Crossing Latinidades Humanities Research Institute

Hispanic Community January 2023 PREMIUM
Encouraging More Latino Doctoral Students and Faculty

The Crossing Latinidades Humanities Research Initiative, launched in 2020, is dedicated to encouraging more Hispanics to earn doctorates and to colleges hiring more Latino faculty. According to the initiative’s web site, its mission involves “increasing the number of Latino students pursuing advanced degrees potentially leading to academic positions and supporting a national cohort of doctoral students in Latino humanities studies.”

It's also focused on encouraging Latino humanities scholars to confer, collaborate and connect with each other on major issues affecting Hispanics in higher education.

The Mellon Foundation, which is devoted to the humanities, provided a five million dollar grant to get the initiative off the ground.

Crossing Latinidades consists of several programs, including a summer institute for advanced graduate students, humanities research groups on Latino studies to inspire congeniality and shared research, and a web portal to enhance communication among Latino scholars based at the various member universities.

The idea for the program originated from Maria de los Angeles Torres, a distinguished Latin American and Latino Studies professor at the University of Illinois- Chicago (UIC), and Amalia Pallares, UIC’s Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Engagement. Since they both put together the group of university chancellors and presidents that led to the Mellon Foundation grant, the initiative is housed at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Its members consist of 20 high-level collegiate research institutions which confer doctorates, all of which are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).

HSIs were selected as the framework because “they wanted to create a consortium, not only to increase students at a graduate level but also faculty. And they are centered on Latino students and faculty,” says Olga Herrera, managing director of Crossing Latinidades, who is of Colombian heritage.

Boosting Latino Representation and Collaboration

Statistics reveal that Latinos aren’t represented in percentages that match their population, on the doctoral level or as faculty. At the graduate school level, based on a 2018 study, Latinos represented 12% of all students, with 7% full-time and 5% part-time, considerably below the 19% Latino U.S. population.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau, Latino students in master’s and doctoral programs consisted of 11.6% full-time students compared to 26.6% Asian-Americans and 14% African-Americans. Moreover only 4.9% of the faculty was Latino, compared to 69% White, 10% Asian and 6% African-American. The implication is clear: those numbers need to rise if Latinos are to take their rightful place in academia.

“The studies show that you will increase the number of Latino college students when there are more Latino faculty teaching,” Herrera points out. The underlying point is that having more Latino role models as professors inspires more Hispanics to attend college and advance to earning graduate degrees.

Too many Latinos, more so than others, get diverted from attending college because they must go to work immediately to help their families , or they need to take care of children. In addition, many Latino parents are reluctant to have their children attend college away from home. These obstacles need to be overcome, Herrera notes.

The name Crossing Latinidades refers to the “cross-regional and cross-institutional framework to support the advancement of the field of Latino Studies, with research working groups and advanced pre-dissertation students”, according to Herrera. Because Latinos are so varied and stem from many cultural backgrounds and nationalities, the initiative can  “create a deeper conversation among Chicano, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban and Central American Studies programs,” which previously operated in isolation from each other, she notes.

Moreover, she suggests we’re seeing a lot of cross-pollination between groups, since many Hispanic nationalities intermarry (for example, Mexican Americans marrying Puerto Ricans).

Annually, the program has about 90 scholars participating, and about 600 faculty across the 20 HSIs. It is breaking new ground because “in the humanities, there hasn’t been too much opportunity to work together in groups and projects. Too often, scholars work alone; the books they produce are done by individuals,” Herrera notes.  Bringing in different perspectives can inspire new ways of thinking.

Summer Institute and Humanities Research Program

The summer institute pre-doctoral program consists of 40 Latino scholars; each of the 20 HSIs nominate two of their most promising Latino graduate students.

Eligible participants are in the second or third year of the Latino Humanities Studies program and have completed their coursework but not advanced to candidacy (the time when they have completed coursework, and passed their comprehensive exams, but haven’t earned their dissertation yet). Herrera says this point in their graduate program is pivotal because studies show that “attrition and departure occur in the first three years of PhD programs.”

That timing is also critical because these graduate students are in the process of writing their dissertations. “We provide one year of funding to support their comprehensive exam completion and writing. That’s a year they don’t need to worry about becoming a teaching assistant and can concentrate on research,” Herrera says.

Completing the Summer Institute automatically moves participants into one-year mentorships and professional programs. Herrera points out that mentors operate outside of the university, which “allows for the nurturing of professional networking and establishing collegial relationships that we hope will last a long time.”

Crossing Latinidades also sponsors a Humanities Research Program, which in May 2022 consisted of ten groups. Thirty of the 32 participants of the Summer Institute were placed as fellows in the ten working groups to “broaden their analytical, written and communication skills and provide them with opportunities to be co-authors and co-presenters in publication and conference papers,” she says.

According to Herrera, “we are monitoring progress in their research and stated goals by requesting program reports in the summer of 2023.” The program also intends to disseminate scholars’ work via “publications, conferences and symposia that share their research findings with the academic public”, she notes.

Ultimate Goals – Obtaining Faculty Positions

Asked what it takes for a Latino doctoral graduate to nab a faculty position, Herrera replies, “a strong CV, which reveals a comprehensive professional history with all jobs and intellectual activities listed (without any limit to page numbers like resumes), a research agenda for future articles and book projects, and (the ability to) present a great interview.”

The program is up and running and prospering, making inroads into achieving its goals. “We’re working with doctoral students, and some have already passed their comprehensive exams and defined their thesis and are doing their research,” Herrera said proudly. One of the Crossing Latinidades initiative’s ultimate goals will reach fruition when its Latino doctoral participants “start applying and getting academic jobs in higher education,” she concludes. •


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