Growing Chicano studies program gets votes from faculty senate

Irene Vasquez, director of the program, said that growing the program has been an ongoing process since 2011. In 2013 a bachelor’s degree was installed, and in the fall it will get even bigger.

Departmentalization allows for better infrastructure, something that Vasquez said was a huge obstacle for success when developing the plan for a major.

Vasquez said the faculty senate’s vote was an event she’ll never forget.

“It was a wonderful moment that I will cherish in my memory. We had a very large turnout of students and community members and staff and faculty who were there with the most positive intentions to be able to celebrate what we anticipated would be a positive vote for departmentalization,” she said.

Most of the faculty in the program is either joint appointment, meaning instructors are primarily with other departments like American studies or history, or they are hired on a year-by-year basis.

“So you can imagine that doesn’t give the program the stability it needs,” Vasquez said. “It makes a world of difference to be a department because we can attract our faculty who are rooted in the field and then we can promote and tenure them.”

Now Vasquez said she has her sights on developing a graduate program for Chicana and Chicano studies, a goal which has been a part of her master plan since the beginning.

“When we established the major, what we began to do was structure the whole degree around offering high impact practices, [which are] strategies and approaches in teaching and learning that are more likely to retain graduate students,” she said.

Vasquez said it is all about creating a support system for students in the program, giving them the resources they need for when they go on to graduate or professional school, something that is a common target for her students.

She would like to have a master’s program within two years, and a doctorate program within four. That timetable, Vasquez said, is for the benefit of her students.

“I can say with absolute certainty that we have cohorts of students that are interested in studying Chicana and Chicano studies at the graduate level,” she said.

Departmentalization of her program, Vasquez said, will help UNM fulfill the promise of diversity and multiculturalism. She said the program will play an important role in leading the forefront to assure that those students who move on to graduate programs are a diverse group.

“When we look at who is graduating with graduate degrees, we are falling short,” she said. “Our program will really help the state of New Mexico become more diverse in terms of education and getting students into all kind of professions, career and economic opportunities.”

Divana Olivas, a senior majoring in Chicano and Chicana studies and Spanish, said that she has been fortunate to bear witness to the evolution of the program.

“The very first class I took in my first semester was an introduction to the Chicano movement, and three and a half years later seeing that it’s become a department on campus and has really established its identity as an academic and intellectual space on campus makes me really happy,” she said. “It’s really special.”

Olivas said the program has helped them form their identity by asking the questions they never previously thought were important to ask.

“Personally I’ve really found who I am, and that’s just more than you can say about other programs on campus,” she said.

For Claudia Avila-Mitchell, a graduate student studying American Studies, those questions included where her family came from and the lifestyle they endured.

Avila-Mitchell said she never saw the value in asking her mother and grandmother about what they went through, and that she realizes what she missed out on.

“Now that I’ve been exposed to all these things they’ve done or even just critically asking what they’ve been through…those are things that I’m thankful for that have helped me grow a lot,” she said.

Avila-Mitchell says she would like for the program to install a graduate degree as quickly as possible so that she can jump right into it.

Olivas advocated Vasquez’s drive to acquire a graduate degree for future students.

“In terms of faculty mentors and more funds to be able to do research or get to travel, those opportunities are going to be priceless for students in the future once the departments really gains more status and prominence on campus,” she said.

David Lynch is a staff reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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