UMass Amherst College of Education professor emerita Sonia Nieto was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Mount Holyoke College at its 2018 Commencement on Sunday, May 20. Nieto noted that she was the second Puerto Rican woman to receive an honorary degree from Mount Holyoke, the first being Felisa Rincón de Gautier, the first female mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Nieto’s advice to graduates was to “become mentors. Push, believe, provoke, support and challenge your peers to do better, to be the best.”
“I wish you a consequential life and the courage to carry it forward,” she told them.
Nieto has devoted her professional life to questions of diversity, equity, and social justice in education. A native of Brooklyn, New York, she began her teaching career in 1966 in an intermediate school in Brooklyn, later moving to P.S. 25 in the Bronx, the first fully bilingual school in the Northeast. Her university career started in the Puerto Rican Studies Department at Brooklyn College. She completed her doctoral studies here at the College of Education where she taught and mentored preservice and practicing teachers, and doctoral students from 1980 until 2006.
Nieto’s research focuses on multicultural education, teacher education, and the education of students of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. She has written or edited eleven books, including, most recently, the third revised edition of Language, Culture, and Teaching: Critical Perspectives (2018); Why We Teach Now (2015); and Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds: Culturally Responsive and Socially Just Practices in U.S. Classrooms (2013). Her first book, Affirming Diversity, now in its 7th edition (the 5th through 7th editions were co-authored colleague Patty Bode). Affirming Diversity is used widely in teacher education courses in the United States and abroad, and the first edition (1992) was selected for the Museum of Education’s Education Readers’ Guide as one of the 100 books that helped define the field of education in the twentieth century. Nieto has also written dozens of book chapters and articles in such journals as The Harvard Education Review, Educational Leadership, Language Arts, and The New Educator, among others. She is editor of the Language, Culture, and Teaching Series (Routledge), currently comprising over twenty titles. Her memoir, Brooklyn Dreams: My Life in Public Education (Harvard Education Press) was published in 2015.