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Innovative leader Tandeciarz receives Jefferson Award

  • Thomas Jefferson Award:
    Thomas Jefferson Award:  Silvia Tandeciarz, chair of modern languages and literatures and professor of Hispanic studies at William & Mary, will be awarded the 2019 Thomas Jefferson Award at a Jan. 31 ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Shared humanity is the thread that runs through everything that motivates Silvia Tandeciarz. It’s central to her focus, her efforts and her academic career.

So it’s no surprise that Tandeciarz, chair of modern languages and literatures and professor of Hispanic studies, immediately credited others when she found out she’d won William & Mary’s 2019 Thomas Jefferson Award. The honor is given each year to a member of the W&M family for “significant service through his or her personal activities, influence and leadership.”

The award will be presented at a public ceremony for the Jefferson awards and Monroe Prize, and announcement of the Plumeri Award recipients, on Jan. 31 at 3:30 p.m. in Miller Hall’s Brinkley Commons as part of the university’s Charter Day festivities.

“I try to contribute to the institution, to the College, to the community in every way I know how,” Tandeciarz said. “And I feel like it’s a place where I’ve been allowed to thrive and to grow, and to explore and to be creative and to open doors and to walk through doors that have opened in a context that has been supportive of me.”

Now in her 20th year at W&M, she has led and influenced in the areas of teaching, research and service in ways too numerous to count, according to recommendation letters for the award. And according to Tandeciarz, her being recognized with the Jefferson speaks to “a synergy of values” that has given her the space and resources to do meaningful work.

“Silvia’s deeply interdisciplinary work moves between cultural and literary studies, anthropology, history, visual, cultural, film and photography studies,” according to a recommendation letter written by Michael Cronin, Japanese Studies Program director and chair of the modern languages and literatures awards committee, on behalf of the committee.

“Silvia’s commitment to human rights and interdisciplinarity has profoundly shaped her program, her department and the College,” Cronin’s letter continued.

Specializing in the area of human rights in Latin America and specifically Argentina, Tandeciarz has pioneered new teaching methods and undergraduate research. This includes contributing significantly a complete overhaul of the Hispanic studies curriculum; establishing partnerships for faculty-undergraduate research in Argentina, on the U.S.-Mexico border and with the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C.; and serving as chair of modern languages and literatures now for the second time. Tandeciarz, who is also a translator and poet, has authored four books, a dozen articles and more than 40 scholarly presentations including her 2017 monograph, “Citizens of Memory: Affect, Representation, and Human Rights in Postdictatorship Argentina.”

Having spent the formative years of her youth moving between Latin America and the United States, Tandeciarz’s personal experiences with the dictatorships of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay sparked her interest in human rights. She found a way to combine this interest with her love of literature when she chose to pursue her Ph.D. at Duke University with Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean exile and public intellectual specializing in human rights.

“So human rights have always been at the center of my relationship to the work I do in the humanities,” Tandeciarz said. “And it’s through literature that I’ve come to understand my own history and the history of human rights in the Latin American countries that I am an expert on.”

She uses an interdisciplinary approach to look at how all forms of cultural and creative expression can influence people at various stages of political upheaval.

“The cultural studies work I do with students asks that together we consider what it means to be a citizen,” Tandeciarz said. “Like what are the civic responsibilities that we have when we see injustice in our midst? And how might we go about either witnessing or bringing attention to these issues in order to contribute to positive change?”

Teresa Longo, dean for interdisciplinary studies and director of the Charles Center, described Tandeciarz’s profound influence in a recommendation letter.

“Silvia consistently offers the campus community intellectual leadership,” Longo wrote. “She shares her innovative teaching methods. She challenges faculty to consider, and reconsider, our self-governance practices, to think carefully about the decisions we make, to choose wisely.

“Remarking on Silvia’s influence in the classroom, one of her students said: ‘It is impossible to leave class without having your worldview challenged or expanded.’ The sentiment holds true for colleagues as well.”

Chancellor Professor of Physics E. R. Tracy described Tandeciarz as “an inspiration.”

“I have known and worked with Silvia in many different capacities over the last decade, and I have always admired her intelligence, her courage, her moral clarity and her willingness to speak up for others,” Tracy wrote in a recommendation letter. “She thinks and acts strategically, and she has a good sense of people. Most importantly, she is recognized as a leader by the faculty because of her deep and abiding commitment to shared governance.”

Being a leader in campus citizenship is important to Tandeciarz, she said. And she emphasizes that she tends toward collaboration, finding it “incredibly satisfying to work with colleagues committed to figuring out how to make things better.”

Working together in a shared enterprise means everybody needs to respect and value each other, she said.

“What I’d like to say is that whatever I have achieved, I’ve achieved as a result of the people who are around me, who have supported me, who have created opportunities, who are sort of comrades, who are fellow passengers on this journey that we share,” Tandeciarz said.

“And that I feel really, really fortunate to work in a place like this one and to be surrounded by the kinds of colleagues and friends and students that are part of my life. I hope we can continue to imagine and create better structures, better futures, collectively going forward.”