Liberal Arts

Latina/o Studies earns college-level program status in Liberal Arts

Penn State President Eric Barron, far left, hosted members of the Latino Caucus at his residence in 2018. Latina/o Studies Program Director A.K. Sandoval-Strausz worked with this group, as well as the Latina/o Studies faculty, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Mexican American Student Association, and the Puerto Rican Student Association to increase the number of students taking Latina/o Studies classes. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Once only a minor in the College of the Liberal Arts, Latina/o Studies is now an official college-level program, with its own director, its own faculty lines, and both an undergraduate and graduate minor.

Associate Professor of History A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, who joined the College of the Liberal Arts faculty in 2018, is director of the program. Born in New York City to immigrant parents, one of whom was from Colombia, Sandoval-Strausz said Spanish was his first language. He is an award-winning author and prolific scholar who focuses his research on United States Latino history and urban history.

Originally hired to coordinate classes from the many departments that contribute to the multidisciplinary minor in Latina/o Studies, he worked together with his colleagues to further promote the minor by forging links with the Latino Caucus, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Mexican American Student Association, and the Puerto Rican Student Association. These efforts helped nearly triple the number of students in Latina/o Studies classes from previous years, which led to discussions about elevating Latina/o Studies to a college-level program.

“Pennsylvania has a very long history of being a place for immigrants and their descendants — German Americans, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans,” Sandoval-Strausz said. “Today, Latinos are the fastest-growing population in the U.S., and about 50% of Pennsylvania’s population growth is made up of Latinas and Latinos.

“Nationally, we are a big cohort of people, and there is not nearly enough information available about our particular experiences and how we came to be Americans,” he continued. “It’s a story that deals with labor and diplomacy and American expansion and much more, so it’s important to learn the origins and implications of this fast-growing population.”

“The new status for the Latina/o Studies program reflects the changing demography of the commonwealth,” said Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “Elevating the program puts us at the forefront of teaching, research, public programming and service focused on the lives, histories and experiences of this important social group in U.S. society at this critical moment. I’m really happy to enhance the cutting-edge work of this unit in our college.”

“Of course, the program holds a great deal of primary interest to Latinos and Latinas themselves, but there are all kinds of students in the classroom from a variety of backgrounds,” Sandoval-Strausz said. “More broadly, it is important educationally that we all come to understand each other from the standpoint of seeing a multicultural America.

“Latinos come from 19 different countries and from every possible racial background,” he continued. “We come from many political persuasions, and we do many kinds of work. Some of our families have been here for hundreds of years, and others immigrated or were born here to immigrants. Getting to understand every aspect of diversity in the U.S. is worthwhile for everyone, and our program promotes that.”

Recognizing that many of Penn State’s campuses have large numbers of Latina/o students, Sandoval-Strausz has been working with David Callejo, associate vice president and senior associate dean for academic programs for Penn State Commonwealth Campuses, to create an online minor, which will be available in January 2022 through the Penn State Digital Learning Cooperative.

“The next step for the online program will be to offer it through Penn State World Campus,” Sandoval-Strausz said. “And the eventual next step for the Latina/o Studies program is to become a department and offer a major.”

“History partnered with Latina/o Studies for many years when it existed as an interdepartmental program,” said Michael Kulikowski, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History and Classics and head of the Department of History. “It’s high time it became a college-level program, and we’re absolutely delighted that this has now happened. We’ll continue to work closely with our colleagues in Latina/o Studies as they go from strength to strength.”

“As a land-grant University, Penn State has a fundamental moral and legal responsibility for educating all Pennsylvanians to understand who they are,” Sandoval-Strausz concluded. “I see the expansion of Latina/o Studies as a continuation of a long Pennsylvania tradition of being a bellwether of celebrating new populations.”

Last Updated November 17, 2021