ASU communication professor recognized with 2021 Gary Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award

Sarah Amira de la Garza has been selected to receive the 2021 Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.

The annual award was established through generous contributions of faculty, staff and friends of ASU, to honor a faculty member who personifies the spirit of difference-making as demonstrated by Krahenbuhl, a former dean of The College. 

An associate professor of intercultural communication and performance studies in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, de la Garza’s work has been recognized both in the communication discipline and in the community.

"Professor de la Garza has made a difference from the time she arrived at Arizona State University as one of ASU’s first Southwest borderlands faculty," said Karen Leong, associate professor at ASU's School of Social Transformation. "Through her mentoring and program-building, Amira has proven to be an exceptional leader who consistently advocates for the success of graduate students and faculty of color at ASU. She has created spaces for women of color and underscored the significance of their research across The College and the university.

"For example, as a founding member of the Faculty Women of Color Caucus, Amira worked steadfastly behind the scenes to organize the caucus, effectively communicate its goals, and render it a visible presence across the university, while also mentoring faculty women of color to be effective leaders. She forges innovative collaborations, including when, as founding director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies from 2004–2007, she articulated a transdisciplinary vision that brought businesses, policymakers, and most importantly, communities, together across North America’s borders. Her transformative scholarship is evident as well in her development of the Four Seasons of Ethnography, a methodology that she has taught to students across the university and the world."

Known for her impact on methodology, de la Garza has reported her research and guides others to translate research findings through the use of creative writing, poetry, fiction and staged performances, to reach audiences beyond the academically trained. A longstanding creative writer, she is currently working on a novel and several collections of poetry, as well as continuing theoretical work on the concept of “mindful heresy,” and pedagogical work teaching about diversity, prejudice and intercultural conflict through the use of an original role-playing game modeled on Dungeons & Dragons and created collaboratively with her undergraduate students.

“For me, the biggest change I could ever make would be to have people say that because of their experience working with me, whether as students, colleagues or collaborators in community-based projects, they saw that it is possible to be both radically critical towards an inclusive anti-racist future, and caring, rigorously intellectual, and to do so with good humor and a sense of community belongingness,” de la Garza said. “This is the ecological way of the future, and the change I hope I 'make' is in the awareness that the future is alive in our lives now, if we can embody it in the way we work, towards the goals that call for courageous commitment.”

De la Garza is also a member of the graduate faculty at the Hugh Downs School. 

"Dr. De la Garza is truly deserving of this award,” said Corey Reutlinger, Hugh Downs School doctoral candidate and graduate teaching associate. “She encourages her students, like me, to transform their works for the greater good of academic and local communities. Amira invites me to step out of my comfort zone and dare to be different. It is because of her guidance and embodiment of the spirit of difference-making that I feel I can accept who I am and what I have to offer to the world."

Recently de la Garza also received the Francine Merritt Award by the women’s caucus of the National Communication Association for making a difference in the field of communication through their mentoring, service, advocacy, teaching and scholarship. Most significantly, de la Garza created a decolonial and Indigenous-rooted methodology for inquiry, the Four Seasons of Ethnography, recognized by both the National Communication and the Western States Communication Association for its impact and significance.

In the community, she was awarded the Victoria Foundation’s 2020 Eugene Garcia Award for Outstanding Latina/o Faculty for her impact on the lives of Latino students in the Phoenix and Arizona area. 

Catherine Sebold
csebold@asu.edu