• The Battle for Chicano and Latino Studies

    The Battle for Chicano and Latino Studies:
    What a banner drop on Cinco De Mayo was really all about

     

    Born out of the struggles by Chicanos throughout the United States to set the terms of their identity, the University of Minnesota established the first Chicano Studies Department in the upper Midwest in the 1970s.  Following similar successful efforts on the West Coast, the epicenter of the burgeoning Chicano Movement, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities department blossomed following a sit in by student activists at the primarily administrative building Morrill Hall.

    While victorious in its inception, the Chicano and Latino Studies Department has never had more than 4 faculty members and normally only two--one senior faculty and one junior faculty, i.e. non-tenured. Faculty have come and gone, many citing the inhospitable environment for faculty and students of color at the University of Minnesota as a primary motivation for leaving. Last year, the University revealed that former Chair Louis Mendoza’s tenure track faculty line would not be replaced, leaving the department with one tenure track professor. Chicano leaders throughout the community interpreted this as an attempt to destabilize the department and set it on a track for closure. Students and other community members responded to this and other social justice related concerns on campus with a series of events throughout the academic year, eventually leading to a sit in at the President’s office by one particular group, Whose Diversity?.

     

    On a snowy Minnesota afternoon, at a faculty organized solidarity rally for support of the students arrested during the sit in, the only professor in the Chicano Latino Studies Department spoke. Assistant Professor Jimmy Patiño gave a speech to a crowd of well-layered protesters on the front steps of the University’s main administration building. He explained:

     

     

    “I am currently the only faculty member in the 40 year old department of Chicano and Latino Studies. I have been put in a situation where I must constantly think and rethink how this situation came to be and what my responsibilities are in doing something about it.  And the administration has given excuses as to how this occurred, has minimized the absurdity of such a situation, and even suggested that this department is somehow supposed to have only a few faculty members. With all the excuses, what I hear from the admin is that “we do not value what you have dedicated your life to do. We do not value this field of study and the community it takes as its central subject of knowledge creating.”

    With the former Chair Professor Mendoza’s departure, along with the University’s decision to not reinstate and rehire for his position, the department was put in an extremely tenuous. Not having a senior faculty member has limited the number of professors who teach classes and can complete other necessary administrative tasks. However, most crucially, this has left the department without a viable candidate to serve as chair--a (usually) tenured professor who oversees the department. Although this position is currently held by Professor Éden Torres, she is actually “on loan” from the department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and her term is up next year after which she will go on sabbatical and then phased retirement.

    While the one hire from the University may “solve” the problem of who will chair the department after Torres, it does not solve the department's larger problems. In order to have a truly sustainable and thriving  department that lives up to the standards of excellence in academia, Chicano and Latino Studies requires a minimum of five faculty members. While a seemingly ambitious goal given the dire constraints of University funding, activists argue that this ask is nothing compared to peer Midwest institutions. For example, the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign's Latino Studies department has 12 faculty members; the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Chican@ and Latin@ Studies department has 13 faculty members; and the University of Michigan’s Latina/o department has 10 faculty members.

     

     

    Activists explained that this was the reason that early in the morning on “Cinco De Mayo,” an estimated 40 ft  banner that read “FUND CHICANO STUDIES.” with the hashtag “#onehireisnotenough” was dropped from the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union’s balcony. This act of protest was designed to highlight the University of Minnesota’s systematic and detrimental underfunding of the Chicano and Latino Studies department.

    Activists chose to drop a banner as a response to the University administration’s lack of engagement with the community over the tenuous state of the department. Earlier this semester, a number of activists sent an email to President Kaler, Vice President Hanson, and CLA Dean Coleman asking them to attend a community meeting. Dean Coleman responded by stating that there had not only been enough discussion over the matter, but that in fact that the matter had been resolved. Coleman was referencing the opportunity granted to the Chicano Latino Studies Department to search for one senior faculty hire next year, a direct result of the Whose Diversity? sit in. Activists argue that one hire is simply not enough to stabilize the department.

    The activists’ demands, however, go beyond the department’s faculty hiring numbers. They also demand that the University reinstate funds so that the department can rehire its Outreach Coordinator at full-time status. The position has proven to be crucial to Chicano and Latino Studies, as this department and academic field was founded on an inextricable connection to those in the community. The department’s outreach coordinator maintains those community connections and helps them thrive. Furthermore, this position has been central to developing programs to recruit, retain, and sustain Chicano and Latino students at the University.

     

    - Filiberto Nolasco Gomez 

     

     

  • Comments on this post (1 comment)

    • Luisa Xipe Morales says…

      ¡Adelante! So happy to see that some students have refused apathy as a way of life. They’ve chosen instead to stand up!
      An activist once asked, “How weak do we have to become before we say no more.” Having a department of one faculty member is inexcusable. While the administration refuses to do what is right, despite considerable pressure from conservatives and people of color who act as brokers for the institution, it’s good to see some students refusing to be silent.

      on May 06, 2015

  • Leave a comment

Added to cart

c