After years of students pushing for the creation of a Latina and Latino Studies program, it is closer than ever to becoming a reality at Northwestern.
The Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences is in the process of reviewing a proposal for the creation of Latina and Latino Studies major and minor, said Mónica Russel y Rodríguez, interim director of the Latina and Latino Studies program.
If approved, the program will mark the culmination of an ongoing process of student-faculty collaboration at Northwestern, pushing for a coherent course of study of Latino communities in the United States.
“That idea has been in the works for longer than I have been here,” Russel y Rodríguez said. “It’s probably been for more than ten years that students have wanted some sort of program or a department.”
In the middle of March, the program will go through a second read and vote in Weinberg’s Faculty Senate, after the Weinberg Curricular Review Committee sent the proposal earlier this academic year. According to Russel y Rodríguez, the Latina and Latino Studies major and minor will bring together the “bits and pieces” of the courses on Latino Studies that have been already taught at the university for years.
“For the last ten years or so, courses on Latino Studies have been offered but nothing in a very structured and organized way [so that] we can get a full sense of what Latino Studies can be about,” Russel y Rodríguez said. “Courses can exist, you can have chemistry courses without the major, but it really makes sense to have someone coherently thinking about the curriculum.”
Pending approval, the program–which can start as early as Spring Quarter–will explore the common experience of Latinos and Latinas in the United States but will also dig into the nuances in the historical and cultural expressions of the different Latino communities, Russel y Rodríguez added.
With 16 courses required to complete a major and six courses to complete a minor, the program will take an interdisciplinary approach to Latino Studies. An introductory course will give an overview of the diversity of Latino experiences in the U.S. and organize them thematically, while a set of courses with either a humanities, social science or history focus will provide a larger context.
A capstone course for seniors will then ask students to fit all previous knowledge together with view of the future of Latino Studies. The program also envisions an “immersion experience” — an internship, practicum or any extracurricular activity that addresses experiences of Latinos in the United States.
“We have a nice blending of different kinds of Latino communities [in Chicago],” Russel y Rodríguez said. “It is a really smart and interesting place to look at that very question of what Latino studies means, as opposed to Chicano studies, say in Los Angeles, or Puerto Rican studies in New York, or Cuban studies in Miami.”
But according to Russel y Rodríguez, demographics are not the only reason for Northwestern to introduce a Latina and Latino Studies program.
“Northwestern as an institution of higher learning has some commitment, as a good citizen, to bring its research back to people and not just [keep it] for our own internal consumption,” she added. “Latino Chicago is happening no matter whether Latino Studies happens at Northwestern. Northwestern should simply be smart about having a program that can really address that in an effective way.”
Even though it is up to the Faculty Senate to ultimately decide whether the program should exist, students at Northwestern have been “fundamental and critical to the creation of the program and for courses,” Russel y Rodríguez said.
“Students have been asking for courses, they have been taking courses, looking for courses, putting together their own sense of education–just really a remarkable thing,” she added.
A few years ago, Alianza, the largest Latino student group on campus, created a Latino Studies Program Chair position to pressure the administration to make the program. Northwestern students have also distributed flyers and buttons under the motto “Si, se puede” (“Yes, it can be done”), and asked the Northwestern community to sign a petition for the program.
“It’s very exciting to see that from those events we’ve had, those meeting we had, how now the program is actually coming to place,” said Jessica Lozada, an Alianza member and a senior in the School of Communications. “It’s definitely going to cater to a lot of different students who’ve been wanting to take classes on Latino studies.”
According to Russel y Rodríguez, while the program is designed to attract students from various backgrounds, it might help make Northwestern “more friendly” to Latino and Latina applicants.
“[Northwestern] is not necessarily a friendly place for Latinos,” she said. “Let’s think about a Latina student who wants to go to McCormick. She may never take a class in Latino studies, but it may make a difference knowing that she could.”
Luis Espinoza, a Weinberg sophomore, came to Northwestern to study Biology and Psychology. While he enjoys studying at the university, he helped promote the program because “it is a big step towards making the school more diverse,” he said.
“As the world is changing–Chicago is 25 percent Latino, [in] the US in the future a greater percentage will be Latino–we are going to need more people to know about [their] issues,” Espinoza said.
“Every good university is going to have a Latino studies [program],” Russel y Rodríguez said. “It’s part of coherent education now.”