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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

The USLT Minor at UMD: A Journey with Humble Beginnings

Written by: Alejandra Perez 🇲🇽

Images courtesy of interviewees. From left to right, Evelyn Lopez, Henry Figueroa, Arelis Hernández, Dr. Ana Patricia Rodríguez, Dr. Nancy Mirabal and Dr. Robert Chester.

At the University of Maryland, the U.S. Latina/o Studies Minor came to fruition in 2008 after years of dedicated students and faculty advocating for the Latino population on campus. 15 years later, the USLT program looks to the past to find hope for the future.

Faculty and students planted the seeds for the minor program as a collective effort to establish it.

“There were many people working in the context of Latinos before there was an infrastructure like a minor, or a program, or a center,” says Ana Patricia Rodríguez, an Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. She specifically mentioned the late Dr. Bill Hanna, remembering him as a mentor and acknowledging his work done in Latino communities such as Langley Park.

“These are the people that were teaching content, would incorporate content into their classes. There were others right, but I do like to mention Dr. Bill Hanna, who was just, you know, one of these hidden figures that…we're here because of them. But they rarely get mentioned,” said Dr. Rodríguez.

In addition to faculty work, there were also student-led organizations that helped build up the Latino voice on campus. In collaboration with groups such as the Black Student Union (BSU), the Caribbean Student Union (CSA), the Latinx Student Union (LSU) and the Coalition of Latino Student Organizations (CLSO) were mentoring and tutoring students local to the school.

Seeing the progressive movement amongst the Latino population on campus, Dr. Zambrana, Dr. Nieves, Robb Hernández and Dr. Rodríguez were motivated to write the proposal for the minor. Together, they developed the current curriculum, consisting of 15 credits and covering the basics of U.S. Latino history through USLT 201 and USLT202.

In the beginning, the provost office had given money to fund the USLT courses on a trial basis, meaning the final approval of a minor program would be at the hands of the university. A plethora of students including Evelyn Lopez, Arelis Hernández, and Henry Figueroa, took up the challenge of facing the university.

“The administration, provost and some other folks within other departments thought that we were not serious. I think they [had] the perception that oh, you know, we're just students just causing a ruckus,” said Evelyn Lopez, Administrative Program Officer for the Sergeant at Arms Police Services Division at the U.S House of Representatives. To counter these negative perceptions, any talks with administration remained professional and highlighted the benefit that the university would receive from having the minor.

One of the biggest points made was the cultural significance of the minor. For Henry Figueroa, the program made Maryland unique, believing it was important to acknowledge how the school is “adjacent to Hyattsville, Adelphi, Brentwood, [areas] with heavy latino populations.”

“Without the minor, I’d probably be doing something else. That minor and the classes at UMD kept me grounded,” said Figueroa.

As she experienced the ups and downs that came with participating in rallies and protests, Arelis Hernández, reporter at the Washington Post, remembered her feelings of sadness and anger. She used these feelings as motivation to push forward, encouraging others to continue “raising hell” as she described. Hernández mentioned Phyllis Peres, who was on the University Senate, acknowledging her as someone who advocated for them.

After a mix of filling out paperwork, requesting funding, and protesting by staff and students alike, the minor was officially approved in 2008. One final question came into play: where would the minor reside? Nearly 18 months later, the American Studies department agreed to house it, leading us to today.

“Students enrich the program as much as the program tries to enrich them,” said Dr. Robert Chester, one of the prominent figures in the U.S Latina/o Studies program and senior lecturer in the American Studies department. For him, it is important that students are able to attend at least one of these classes throughout their time at UMD.

Dr. Nancy Mirabal, the current director of the program, explained her goals of having a USLT major, having a dedicated space for the program, and engaging more with the external UMD community.

“It's the students that I really enjoy interacting with. I just feel that, and hopefully the students feel this too, that we've created a nice synergy so that you get very different professors with different expertise and that you walk away feeling like you learned a lot,” said Dr. Mirabal.

If you’re interested in learning more about the minor, please visit their website for more information.


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