Former Peace Corps member joins School of Architecture & Planning faculty
January 19, 2017 - Carolyn Gonzales
Newly-hired Assistant Professor Jennifer Tucker is bringing more than just work experience to The University of New Mexico School of Architecture & Planning. She has a passion for social justice she hopes to be able to spread throughout the New Mexico community.
Tucker joined the faculty in Community & Regional Planning at The University of New Mexico School of Architecture & Planning in the fall, after receiving her PhD in City & Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley. She also earned both an MPP/MA in Public Policy and International and Area Studies from the same institution.
"Teaching is an incredible opportunity to work with students as they are figuring out what they want to do with their lives." -Jennifer Tucker
In addition to her degrees, Tucker has more than a decade of experience with community activism and international development work. What drew her to the UNM School of Architecture & Planning is CRP’s social justice mission.
“Great research is happening at the School of Architecture & Planning,” she said. “Research that challenges outdated assumptions of planning theory and practice. I aim to develop theories adequate to cities in the global south. The assumption that globalization brings economic growth is not true in the global south. I look forward to working with faculty and research centers to challenge some of those foundational assumptions.”
Tucker earned her undergraduate degree from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where her venture into social justice began.
“I had long been concerned with what inspires people and communities to address issues of justice and what brings them together to confront injustice,” she said.
After college, Tucker took an interest in community organizing and worked on environmental issues from the East Coast to South America. She also went to Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2005-2007, working on projects important to women and youth groups in the community. She said that while there, she confronted the adequacy – or inadequacy – of international development as an endeavor.
“Two years in one community gives you a historical perspective and a sense of the impact of long-standing relationships with the United States,” she said. “There are both practical and ethical issues of being a privileged outsider doing development work.”
Realizing the importance of language, Tucker learned Guaraní, an indigenous language spoken by 90 percent of the population, even by most non-indigenous mestizos.
“Doing good community work is incredibly hard, especially when there are linguistic and cultural differences,” Tucker said. “I knew Spanish but found it necessary to learn Guarani because it is the language of the heart and is used between friends and family.”
Her experiences in Paraguay motivated her back to school, this time to Berkeley, where she earned her graduate degrees in city and regional planning. In addition to deepening her resolve to engage across different social movements in Latin America and explore the politics of development on a global scale, Tucker says she fell in love with teaching.
“Teaching is an incredible opportunity to work with students as they are figuring out what they want to do with their lives,” she said. “Teaching should be relevant to the issues of the day – police violence, especially in communities of color, economic inequality and ideas of safety and security. We need to build cities, urban communities to think about wellbeing and security differently.”
Tucker’s dissertation, “Contraband City: Geographies of Extralegal Work and Life in Paraguay’s Frontier Economy,” explored how the built environment enables both a vibrant and troublesome border economy.
“Paraguay has a fast growing economy,” she said. “But street vending and other informal economies are at the root on the border trade.”
Her community involvement extends well beyond the UNM campus. In addition to riding her bike to and from campus, she is also training for a half marathon and enjoys hiking or being outdoors whenever possible.