The University of Maryland —College Park has decided that it will offer a program in U.S. Latino Studies to its students. The program is the first of its kind for any university in the mid-Atlantic region, according to the April 19 issue of The Washington Post.
A university senate committee voted April 18 on the proposed program, representing a milestone in the 10-year-long campaign to establish the Latino Studies minor.
Faculty and students have campaigned to establish a U.S. Latino Studies program as Latinos have become the nation’s largest- and fastest-growing minority group. The program seeks to provide students with a necessary background to better understand and aid the Latino community within the United States.
“This has been extremely frustrating,” activist and Assistant Professor Ana Patricia Rodriguez said to The Washington Post.
“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.”
Members of the faculty who sought to create the program were granted $120,000 in 2006 to write a proposal outlining the minor. The program was approved by both a panel in the College of Arts and Humanities and its dean, James F. Harris, within the past month.
Harris said that he will give the program a two-year period to see if there is a genuine interest from both students and professors, at which point he will consider expanding the program. The cost of expanding the program would be between $300,000 and $500,000 and would provide funds for new faculty and other resources.
Despite the approval, there remain significant obstacles in the establishment of the program. Many question the academic legitimacy of the program, and some question the lack of funding.
“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,” Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, director of the Latino Studies program at Cornell University, said.
At the College Park campus, Latinos make up about 5 percent of 25,000 undergraduate students and about 3 percent of faculty.
Two seniors will graduate this semester with the minor as they have fulfilled the requirements, but the minor will not actually become official until next fall.
“This is a great first step in a series of bigger steps that need to happen,” Assistant Professor Angel David Nieves said. “We need to move on and … develop the funding necessary to bring the major and the graduate certificate online.”