Friday, April 18, 2008

WaPo: U-Md. Weighs Creating Latino Studies Minor

A 10-year campaign to establish a Latino studies program at the University of Maryland at College Park will hit a milestone today when a University Senate committee considers allowing students to minor in the field.

At a time when Latinos are the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, students and professors said approval would be only a first step toward meeting their academic needs.

"This has been extremely frustrating," said Ana Patricia Rodriguez, an assistant professor and longtime activist on the issue. "You can see the great need in our local area to have people who know about Latinos who can provide attention, services, et cetera. It is important for our students to graduate with this background, yet our hands are tied because we don't have a structure at the school."

University officials said they are making progress. About $120,000 was provided in 2006 by the then-provost to write a proposal for a minor in U.S. Latino Studies. Within the past month, the minor was approved by a panel in the College of Arts and Humanities as well as by its dean, James F. Harris.

Harris said he expects the minor to be approved and plans to give it two years to see if students enroll in the program and faculty members want to teach its courses. Harris would then consider broadening it to a full program. Expanding the program could cost $300,000 to $500,000 for new faculty and other resources, said Ruth Enid Zambrana, a professor in Women's Studies and the senior Latina faculty member on campus.

Latino studies is a complex, evolving field that focuses on the history, culture, literature and the social fabric of Latino communities in the United States. Obstacles to creating such programs include misunderstanding about the field and debate about whether such programs are legitimate scholarship. Lack of funding also is an issue. The Persian Studies center at College Park, for example, was established with a multimillion-dollar donation from an outside institute.

"There seems to be a common underpinning: the concern that it is simply a political project, whether as a variation of affirmative action, political correctness or inverse segregationist impulses among Latinos," said Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, director of the Latino Studies Program at Cornell University.
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