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In 1999, the program’s current director, María DeGuzmán, Eugene H. Falk Distinguished Professor of English & Comparative Literature, founded the UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series. The series was conceived out of a desire to acknowledge and respond to the rapid growth of Latina/o populations in the Southeastern U.S., especially in North Carolina. In the fall of 1999, the Series hosted its first speaker, Chicana novelist and academic Sheila Ortiz Taylor. The following spring, the series hosted Miguel Algarín, poet and founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café. Since then, the Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series has continued to thrive and has brought some of the most prominent Latina/o Studies scholars and LatinX artists (visual, literary, and performative) to UNC Chapel Hill’s campus, including Suzanne Oboler, Frances Aparicio, Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez, Cristina García, Achy Obejas, Arturo Arias, Renato Rosaldo, Angie Cruz, and Nelly Rosario with both Cherríe Moraga and Sandra Cisneros visiting in the spring of 2019. Such visits have allowed the broader UNC and Chapel Hill communities the opportunity to learn from LatinX cultural, intellectual, and artistic producers as well as to mingle with them.  

Over the ensuing four years after its founding, the UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series events drew together a transdisciplinary network of people across UNC’s campus who were interested in Latina/o Studies. Recognizing the need for more opportunities for students to engage with Latina/o Studies content, in fall of 2003 Dr. DeGuzmán organized professors who were regular contributors to and attendees of the Series to develop Latina/o Studies courses. She proposed an undergraduate minor in Latina/o Studies (code LTNO). The LTNO minor was approved in March 2004, which led to the founding of the Latina/o Studies Program. Later that same year on September 20th, the UNC Latina/o Studies Program and its accompanying minor were officially inaugurated. In DeGuzmán’s words, “between units on campus and between campus and community contact points,” the program creates “hybrid spaces for research, teaching, cultural appreciation, advocacy, and so forth not only about Latina/o communities and cultures but also with Latina/o communities and individuals” (DeGuzmán 308).

In accordance with this vision of the program, the LTNO minor introduces students to diverse forms of LatinX cultural and intellectual productions, as well as histories and experiences. The transdisciplinary LTNO minor has enabled undergraduates to inspect LatinX topics from various theoretical perspectives and across multiple departments and disciplines. Collectively, LTNO courses make students keenly aware of trans-América and world histories, migrations, and cultural exchanges even as they emphasize U.S. based experiences of LatinX populations. LTNO courses further help students investigate the intersections of Latinicities, gender, sexuality, race, and class as well as the overlaps between LatinX civil rights movements and other social movements that concern ethnic, comparative ethnic, and Women’s Studies and Sexuality Studies. These courses offer students the opportunity to research, write about, and discuss diversity in rigorous ways that prepare them for lives as twenty-first century global citizens. Since its establishment, the UNC Latina/o Studies Program has offered approximately 192 LTNO courses and served more than 6,000 students as of the fall of 2020, including approximately 160 graduated LTNO minors (now graduates of Carolina). It offers over 27 courses toward the minor and brings together various disciplines such as African & Afro-American Studies, Anthropology, and English and Comparative Literature (DeGuzmán 312).

The program has also served the wider UNC and Chapel Hill communities. Each year, the LSP continues to grow and develop new initiatives that promote its goals to collaborate with other units across campus and serve as a resource hub for anyone interested in Latina/o Studies. Since the Program’s inauguration, other speaker series and working groups have been introduced under the aegis of the Latina/o Studies Program, including the Teatro Latina/o Speakers Series and working groups associated with the Latina/os & Health, Latina/os & Education, Literature of the Americas, and Jewish Latina/o Cultural Production.

Emphasizing the importance of visual literacy and performance as part of Latina/o Studies, summer 2008 the Latina/o Studies Program launched a film database, a guide for films related to Latina/o Studies that are housed at UNC-Chapel Hill. The program has supplemented this film database by hosting a series of film screenings, including most recently showings of Qué Tan Lejos, Chop Shop, Güeros, and Into the Dark: Culture Shock. The screenings have been followed by lengthy and fruitful post-viewing discussions between members of the Chapel Hill community, UNC staff, undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty. 

The UNC Latina/o Studies Program has also worked to create opportunities for intellectual engagements over Latina/o Studies by hosting symposiums. In 2015, the LSP co-hosted the Latina/o Media, Politics, and Power Symposium with Women & Gender Studies and has continued that momentum into the present. Invested in supporting the scholarly work of UNC students and committed to nurturing a learning environment that allows for the professionalization of graduate students and dissemination of their scholarship, the program more recently developed an annual graduate symposium, which began in the spring of 2019 and continued in the fall of 2020 with the “Health, Environments, and LatinX Experiences” symposium. The Latina/o Studies Program will be hosting its next graduate symposium spring 2021 as well as “Contamination and Containment,” its first annual undergraduate symposium.  

To contribute to the development of the dynamic, transdisciplinary field of Latina/o Studies, in the summer of 2020, the UNC Latina/o Studies Program began an initiative to create and share teaching resources with Latina/o Studies content. The program hopes that offering such teaching materials will aid scholars teaching Latina/o Studies content in their classes and that students and teachers can use these materials as an introduction to Latina/o Studies. The program also wishes to support the efforts of non-Latina/o Studies instructors by offering these Latina/o Studies teaching resources. Summer 2020, the LSP created its Latina/o Studies Teaching Awards initiative, which supports UNC graduate teaching fellows who wish to incorporate Latina/o Studies into their first-year writing and composition courses, ENGL 105 and ENGL 105i. The LSP also offers support and mentorship for awardees at any point in the process of developing teaching materials. To learn a bit about the program’s fall 2020 winners, click here. New winners for the spring of 2021 will be announced in November of 2020.

This history summarizes some of the highlights of The UNC Latina/o Studies Program. If you are interested in knowing more, please do not hesitate to contact us and learn about our latest offerings. 

Works Cited

DeGuzmán, María. “The Emerging Geographies of a Latina/o Studies Program.” Southeastern Geographer, vol. 51, no. 2, 2011, pp. 307–26.

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