U-Md. Officials Approve Minor in Latino Studies

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 19, 2008

Undergraduates at the University of Maryland at College Park can now graduate with a minor in U.S. Latino studies after school officials yesterday approved the first such minor at a major university in the Washington region.

Students and faculty members, some of whom have been promoting U.S. Latino studies at Maryland's flagship public university for a decade, said they were delighted by the move but said more needs to be done to meet the needs of historically underserved Latino students.

"This is a great first step in a series of bigger steps that need to happen," said Angel David Nieves, an assistant professor who has been working for years on creating a full U.S. Latino studies program at the university. "We need to move on and . . . develop the funding necessary to bring the major and the graduate certificate on line."

Latino studies focuses on the history, culture, literature and the social fabric of Latino communities in the United States. No college or university in the mid-Atlantic region has a U.S. Latino studies program, in part because of historical obstacles that include a lack of funding and debate about whether such content studies constitute legitimate scholarship.

Latinos represent 15 percent of the U.S. population and are projected to reach 25 percent by 2050. In Maryland, they account for about 6 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census, but they are 14 percent of the population in Montgomery County and 12 percent in Prince George's County. At the College Park campus, Latinos make up about 5 percent of 25,000 undergraduate students and about 3 percent of faculty.

The minor will become official in the fall, but two seniors who have fulfilled the requirements will be permitted to graduate this spring with minors in U.S. Latino studies.

"Wow!" said Evelyn Lopez, 21, who attended Northwestern High School in Prince George's County and who will be the first Latina to graduate with the minor. "I will be leaving a real footprint here. I'm so happy."

The minor in U.S. Latino studies will be the first at a major university in the greater Washington area. Loyola College in Maryland in Baltimore also has one. No school in the mid-Atlantic region has a full Latino studies program.

Lopez said she was with dozens of students and some faculty members outside a building where a University Senate committee was meeting to decide whether to approve the minor. When a school administrator walked out and announced the decision, there were shouts and applause.

"You don't know what this means to us," Lopez said.

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