Latino Studies offerings persist despite program's unclear future

By Emma Gallegos

A year after Macalester lost its only Latino Studies specialist to Williams College, questions remain over how the interdisciplinary field will be taught on Macalester’s campus. The void has prompted the American Studies Department to make a move to make the discipline a permanent part of its curriculum. The Hispanic Studies Department has no official plans to hire a Latino Studies replacement for Cepeda.American Studies will submit an allocation request this winter to begin a search next year for a specialist in the field of Latino Studies who would begin teaching during the 2008-09 academic year.

In the meantime, Jane Rhodes, chair of American Studies, said that the department has hired two visiting professors who have experience teaching Latino Studies.

“It’s not a permanent solution but a way to respond,” she said.

Currently, Professor Adam Waterman ’00, who is currently working on an American Studies doctorate at NYU, is teaching a Latino Studies course. Waterman said the course would be a way for the department to feel out how much interest there is in the subject. Next semester, Jason Ruiz, a Latino Studies predoctoral fellow, will also teach a class in the field.

In Hispanic Studies, where Cepeda was originally housed, Chair Galo Gonzalez said that the department will continue its Latino Studies offerings. Gonzalez himself is teaching an upper-level class created by Cepeda and taught in Spanish called “Locating US Latino Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches.”

Gonzalez said that Hispanic Studies has not ruled out the possibility of hiring a replacement for Cepeda though no plans are now in place.

Currently, Hispanic Studies is searching for a tenure-track professor who will begin next year teaching Golden Age and Colonial Literature. The new hire will replace Professor Rogelio Miñana, who resigned last semester soon only months after Cepeda submitted her formal resignation.

Hispanic Studies Professor Toni Dorca, who served as chair until last semester, said that the department also plans to submit an allocation request to EPAG this February to request two more tenure-track professors.

He said the department will meet this December to discuss the details of what kinds of specialists they will look for in the department—which may or may not include a Latino Studies specialist.

The need to recruit additional faculty has become particularly urgent for the department—not only because of the resignation of Cepeda and Miñana, but also because Professor Fabiola Franco is participating in the Macalester Senior Faculty Employment Option (MSFEO), a phased retirement a program for faculty. Professor Leland Guyer will join the program next year.

Currently, there are only three permanent full-time faculty members to meet the high demand for Spanish from non-majors fulfilling their language requirements. Dorca estimated that over half of the classes taught are lower-level language classes.

Retirement not far from his mind, Gonzalez said that he is hoping to leave the department with a strong infrastructure.

A Recent History of Latino Studies
Gonzalez said that the Hispanic Studies Department—known as the Spanish Department until a curricular restructuring three years ago—has a history of trying to incorporate more of a focus on Latinos into the department, even before Cepeda arrived in 2003. He said it began with Professor David Sunderland’s class “The Family as History: The Stories of U.S. Latinos,” which the department still offers periodically.

By 2000, Gonzalez said, the department started to more formally integrate cultural themes into the curriculum. By the 2003-2004 academic year, the department had outlined four areas of study in which department majors must take classes. The fourth area, dubbed “Hispanic Peoples and Cultures: Interdisciplinary Approaches,” allowed for more of a focus on culture.

Cepeda, a Latino Studies specialist who won the 2004 Latino Studies Dissertation Prize, began teaching in the department that year. Her classes were notably different from the literary bent of the department.

Hispanic Studies majors Evan Mohl ’07 and Martha Truax ’07 recalled taking a class from Cepeda called “[email protected] and/in the Media,” which allowed them to work directly with the Latino community and make a film that they aired on a cable access station.

Mohl said that Cepeda brought something to Macalester that no one else offered, and he said that he was surprised that the department and school didn’t fight harder to keep her at Macalester.

“You do everything in your power to keep that person—you don’t let your star player walk away,” said Mohl.

Cepeda officially resigned in January 2006 after she took a teaching position at Williams last fall while formally on leave from Macalester. Miñana resigned two months after Cepeda to take a post at Mount Holyoke.

When they caught word that Cepeda would leave Macalester after Spring 2005, students in the cultural organization ¡Adelante! circulated a letter around the campus. In the letter, the group called not only for hiring a Latino Studies specialist to replace Cepeda but making the infrastructural changes that they said had caused her to leave. Among these recommended changes was a move of Latino Studies to the American Studies department.

Some of the students who were most actively involved have since graduated or transferred. One of those who is still involved said that the group has reached an “impasse” and declined to comment on the issue.

“There’s been a lot of student organization but it hasn’t been fruitful,” said Jessica Masterson ’07, a member of ¡Adelante!. “Change comes so slowly.”

Cepeda has said that hiring just one person to specialize in the field will not cut it, especially if that person is a junior professor.

“There’s too much of a risk of burnout,” Cepeda said. “I’ve seen it before and I’ve been through it myself.”

Cepeda said the ideal situation would be to bring in a senior and junior colleague at the same time—they need that support system and the tenure.

Gonzalez conceded that Latino Studies didn’t get the support it needed.

“We were ambitious in planning,” said Gonzalez. “But we didn’t have the infrastructure to support it.”

Cepeda’s current position at Williams in a Latino Studies program allows her to teach all of her classes in her field. While at Macalester, only two of her five classes were Latino Studies classes. There are five other professors in the program at Williams, all of whom teach half of their courses outside of [email protected] Studies.

“Williams is light years ahead of everyone else,” Cepeda said.