In Memoriam, News

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury mourns the loss of Associate Professor of Spanish Juana Gamero de Coca, who died unexpectedly on Friday evening, October 6.

A highly respected teacher and scholar, Gamero de Coca began teaching at Middlebury in 2004 on a 3-year visiting position. She was appointed to a tenure track position as assistant professor of Spanish in 2006 and was tenured in the spring of 2012.

Gamero de Coca was a native of Alburquerque (Badajoz), Spain. She received a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2004 just prior to joining Middlebury’s Spanish and Portuguese department. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree from New Mexico State University. Her scholarship included 20th and 21st Century Spanish culture and narrative with a focus on gender.

“Juana’s courses and scholarship are examples of thinking outside the box,” said Nadia Horning, associate professor of political science. “She taught her students to appreciate literature as a vehicle for exploring the social realities that all societies grapple with. In so doing, she did not shy away from painful subjects, and I find it impressive that she helped students explore their ‘selves’ through the prism of language and cultures foreign to most of them. I am sure that the passion she had for teaching and for the topics she researched and taught accounts for her effectiveness as a teacher.”

Miguel Fernandez, professor of Spanish and chief diversity officer, praised her skill in relating to both colleagues and students. “Juana had a particular talent in welcoming our new colleagues in the department,” he said, “easing their nervousness, making them comfortable, and helping them achieve confidence in their teaching. She loved mentoring her younger colleagues and did so with a personal touch.

I recall reflecting after sitting in on one of Juana’s seminars and asking myself how she created such a comfortable environment for her students. It felt like a fireside chat with students digging deeper and deeper into the texts they had read with mutual appreciation and respect. Her students loved sharing in her passion for literature and culture.”

Professor of Spanish Gloria Estela González Zenteno added, “Above all we will miss her warmth: her grand entrances as she greeted colleagues, students, friends. Her radiant smile. Her lovely home, which she opened to so many friends. Her unrelenting support of students and colleagues, no matter if this sometimes placed her in a vulnerable position. Her students responded in kind to her authenticity and ethical commitment. She will be deeply missed, and never forgotten.”

Gamero de Coca taught at all levels of the curriculum, from first-year seminars, to the language sequence, to elective courses in literature, film, and culture. At the time of her death, she was teaching a 300-level course on “Spain in the Globalized World” and a senior seminar on “Culture and Mental Illness.” She was highly regarded in the classroom. In her letter offering tenure, former President Ron Liebowitz wrote:

“Students and colleagues praise your creative and effective teaching that demands a great deal from students and pushes them to take risks. One colleague notes that your teaching shows ‘intellectual sophistication and linguistic deftness.’ Students note the comfortable atmosphere that you establish in class, and your careful nurturing and advising of independent work.”

A well-published scholar, Gamero de Coca wrote three books: Nación y género en la invención de Extremadura: Soñando fronteras de cielo y barro (Mirabel, 2005), La mirada monstruosa de la memoria (Libertarias, 2009), and Sexualidad, violencia y cultura (Desde Abajo, 2013).

Gamero de Coca is survived by two daughters, Izzy Fleming and Carmen Fleming, who are both Middlebury alumni, and her partner Ricardo Chavez Castaneda, a writer and part-time faculty member in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

A memorial service in honor of Gamero de Coca life will be held at Mead Chapel on Saturday, October 14. All are welcome to attend.