Williams needs Latino Studies program

After being left stuck in my room all day – a result caused by the latest cold front to sweep through the North Berkshires – I decided to become better acquainted with the Williams College Course Catalog. A wide array of interesting and engaging facts can be found in the 432-page 1999-2000 edition. I have always been fascinated at the myriad departments, concentrations and related course listings. As I was flipping through the pages, I pondered, “Where is the U.S. Latino Studies program?”

Being Latino, I wondered if I could learn more about my culture and history. Seemed innocent enough. I noticed that my African-American, Middle Eastern, East Asian and African peers all had a major or concentration to study their culture and history, but not myself. I must say that I was a little hurt by this oversight by the College.

Being inquisitive, I turned this search into a little project to find the reason why there was not a US Latino Studies program. As I looked through old news clippings of the Record and milled through old papers in Hardy and Jenness houses, some of my questions began to be answered. I learned that I was not the first to inquire about this predicament. The issue had been brought up at least fifteen years earlier.

As I dug deeper through these old files, I saw that in 1991 César Chavez’s visit to Williams had inspired three Latino students to go on a hunger strike. This action began three years of activism at Williams for the cause of US Latino Studies.

I was aghast to learn that Ephs were not always apathetic. After two years of committees and empty promises, over 30 students took part in a hunger strike for the cause of Latino Studies. The second hunger strike cut across racial and class lines, finding wide sympathy among the student body. This little research project was becoming quite interesting. After four days of striking, the faculty held an emergency meeting to resolve the crisis. The college acquiesced with the strikers’ demand of hiring a Latino studies professor in the eventual hope of creating a program.

The college hired two new professors the next fall for the purpose of creating a Latino Studies curriculum (one of the two has just been denied tenure). After creating what dozens of people had worked countless hours to see come to fruition, the administration killed the proposed program. The years of hard work and dedication had equated to very little. Those involved in the hunger strike had left the school by then or were too tired to care. The new generation of Ephs valued social involvement over “being political.”

Many years have passed now. The hunger strikes and emergency faculty meetings seemed nothing more than ancient history to me. And yet there is a bitter taste in my mouth – a feeling that the student body has lost something because of the lack of a Latino Studies program.

It is typical now to hear on the news or read in the newspaper the great significance that the Latino bloc will have in the 2000 general election. I have already read many a time that American Latinos are soon to outnumber African-Americans. So one must ask, how can Williams ignore an entire continent? How can Williams say, but not so loud, that Latino Studies is not a bona fide academic discipline? Even if the school had a concentration in Latin American Studies, the bitter taste in my mouth could be mitigated somewhat. And worse of all, how can so many not recognize this egregious oversight?

I am quite dumbfounded. I can list so many reasons to have Latino Studies, but I cannot find one reason not to. Ten years ago, the College said it was because of the recession and the paucity of qualified candidates. But what can it come up with now? Every press release with the name Williams lauds how impressive our endowment is. We are in the midst of the greatest period of economic growth in the nation’s history. Latino Studies is finding proponents in more and more circles in academia now.

There are so many courses in the English Department, but not one class studying Jorge Luis Borges or Isabel Allende? In high schools in Southern California, it is becoming commonplace to study The House of the Spirits or Labyrinths in English classes, but not at this highly esteemed “institution of higher education.” In the Art Department, I cannot find one mention of Latino or Latin American art. Does that mean the likes of Diego Rivera are utterly irrelevant in the art world today?

And with the US Latino history professor’s denial of tenure, does that spell similar results to be found in the history department next fall? There are no more excuses to be found. It is now time for the dream to reawaken.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *