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American Philosophical Association honors UD philosopher with Essay Prize in Latin American Thought

By Allison Brace ’22

The American Philosophical Association awarded University of Dayton philosopher ​​Ernesto Rosen Velasquez the 2021 Essay Prize in Latin American Thought for his work about Latinx communities, Is Latina Mestiza Identity a Being-in-Worlds?

Velasquez’s essay challenges “capacity theories that presuppose a being” by taking a critical look at work by philosopher Mariana Ortega, who examines Latina women’s identity by describing them as beings in the world — which inspired Velasquez’s essay title. In his piece, Velasquez introduces a new theory that uses a relational approach to determine what it means to be human.

“I really enjoy listening and responding to the work of other philosophers,” said Velasquez, associate professor of philosophy. “All of the pieces I write are prompted by personal and intellectual interest, but it is important to note that to love and care for something you have to appreciate its strengths and be able to look at it critically and seek to make improvements.”

The Essay Prize is sponsored by the American Philosophical Association committee on Hispanics. It is awarded to the author of the best unpublished, English-language, philosophical essay in Latin American thought. The winning essay will be published in the APA Newsletter on Hispanic/Latino Issues in Philosophy.

The selection committee commended Velasquez for an “innovative, rigorous contribution to Latinx/Latin American philosophy, one that not only contributes to the growth and expansion of the field, but can also be counted among the best original, English-language philosophical essays of 2021.”

Through his research and community engagement, Velasquez has come to determine that a characteristic such as having the capacity to project in the future is not enough to define whether one is human, especially in terms of marginalized or dehumanized populations. In his essay, Velasquez introduces a theory that argues that to be or not to be a human being is entirely relational. 

“I think from, with and alongside the most vulnerable populations,” Velasquez said. “We cannot take for granted that freedom is a given; for vulnerable populations liberation is an ongoing struggle. Dehumanized groups of people can have all of the ‘things’ that are required to be considered human in a biological sense, but if they are not treated as human beings then are they really human? I developed this concept of the human being as a relational notion, so I am a human because other people treat me as such, not because I have a specific feature.” 

Specializing in decolonial thought, Latinx and Latin American philosophy, critical philosophy of race and political philosophy, Velasquez has used his expertise to diversify the philosophy curriculum since he joined the University faculty in 2009.

Velasquez has developed courses in Latinx, race and hip-hop’s role in philosophy to complement, build on and critically evaluate the University’s traditional Western-European philosophy courses. 

"Dr. Velasquez continues to be a leader in diversifying and decolonizing the curriculum,” said Rebecca Whisnant, professor and Department of Philosophy chair. “He brings a similar lens to his own scholarship, and our department is pleased and proud that his research is being recognized with this prestigious award."   

Velasquez also played an important role in leading the development of the minor in Latinx and Latin American studies during the spring 2020 semester.

“I was thrilled to hear that Dr. Ernesto Velasquez would be receiving the 2021 APA essay prize in Latin American Thought for his essay Is Latina Mestiza Identity a Being-in-Worlds?,” said Thomas Morgan, associate professor in the Department of English. “This recognition is just another example of his ongoing contributions to making Latinx and Latin American studies visibly present on the University of Dayton campus, from the minor he helped establish to the national recognition this award represents.”

Outside of his research, Velasquez spends time working with marginalized community organizations. Through his work with parent-teacher community organizations, The Never Again Movement and movements against police brutality, locally and globally, Velasquez said he has gained valuable knowledge he hopes to use to help make the world a better, wiser place.

Velasquez is thankful to his fellow University faculty for offering support and flexibility not only to create new course formats, but also to write and travel to engage in service around the globe.

“It is really an honor to be recognized for your philosophical rigor and excellence by a well-respected and highly regarded group in the field,” Velasquez said. “This award  also has historical significance. Professor Jorge J.E. Gracia was my advisor at State University of New York at Buffalo. He created this award over 20 years ago and he was a pillar in making visible the field of Latinx philosophy in the United States. The timing of this award makes it a sort of tribute to him and his recent passing.” 

For more information, visit the Race and Ethnic Studies program website.

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