Oberlin: Panelists Speak on Latino Affairs
50 students, faculty and staff gathered in Wilder 101 on Thursday
afternoon to discuss the affairs of Latino/Hispanic studies at Oberlin.
A diverse panel — from admissions officers to department chairs
— related personal experiences and answered questions from
Professor Steven Volk, chair of the history department, began the
discussion by outlining the Latin American studies program.
“The program at Oberlin began to grow very substantially in
1986,” he said. “I was the first hire.”
Latin American studies began to incorporate a concept of Latino/a
studies at Oberlin in the 1990s, he said. Yet he expressed some
frustration over how to fit new developments under the aegis of
the current College structure.
“These envelopes that we have to put these programs in don’t
quite fit,” he said.
Ana Cara, chair of the Hispanic studies program, said she was thrilled
to see her program enter its second year. The program was formerly
Spanish, and was organized under romance languages.
“Our mission was to address the concerns, the cultures and
traditions of the hispanic world,” she said. The department’s
focus is on Spain, Latin America and Hispanic populations in the
“We’re interested in courses that dialogue with Spain
and the new world,” Volk said. “Our own discipline doesn’t
only end with our skin.”
“We have a somewhat limited number of faculty,” Cara
said. “To truly fulfill our mission we would need many more.”
Cara also called attention to a new course for “heritage”
speakers — students who have been exposed to Spanish and speak
it intuitively, rather than having learned it grammatically.
Assistant Professor Pablo Mitchell stated that two new tenure-track
professors will be hired for the Comparative American Studies program,
one focusing upon Latino/a studies and the other on queer studies.
Candidates will be on campus early next semester for interviews,
and he encouraged students to take part in the hiring process.
“Students were absolutely fundamental in getting the program,”
he said. “I hope that that continues.
“We’re still in the process as to how we set up this
major,” Mitchell added.
Students asked various questions of the panelists, many of which
dealt with expanding the Latino/ Hispanic focuses into other departments.
Panelists suggested that these studies could be taught by faculty
in different departments and still be part of the CAS program.
Volk also said that adding new faculty positions to a department
that focused on Latino/Hispanic studies specifically would be unrealistic.
Already, he said, three of 10 new faculty positions added by the
Board of Trustees two years ago have been allocated to Hispanic/Latino
studies. Along with the two positions in CAS, the College Faculty
Council gave an additional position to the Hispanic studies department.
Looking for new faculty positions, he said, is a slow process.
“It’s a very slow process because you wait for resignations
or other movements in the faculty.”
Asian American Community Coordinator Grace Han, who works at the
Multicultural Resource Center (MRC), asked whether there was thought
being given towards creating a separate Latino American studies
Mitchell replied, saying that he prefers the CAS route. “I
personally think it’s great to have it in the Comparative
American Studies [program],” he said. “You can understand
Latinos and Latinas, but to understand it fully you need to understand
it in different contexts.”
One student expressed concern about professors teaching classes
that don’t reflect their backgrounds. “I’m curious
how we are supposed to take these classes if they don’t reflect
our experiences,” he said.
Cara responded. “It’s about learning,” she said.
“It’s about learning [things] that are not necessarily
part of our [culture].
“As a teacher,” she continued, “I think the relationship
each student has with information and their professor is their own
Assistant Director of Admissions Thomas Abeyta spoke about the achievements
of the admissions office to successfully recruit Latino students.
One hundred and fourteen students on campus currently identify as
Latino or Hispanic, he said, and 34 Latino students enrolled this
“Five of the counselors in our office are people of color,”
Abeyta’s focus is on recruiting students from the Southwest,
New Mexico, California and Texas.
Also speaking were MRC Director Rachel Beverly, Graduate Assistant
Ana Marathon and student leader and admissions counselor senior