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Milagros “Milly” Peña


On May 29, 2020, the State University of New York Board of Trustees appointed Dr. Milagros (Milly) Peña (she/her/hers) as the sixth president of Purchase College, SUNY.

Think Wide Open

Peña admires Purchase for its distinctive strength in the liberal arts and the arts and the diverse and inclusive community that values individuality and fully embraces the motto Think Wide Open. She appreciates the motto as a pillar of what a liberal arts education can bring to student success.

Answering the Clarion Call

With encouragement from her family and mentors, Peña pursued that clarion call to Think Wide Open. She was the first in her family not only to graduate from college, but to receive a high school diploma, having grown up in Manhattan as the daughter of Dominican immigrants who did not have the opportunity to finish grade school. She has a deep and personal understanding of the power and importance of education as well as the arts as they shaped her education and academic career. It is also why she has aggressively pursued and promoted cross-disciplinary scholarship, advanced diversity and inclusion, and stressed the importance of higher education institutions as community pillars.

Discovering Opportunity

Purchase College is everything a liberal arts education can offer—where excellence and exploration are encouraged as one journeys to fulfill one’s potential. To build on Purchase’s success, Peña will be working with the Purchase community to leverage the College’s strengths and to advance the College by seeking out new opportunities to enhance its future.

Career Journey

Prior to joining Purchase College, Peña served as Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of California Riverside (2015-2020).

Before joining UC Riverside, Peña spent 16 years at the University of Florida, where she served as faculty, the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, and ultimately serving as the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Research and Scholarship

An interdisciplinary scholar by training, her academic work bridges sociology, anthropology, race and ethnic studies, gender and women’s studies, among other disciplines.

She received her doctorate and master’s degree in Sociology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Peña also earned an MDiv degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York and a BA from Iona College.

Her first book Theologies and Liberation in Peru: The Role of Ideas in Social Movements was published with Temple University Press in 1995.

Peña also is the author of Latina Activists Across Borders: Grassroots Women’s Organizing in Mexico and Texas (Duke University Press, 2007), supported by a Fulbright-Hays/Garcia Robles Research Award. The book was awarded the 2008 Distinguished Book Award by the Latino/a section of the American Sociological Association.

She is also author or co-author of three additional books and over forty journal articles, book chapters, and reports. Peña also is involved in several collaborative research projects with Edwin I. Hernández with the research appearing published in Emerging Voices, Urgent Choices: Latino-a Leadership Development from the Pew to the Plaza (Brill Academic Publishing, 2006).

Other research projects include the Chicago Latino Congregations Study. The results of the research appear in a number of articles and reports including: “Second-Generation Latin@ Faith Institutions and Identity Formations,” Milagros Peña and Edwin I. Hernández (authors), which appeared in Sustaining Faith Traditions: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation, edited by Carolyn Chen and Russell Jeung, published by New York University Press; and another article titled “Latino Congregations and Youth Educational Expectations,” Esmeralda Sanchez, Nicholas Vargas, Rebecca Burwell, Jessica Hamar Martinez, Milagros Peña, and Edwin I. Hernández (authors) published in the journal Sociology of Religion (May 2016).

Peña is currently working on a book tentatively titled “Weaving the Fabric of Latinx Religion within U.S Society: A Chicago Story” with Ariana Monique Salazar and Edwin I. Hernández.

Peña is past chair of the American Sociological Association’s Latino/a Section and previously served on the Executive Councils of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the American Sociological Association’s Religion Section.