Chicano culture runs deep in New México. It’s in the food, the politics, the music, the art – shaping nearly every corner of the state and flowing through the veins of many who call the Land of Enchantment home. That tremendous influence is what’s inspiring a University of New Mexico (UNM) department to build deeper connections with Chicano communities, ensuring a wider impact on New México’s students.
“Because we are a Chicana & Chicano Studies program, we are in essence an academic program created by the community,” said Irene Vasquez, chair and professor of UNM’s Chicana & Chicano Studies (CCS). “We are intentional in trying to be student and community centered because we know that when students feel like they’re a part of something, meaning their voice matters, their experience matters, and they see the people in their community being valued as well, then they are more likely to feel like they have a stake in the university.”
“Because we are a Chicana & Chicano Studies program, we are in essence an academic program created by the community.”
In the past, Vasquez says it’s been difficult to connect with and outreach to Chicana(o) audiences for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s been a lack of faculty representation in academia or not enough community outreach programs, the UNM professor says CCS is working to overcome those obstacles through a refreshed approach both inside and outside UNM classrooms.
According to enrollment data, the effort is working. In the last two years, CCS has seen a 30 percent growth in enrollment. This semester alone saw a 14 percent jump, exceeding the already high expectations department administrators set for themselves. Their online presence also continues to grow. CCS was the first department in the country to offer an online degree in Chicano(a) Studies and will graduate its first student in Dec. 2017.
Vasquez attributes some of the growth to new program and partnerships established in the past year. In fall 2016, CCS rolled out its online degree program which attracted out of state students. In addition, the implementation of an Early College High School initiative with Albuquerque Public schools led to dual enrollment classes at three area high schools. Albuquerque, Atrisco Heritage and Highland High Schools all participate in CCS’s dual-enrollment program, giving eligible high school students the chance to earn college credit before entering UNM.
Working directly with university faculty to develop the curriculum, high school teachers introduce students to ethnic studies themes and ideas, getting many interested in an area they may have never considered. Vasquez says it’s a powerful introduction for many students, and not just from an academic perspective. She says when students see themselves and their backgrounds portrayed in the lesson plans, it opens them up to the idea of pursuing higher education.
“What we’re finding is that students we had in that program a year ago are ending up in our classes at UNM now,” she said. “So, we’re really building a pipeline from high school into UNM and because they’re starting here already with a connection to the program, we see many of them continue beyond their first year.”
by Aaron Hilf
To learn more about Chicana & Chicano Studies at UNM, visit the department’s website at http://chicanos.unm.edu/
University of New Mexico