Before starting my PhD at the ISS, I was working in Mexico for an initiative that provided grant scholarships to indigenous people to pursue graduate studies. During the 15 years I was involved in operational and executive activities for this initiative, I got to know many inspiring women whose stories to obtain a university degree filled me with uncomfortable questions. Most of them were the first in their families or in their communities to go to university; most of them had attended boarding schools since they were children or had to migrate as teenagers to continue their education. Most of them had full-time jobs to cover their university expenses; those who did not face these challenges were considered privileged. Their academic trajectories were at times the result of collective efforts and at others that of solitary struggles. Nevertheless, they were generally painful, complex processes.
I felt that a better understanding of their paths was needed, so I decided to explore and highlight their stories through my PhD research. I wanted to know what had happened to some of the women who received a scholarship after they graduated and how their master’s or doctorate degrees affected their professional – and personal – development. I was puzzled about what changed and what remained in their lives as women, as indigenous people, and as professionals. Given my closeness to many of them due the long journeys together at the scholarships program called IFP-Probepi but also as a researcher committed to anti-oppressive (Brown and Strega 2005), feminist (Haraway 1988; Harding 1991), and indigenous methodologies (Wilson 2008; Smith 2012), I thought that the most appropriate thing to do was to ask them directly. To talk it over.
‘Reflective conversations’: bridging times and spaces
At the end of 2019, I contacted 36 indigenous women who had obtained master’s or PhD degrees between 2004 and 2014. Of those I contacted, 17 participated in the research. They were from different indigenous groups, states, ages, and areas of specialisation. Diversity was intentionally considered in order to identify those changes and continuities I was looking for, as well as the intersections of gender, race, and class that inform educational policies in Mexico. Originally, I was exclusively paying attention to their exclusion in terms of racism, sexism, classism, and tokenism.
I went to the towns or cities where they lived, including Yucatán, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Chiapas, and Veracruz. We had long talks, or what I call ‘reflective conversations’, which I understand as dialogues that start from previous common and mutual understandings – such as the IFP-Probepi scholarship, the graduate courses, our feminisms, our families, and our health – that allowed us to meet and examine ourselves across multiple times and spaces. While sharing a meal, a drink, or a walk, we conversed, reflecting on the experience of studying abroad, on our current jobs, on how much or how little life had changed. We connected those we were when we first met through IFP-Probepi with those we had become.
Shifting centers – from ‘victims’ to social and political change agents
After organising, systematising and analysing the information obtained, in the summer of 2020 I shared the preliminary findings with them. The meetings were online which allowed us to connect our multiple geographies: Oaxaca, Chiapas, Yucatán, Veracruz, Chihuahua, Mexico City, The Hague (The Netherlands). Sharing and discussing these findings and listening to their responses led me to shift the focus of my research -initially centered in their exclusion of the education system- to their processes and strategies of resistance. “We do not want to be the victims nor being seen only as beneficiaries of educational programs and social schemes,” some stated. “We must be recognised as the social and political actors that we are.”
Our encounters allowed me personally to understand in a much clearer way their paths and to address my research questions considering their gazes, but also to build networks and take action that goes beyond the very objective of writing a doctoral thesis and is more closely linked to the reality we want to transform. Thus, in 2020, we participated in a campaign to help eradicate racism in higher education promoted by Cátedra UNESCO Educación Superior y Pueblos Indígenas y Afrodescendientes en América Latina (UNESCO Chair in Higher Education and Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples in Latin America). Through the ISS Research Innovation Facility (RIF), we then set up an independent and collective blog called ‘Resistencias y Mujeres Profesionistas Indígenas’ (Resistances and Indigenous Professional Women) that we are using to share our stories of racism and the strategies that each of us has developed to face it.
A transformative methodology?
Was the methodology I developed and used transformative? For the way academia produces knowledge, I think so. I am doing research showing how collaboration, reciprocity, and recognition can work together to create caring processes in which different voices can be woven together into one fabric of experiences. For the women I am working with, I think it also does. It has created synergies and coalitions necessary to challenge stereotypes and transform not just how knowledge is produced, but how we want to walk in this world. For me, for sure. It has allowed me to reconnect with those women who have made me confront my own privileges and prompted me to use my position to continue exposing some of the still-existing structural exclusions. The way is long, but it is important to keep sharing, discussing, and resisting.
Brown L. and S. Strega (2005), Research as Resistance. Critical, indigenous and anti-oppressive approaches, Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Cadaval Narezo, M. (2022), “Methodologies for collaborative, respectful and caring research. Conversations with professional indigenous women from Mexico”, in W. Harcourt, C. Dupuis, J. Gaybor & K. van den Berg (eds.), Experiments and Reflections in Feminist Methodologies, Series: Gender, Development and Social Change. Switzerland: Palgrave.
Haraway, D. (1988) “Situated knowledges: The Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, Feminist Studies, 14(3): 575-599.
Harding, S. (1991), Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women’s Lives, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Smith, L. T. (2012), Decolonizing Methodologies. Research and Indigenous Peoples, New Zealand: Zed Books/Otago University Press.
Wilson S. (2008), Research Is Ceremony Indigenous Research Methods, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing.
 The initiative was financed from 2001 to 2012 by the Ford Foundation as the International Fellowships Program (IFP), and from 2013 until present (2022) by the Mexican government through the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) as the Fellowships Program for Indigenous People (Probepi). In both cases, it has been administered by the Center for Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology (CIESAS).
 For a more in-depth discussion of the methodology I used, see Cadaval Narezo (2022).