A petition calling for a Latin American Studies department at UR has garnered 470 signatures from students since being posted last month by senior Elvis Vasquez, prompting the Students’ Association to draft a resolution in support of its demands.

“Not having a Latin American Studies major and department is a disservice to the student body as it prohibits them from becoming global citizens,” the petition reads. “Latin America faces challenges of inequality, poverty, and sustainability, which a lot of our students are interested in addressing. It has historical and vital economic ties with the United States that any student, despite their major, would benefit from studying. Latin America is home to many vibrant cultures and ethnicities that require their own major and community. Rejecting the student body the opportunity to learn about these subjects is an injustice as it prevents students from embodying this year’s meliora value: openness.”

The SA resolution, which is still in draft form and sponsored by sophomore and SA Senator Daniel Pyskaty, calls for funding, faculty, and physical space for a new Latin American Studies department., It pushes the SA’s Academic Affairs Committee to work with Vasquez and others to create the major and charges the SA’s executive branch with advocating for these demands to the administration.

Thus far, the draft resolution has been endorsed by 12 student groups and History Lecturer Molly Ball, the coordinator of the Latin American Studies Minor. Each of the endorsers issued their own letters of support, cited as footnotes in the draft resolution. 

In her letter of support, Ball said that a successful proposal would “entail proposing a new major to the College Curriculum Committee as well as seeking Faculty Council and [New York State Education Department] approval.” She added that the Latin American Studies minor curriculum committee would be enthusiastic to support moves towards obtaining these approvals.

A number of the endorsing student organizations’ letters highlighted how the new department would contribute to the intersectional interests of their groups.

“Being an organization that focuses on the unity, education, and culture of black students on campus we feel as though a big part of those factors are lost due to the lack of education on Latin America and the black people and history that thrive there,” the Black Students’ Union letter said. “Afro-Latin Americans and Afro-Latin people in general are glossed over and forgotten when we are not given the chance to learn that history.”

The Pride Network letter also underscored overlaps in interests:

“A study conducted by the UCLA school of law states that 40% of LGBT+ adults are people of color, and 20% identify as latinx (Wilson, 2021). Latinx LGBT+ persons are more likely to face unemployment, food insecurity, and mental health issues among other things. The Latinx community in the United States is extremely underrepresented and underaided and would highly benefit from more individuals specializing in the field of Latin American Studies.”

The Student Association for Development of Arab Cultural Awareness (SADACA) saw the creation of the department as a stepping stone towards the creation of other departments specific to cultural groups.

“The creation of this major and department could be a segway for other departments in the future to represent other cultural groups with deep roots that date back prehistorically that are not currently a part of the University of Rochester curriculum,” the SADACA letter reads. “The Rochester curriculum prides itself on being non-traditional, giving students the opportunity to build their own educational path. The creation of new departments is the essence of that goal and can only be a positive contribution to students’ academic careers and success while being enrolled at this institution.”

The letter of support from the Spanish and Latino Students’ Association (SALSA) saw the proposal as a chance for UR to work towards catching up to peers.

“The University of Rochester holds itself as a highly esteemed research institution, but how can this be when it is constantly trailing behind other universities in enrolling Latinx students and denying students the opportunity to do research that centers Latin America,” SALSA’s letter said. “Not only would the University flourish by creating a learning environment that extends past its walls, but it would honor those that came before us who had never had the opportunity to be engaged in this type of learning. We urge the University of Rochester to please consider this proposal and to do the right thing.”

The resolution was discussed but not tabled at the SA Senate’s Oct. 31 meeting, so the earliest date that the resolution can be officially voted on is Nov. 14.

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