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Nearly 50 students affiliated with the Latino student organization Concilio Latino met in Ticknor Lounge in Boylston Hall last night to discuss a Latino Studies initiative with members of a newly formed Inter-Faculty Committee on Latino Studies.
Professor Marcelo Suarez Orozco of the Graduate School of Education chairs the committee, which operates under the auspices of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS).
The committee was formed to promote education and research, as well as foster a sense of academic community among both faculty and students interested in Latino issues, according to Suarez Orozco. Grants and support for extracurricular organizations supported by the committee get funding from DRCLAS.
Concilio Latino is an umbrella organization for the various Latino student groups at Harvard schools.
The dialogue at the meeting centered on both the growing Latino presence in the U.S. and potential strategies students could use to attract attention to Latino needs at Harvard.
"The United States is the second largest Latin American country in the world," said Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs John H. Coatsworth, who is director of the Rockefeller Center.
"Americans eat better, dance better, live better because of Latinos," Coatsworth said.
Suarez Orozco said that it is important to recognize the difference between Latino studies--which includes the study of Latino culture in the U.S.--and the study of Latin America.
Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Doris Sommer is also a committee member. Sommer and Suarez Orozco are in their third year of teaching Spanish 194: "Latino Cultures."
Sommer talked about the need for "democratizing the space we share with other ethnicities," suggesting that this initiative would shortly be followed by similar programs for Asian American and American Indian studies.
Coatsworth said Harvard has an undeserved reputation for hostility towards Latinos. He cited Harvard's investment in resources and research programs, but he added that still more was necessary.
"There is a need to develop an intellectual community, a community of scholars--but also to create a socially supportive society," Coatsworth said.
Coatsworth, Sommer and Suarez Orozco added that the committee is organizing a major conference scheduled for the fall. The conference, titled "Latinos in the 21st Century: Setting the Research Agenda," will bring prominent scholars to Harvard in order to explore the direction of Latino research in the next millennium.
Following a 20-minute presentation of the committee's plans, the professors opened the meeting up to discussion and questions.
Manuela T. Arciniegas '01 asked how Harvard compared to other educational institutions in terms of support for Latino studies.
"We're really latecomers, which in terms of being creative is an advantage," Sommer said.
Several students expressed concern about the lack of tenured faculty specializing in Latino issues.
"We can do protests and letter-writing and speak-outs, but when the Faculty goes to vote, that's done behind closed doors," a third-year law school student said.
Sommer advised students to continue presenting the need for Latino studies at Harvard and also to seek out faculty specializing in Latino studies at other institutions, both to give advice and to examine what Harvard has to offer.
The chairs of Concilio Latino encouraged members to generate specific ideas for the next meeting with Inter-Faculty committee members, to be held in mid-March.
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