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UI faculty and students push for Latino Studies

BY REBECCA MORIN | DECEMBER 03, 2013 5:00 AM

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After a cluster hiring initiative to start a Latino Studies program in 2006 stalleda push by University of Iowa faculty and students has blossomed once again.

“When I contacted [Omar Valerio-Jimenez, a University of Iowa associate professor of history] we tried to figure out a way to make [a Latino Studies program] happen,” said UI doctoral candidate Carla Gonzalez. “The faculty could write a proposal, but it would need both faculty support and student support.”

Valerio-Jimenez is working on a proposal for a Latino Studies minor with Claire Fox, a UI associate professor in English and Spanish and Portuguese, which they hope to submit by spring 2014.

If the proposal is approved, Valerio-Jimenez said he hopes the minor will be available by the fall of 2014.

Students are also creating awareness about the proposal.

Gonzalez said she conducted a survey throughout the semester and received feedback from students who also want a program established. The next step, she said, is to get other students together to become a more unified entity.

“We’re planning on having an information meeting next semester and writing letters to administration and meeting with administrators,” Gonzalez said. “We’re trying to make it a more centralized as one unit.”

Although the UI has yet to establish a program, universities across the nation are offering Latino Studies majors or minors.

“For the last five years or so, there has been growth in universities that offer Latino Studies program,” Lemuel Berry, the executive director of National Association of African American Studies and affiliates. “One reason it’s beneficial is because Hispanics make up a major part of the population. It’s also important because of the culture … we are a multicultural society.”

Indiana University’s Latino/a Studies program has been established for more than 30 years.

With a 58 percent increase in the past five years in student enrollment in the program, Director John Nieto-Phillips said it has been beneficial for students going into a variety of professions.

“We’ve grown the number of classes being offered, and there’s a value in taking Latino Studies classes,” Nieto-Phillips said. “A number of students come from [the College of] Education because the kids who they are going educate will be from the Latino community, and a number of students are from the health profession… a large part is shaped by the Latino market and there is broad interest across [degrees].”

Jimmy Patino, an assistant professor of Chicano Studies and director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Minnesota, echoed the sentiment.

“I think it’s been successful in terms of the growth,” Patino said. “Diversity requirements and history requirements have played a role in an increase of teaching both Latino and non-Latino students to look at the history of that society.”

With a number of programs succeeding in other universities, Gonzalez said she hopes the current movement will bring light to the issue.

“People have tried to do it separately; my focus is to make it visible,” she said. “Latinos have a voice, and it should be heard.”


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