June 12, 2007

SIUC to offer minor in Latino and Latin American studies

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The College of Liberal Arts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will offer a minor in Latino and Latin American Studies beginning in the fall 2007 semester.

That's great news for a whole lot of reasons, according to interim college Dean Alan Vaux. The minor will meet an expressed demand for classes addressing issues pertinent to Latino students, help the University attract more Latino students to campus and it will help all students to better understand the important and ongoing Hispanic influence on American cultures. It also will play into strengths already evident in the college, particularly in Latin American area studies, and will do all of this with little to no effect on the college's budget.

"I felt that that we just had to (offer this minor)," Vaux said. "We've had strength in Latin American area studies for ages. We've known for years that we should have offerings in Latino Studies. Hiring several Hispanic faculty and others with interests in Latino cultural studies helped make the minor possible."

Vaux said he anticipates high demand for the new minor. There has been growing interest in a Latino curriculum on campus at least since 2001 when a Latino Studies Group recommended adding a minor that incorporated Latino studies. The Hispanic Student Council also asked for such a curriculum.

"Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States," Vaux said. "Chicago is the fourth largest U.S. population center for this group, representing significant opportunities for recruitment.

"SIUC wants the student body to reflect the population," Vaux said. "We welcome an increased Latino population on campus, and we hope the minor will help attract them and enhance their educational experience, as well as that of other students."

Vaux described the new minor as one with a "multi-disciplinary, integrative ethnic-and-area studies approach" that will encourage students to "address Latino issues in a broad historical and cultural context."

The reason for the interdisciplinary approach, Vaux explained, is both philosophical and practical. Many of the courses making up electives for the new minor are already available, particularly pertaining to Latin America, and faculty are already in place whose scholarly expertise falls within the scope of the new minor.

Mariola Espinosa, assistant professor of history and the program director until a steering committee is formed, said the current academic trend is to combine Latino and Latin American studies into one program, as SIUC is doing. "The historical connection is there," Espinosa said.

Latin America refers to all of the Americas south of the United States, including the Caribbean countries. Latino refers to those people living in the United States who are cultural descendants of or who have immigrated from any of the countries considered Latin America. The term implies a level of acclimation with the culture of the United States.

"This minor is something I hope all kinds of students will be interested in," Espinosa said. "The faculty who offer courses applicable to the minor are not necessarily Latino. Others can certainly be interested in these topics."

Carmen Suarez, coordinator for diversity and equity and interim assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management, also serves as adviser to the Hispanic Student Council. She said the Latino presence in the United States is such that it is crucial to study their culture and contributions.

"It is important to stress that a Latino studies minor, and hopefully a major one day soon, is not solely about attracting more Latino students to the University," she said. "Of equal importance is the increased awareness and cultural competency all students will acquire if they take classes in this minor. The U.S. Hispanic demographics have changed quickly and dramatically, and the study of these populations is essential for a well-rounded education and the ability of our graduates to take their place in today's remarkably diverse workplace."

The minor requires a minimum of 15 credit hours in Latino and Latin American Studies courses, including six core credit hours in anthropology and history. Electives are currently available in art and design, administration of justice, Black American studies, economics, English, foreign languages and literature, history, philosophy, political science and psychology. One-year equivalent of Spanish language study is also required.

SIU President Glenn Poshard approved the creation of the minor at the end of May, granting permission to offer the minor immediately.