Latino studies program launched

Kira Lerner

Students and faculty celebrated the founding of Northwestern University’s Latina and Latino studies program Tuesday night, an accomplishment that has been more than 10 years in the making.

The program was approved March 11 and students can now officially declare a major or minor in Latina and Latino studies, Interim Program Director Mónica Russel y Rodríguez said.

“Students have been clamoring for it for years, so there’s been a huge demand on the part of students,” she said. “People have always been doing work here on Latinos and Latinas, but now it’s been formalized and that’s important. That means something to people.”

The addition of the program at NU will improve the university as a whole, said Medill junior Arianna Hermosillo, one of two student speakers at the event.

“I think it means a lot of good because Northwestern prides itself on being this institution of higher learning,” said Hermosillo, who recently declared the newly christened major. “A program like this only enforces the fact that they care about all areas of study.”

Former Interim Dean of Weinberg Aldon Morris said he supported the program when it was proposed to him and worked with students and faculty during its development. Having programs in diverse areas like Latino, Asian, African-American and gender studies makes the university a stronger institution, he said.

“These programs have really enabled the university to accomplish its mission,” said Morris, who also spoke at the event. “That mission is to understand society in a comprehensive nature. Northwestern is a better, richer, more sophisticated university because of these programs.”

The purpose of Tuesday’s event, “Claiming Space: Moral Economy in Latino Chicago,” was to give students, alumni and others in the community an idea of what Latino studies does and how it relates to their lives and Chicago.

Karen Mary Davalos and Elaine Peña, two invited speakers, talked about religious protest in Latino communities in the Chicago area. NU Prof. John Márquez addressed the future of Latino studies, and students weighed in on the importance of the program for undergraduates.

Hermosillo said she has been involved with the movement to bring Latino studies to campus since her freshman year.

“It’s about connecting the student community to what Latino studies is and what people are trying to do with it,” she said. “I just want to talk about that and speak to that experience and what it’s meant to me and what it’s meant to other students.”

Having grown up in a heavily Hispanic suburb of Chicago, Hermosillo said she has always been interested in Latino issues.

“The Latino population is growing dramatically,” she said. “The census is coming up and that information is going to blow people’s minds in terms of the Latino community and the population.”

Weinberg senior Aldo Gallardo, a Latino studies minor, spoke about his involvement at the event.

“This became pretty much like my Dance Marathon,” he said. “The Latino studies program got us involved. This became part of me and my history.”

Starting in the fall, students will be able to enroll directly in Latino studies courses. The program offers students a chance to look at the conditions of Latinos in the United States through a number of disciplines; most of the required courses are through other departments, including English, Spanish, anthropology, political science and history. A major in Latino studies requires 16 courses and an immersion component, and a minor requires six courses.

“It’s a really satisfying intellectual way to think about bigger sociological matters that they care about,” Russel y Rodríguez said. “It’s a nice sort of crossroads of ideas and experiences.”

Hermosillo said she hopes more students will take courses in Latino studies.

“It’s not like we’re asking everyone to major in it,” she said. “But ideally, I would want everyone to be interested in taking all these kinds of classes because it’s what we are, it’s who we are.”

[email protected]