigation

Photo-closeup of a Hoover Tower top

Stanford GSE alum wins top dissertation award

October 20, 2016
By Krysten Crawford
Maribel Santiago
Maribel Santiago
Maribel Santiago, PhD 15, is recognized for study on teaching Mexican American history

The National Council for the Social Studies has recently awarded Maribel Santiago its 2016 Larry Metcalf Exemplary Dissertation Award for her groundbreaking doctoral research at Stanford Graduate School of Education on the challenges of teaching Latino history in U.S. classrooms.

Latinos are the country’s largest ethnic minority, but their unique role in U.S. history too often gets lost in broader discussions about black civil rights, argues Santiago in her dissertation, “Reconceptualizing the Teaching of Mexican American Contributions in U.S. History: A Case Study on Mendez v. Westminster.”

Santiago, PhD 15 and an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s College of Education, explores why this happens and suggests possible remedies.

Sam Wineburg, the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford and Santiago’s dissertation advisor, calls Santiago’s research “one of the most important studies I have supervised in my quarter-century” working with PhD candidates.

Santiago’s research centers on the teaching of a 1946 California court case ending Mexican American segregation. The Mendez case is often portrayed a positive step toward the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education ending school segregation.

But educators, Santiago writes, overlook crucial differences between the two cases. Instead of a stepping-stone to Brown, Mendez first classified Mexican Americans as “white” and then reaffirmed the power of schools to segregate Mexican American students who allegedly did not speak English. Schools used this loophole in the decision to continue to segregate Mexican Americans, according to Santiago.

Teachers don’t often include the nebulous side of Mendez, she adds, and when they do, students struggle to comprehend how Mexican Americans could experience race and ethnicity differently than other groups.

Peggy Jackson, the president of the National Council for the Social Studies, hails Santiago’s research for its “significant implications” for social studies education. “Dr. Santiago’s research speaks to the complexity of history and how we make sense of the past,” says Jackson.

Santiago is due to receive her award at the social studies council’s annual meeting in early December in Washington, D.C.

Santiago, who is a daughter of Mexican immigrants and a first generation college student, says the motivation behind her research stems from her own observations as a student and a teacher of how the larger focus on black-white race relations has left out the role of Latinos in history.

Santiago, who earned dual BAs and an M.Ed from UCLA, spent four years teaching high school social studies in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts before enrolling at Stanford. She also holds an MA in history from Stanford.

In receiving the award, Santiago joins three other Stanford alumni, all former students of Wineburg, who are Metcalf winners: Chauncey Monte-Sano, PhD 06; Abby Reisman, PhD 11; and, Joel Breakstone, PhD 13 and director of the Stanford History of Education Group.