UT establishes Mexican American and Latina/o studies department

Eleanor Dearman

The University will announce the establishment of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies on Wednesday, creating an interdisciplinary program to educate students on Hispanic culture.

Under the College of Liberal Arts, MALS will educate students about working with the increasing Hispanic population, according to incoming MALS chair Nicole Guidotti-Hernández.

“Our goal is to prepare young people to be Latino-serving professionals in light of the changing demographics in the state of Texas and the nation,” Guidotti-Hernández said.

According to Guidotti-Hernández, students from different educational backgrounds can study in the program.

“If you want a professional edge in the market, you might want to do business and Mexican-American and Latino studies because those are the people you are going to be serving, working with and managing,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “We think there is a tremendous academic advantage in having cultural knowledge to be a better professional.”

The program will offer coursework in Hispanic studies as a whole.

“Even though Mexican-Americans are the majority population in the state of Texas, there are also large Central American and Latino indigenous in the state,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “And, in some way, the program allows us to better account for those populations.”

The department will offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees this fall and — if approved by state higher education officials — doctorate degrees for the 2016-2017 school year.

“This department will be an invaluable asset to the state and nation, as they face future challenges and opportunities that come with demographic change,” said Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts in a statement.

Guidotti-Hernández said the University has offered Mexican-American studies courses for 44 years. The new department will include the current Center for Mexican American Studies, or CMAS, and a planned Borderlands Research Institute.

CMAS director Domino Perez said the center will host social and academic programs, while the department will offer degrees and coursework. She said the departmentalization benefits both groups, since they will be able to have their own programs and faculty.

“Now that they’ve moved over into the department, that means that we can have our own faculty,” Perez said. “The center never really had its own faculty in its history, and, so, we would have to work cooperatively with them to get our courses taught. It’s a tremendous opportunity for both our students and the faculty.”

The program has 25 students and six professors, but faculty and staff in the department hope to double enrollment.

“The major things that departmentalization does for students is it provides them with faculty that are 100 percent dedicated to teaching in the field,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “Before, we relied on our gracious faculty, [and] now we have six faculty members, whose sole purpose is to teach in Mexican-American and Latino studies — it means more classes, [and] it means more variety.”

According to Guidotti-Hernández, the major will have three tracks — language and cognition, cultural studies, and policy — which can be combined to suit the student’s particular interests and needs. Guidotti-Hernández also said the department is also looking to develop a minor program by the end of the year.