This year Penn is celebrating the Latin American and Latino Studies program’s silver anniversary.
Founded in 1988, the program aimed to consolidate research and discussions at Penn on Latin American topics, providing students and faculty with a structured forum to study the region.
Twenty-five years later, the program is celebrating its history and opening a new chapter with a new director for the 2015-16 year.
Next year will be the end of LALS Director and professor of sociology Emilio Parrado’s term and political science professor Tulia Falleti will likely take over in the 2015-16 academic year.
“I think there is lots of room to do interesting and important things academically for our students in terms of teaching and research and also for the community in terms of community service for Latinos,” Falleti said.
Next year, LALS will also collaborate with the Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism, organizing a number of events and symposia around the theme of “Post(neo)liberal Latin America.” to discuss current issues regarding the region.
Over its 25-year history, the program has undergone a number of shifts.
Originally known as the Latin American Cultures program, LALS broadened under the leadership of history professor Ann Farnsworth-Alvear , who was the director from 2001 to 2010. “We changed the name because the Latin American Cultures program had always been more about cultural exploration than about geography, but we wanted to make it really clear that we were also going to include the study of the Latino diaspora in the [United States] ,” Farnsworth-Alvear said.
LALS promotes the understanding of the regional context of research in the humanities and social sciences related to Latin America, without which our understanding of the research would be incomplete, Falleti said.
Alvear said that since Penn has students who are members of the Latino community in the United States and those who emigrated from Latin American countries, it is essential that the program reflects and caters to that diversity.
“For Latinos, learning about Latin America is learning about their own personal experiences. For the U.S. population as a whole, learning about Latin America is learning about the [United States] ,” Parrado said.
Farnsworth-Alvear also established a major and a minor within the program. Today, LALS also offers a graduate certificate. The program remains fairly small. There are typically four undergraduate majors and six minors every year, but they focus more on the content of the program rather than on granting degrees, Parrado said.
For College senior Rob Franco , a LALS minor, the program’s size is an advantage.
“It’s small enough that you really get to know the faculty really well,” he said. Franco was the first winner of the Jose Miguel Oviedo Undergraduate Student Paper Award for the best LALS undergraduate paper, one of two new awards presented at the anniversary gala on April 4.
2013 College graduate and LALS major Wes Skold said the academic flexibility of the program was also a big draw for him. He was easily able to study abroad, start taking Portuguese and count courses from a variety of departments toward his major.
In future years, Parrado said he hopes that the program will become more integrated within the entire University. He also wants to see more courses offered within LALS and the hiring of more faculty specializing in Latino studies.
“The growing diversity of the U.S. population means that that diversity has to be reflected in the curriculum, in the student body, in our staff, and the program values that,” he said.