Efraín Agosto is on a mission to help Latinx students thrive in academia. A native New Yorker whose parents migrated from Puerto Rico in the early 1950s, the visiting professor of Latinx studies and religion credits his passion for teaching and mentorship to those that guided him from a young parishioner in Brooklyn all the way through his doctoral studies in New Testament and Christian origins at Boston University.
Agosto recently received an Outstanding Mentor Award from the Society for Biblical Literature’s Committee for Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the Profession. In addition to teaching courses at Williams such as Religion & Bible in Latinx Literature, Memoir, Art & Film, he says he is enjoying the experience of mentoring undergraduates for the first time.
He shares with Williams Magazine his thoughts on mentoring and the challenges Latinx students face in the field.
What brought you to Williams?
It’s refreshing to have the opportunity to teach undergraduates, especially in broader issues of religious and Latinx studies. I’ve had to expand my horizons in those fields beyond some of the specialty courses in my field of biblical studies that I taught for so long. It has been a rewarding experience for these later years of my teaching career.
Whom have you mentored?
For most of my career, I’ve taught graduate students at schools of theology in Boston, Hartford and my hometown, New York City. Additionally, for more than 25 years I’ve served an organization, the Hispanic Theological Initiative, that helps develop Latinx doctoral students in religious and theological studies. At Williams, I’ve enjoyed getting to know undergraduates more personally and exchanging stories about growing up in New York City and our shared experiences with coming from families of immigrants.
What barriers do Latinx students face?
There’s a core body of research that all doctoral students in religion and theology must be familiar with for their comprehensive exams. But there’s a whole body of Spanish-language materials, biblical interpretation in Spanish and so forth, that Latinx students, given their backgrounds and interests, may also want to incorporate into their studies. Students who wish to explore these materials might feel trepidation to approach their advisers about expanding their possibilities.
Do you consider yourself a natural mentor?
I like talking with people about where they’re headed, exploring opportunities for vocations and callings and how I can be helpful. In that sense, it seems like being a mentor came naturally to me. There’s something about offering guidance, encouragement and friendship to the next generation of academic leaders that, for me, makes teaching and mentoring truly important—and fun.
Above: Efraín Agosto with Williams students in his course Religion & Bible in Latinx Literature, Memoir, Art & Film