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A new $500 prize awaits one lucky senior thesis writer examining Latino culture this spring.
The Inter-Faculty Committee on Latino Studies (IFCLAS) will honor one Harvard senior who writes a distinguished thesis on a subject concerning Latinos, said Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, Thomas professor of education at the Graduate School of Education .
The award comes as part of an effort to attract students from different disciplines to examine issues facing Latinos in the U.S., according to Suarez-Orozco.
Thesis topics that are eligible for the prize include Latino immigration to the U.S. and studies of existing Latin American communities in the United States.
“One cannot fully understand political developments in the Dominican Republic without paying attention to Washington Heights, where Dominicans, now the largest immigrant group in New York, have concentrated,” reads the mission statement on the IFCLAS web site.
Suarez-Orozco, who is the chair of IFCLAS, said the committee felt the prize was necessary given the increasing presence of Latinos in American culture.
“The U.S. is in the middle of the most important demographic change ever in the history of the country,” he said.
In recent years he said he has observed “steady scholarly interest...on topics related to Latino-American themes” in both the College and Harvard’s graduate schools.
The prize will be a boon for concentrators in government, history, history and literature and social studies, department members said.
Chair of the Committee on Social Studies Anya Bernstein calls the prize “exciting news” for concentrators.
“As a significant number of Social Studies students write their theses on Latin American topics or on Latinos in the United States, I expect that we will be nominating students for this prize,” she said.
Students with an interest in Latino studies said they were pleased by the introduction of the award because it will give more prominence to an often marginalized field.
Petra R. Rivera ’03, an African-American studies concentrator who will also be receiving a certificate in Latin American studies, has explored the relations between African-American and Latino communities.
She said she finds the introduction of the prize “very encouraging.”
Latino studies is “an academic discipline...that deserves to be recognized,” Rivera said.
Student group leaders said the prize is a positive move, but more should be done to promote Latino studies.
“In a way, it is legitimizing Latino Studies and the study of ethnic groups as a whole,” said RAZA President Priscilla J. Orta ’05. “I don’t think of this as a dramatic breakthrough, but it is a step in the right direction.”
President of Fuerza Latina Wendy Caceres ’04 called the introduction of the prize “a good step...The University finally realized that it is an important area of study, at some level at least.”
But Orta said that she thought there was more to be done in the improvement of Latino studies at Harvard.
“I’m hoping that all the little steps that are happening on campus...will lead to bigger things, especially in the hiring of Latino studies faculty, classes and certificates in Latino studies,” she said.
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