This year, the Center for Latino Research celebrates its 25th anniversary.
“Since the mid-80s, the Center has promoted a dialogue between the Latino community and DePaul, provided opportunities for faculty to further their research, and hosted informative events for students and the public,” says Elizabeth C. Martinez, director of the Center and professor, Latin American and Latino Studies. “We’re planning to continue these core activities – but we’re also reaching out in new directions.”
For example, the Center is planning more special programs that will be cross-disciplinary in their content and appeal. “Students learn so much more when approached from multiple disciplines,” says Martinez. “We’re creating events that touch upon and include social sciences, humanities, liberal studies, communication, and media — events for which people across the university will come together.”
In 2011, the Center co-sponsored (with CDM and the history department) a screening of an Oliver Stone film and a conversation with the movie’s Argentine producer.
Another innovation is an annual forum, Current Issues in Latino USA, where experts discuss issues of importance to Latino populations. The 2011 forum focused on Latino demographics in Chicago; the 2012 forum will focus on attitudes toward the presidential elections in the U.S. and Mexico.
But the core distinction of the Center will continue to be its support of research.
“In U.S. universities, there are plenty of centers for Latino studies, but very few for Latino research,” says Martinez.
Each quarter, the Center chooses three faculty to be funded for a one-quarter release from teaching; the fellowship also includes monies to hire graduate and undergraduate students as research assistants. More than an opportunity for faculty and students, the program also advances thought leadership in Latino studies since the fellows are encouraged to publish their work.
Jason Goulah, assistant professor, College of Education, used his 2010 fellowship to study an implementation of the Japanese educational model, Soka or value creating, in a kindergarten and elementary school in Brazil, the only Soka schools in South America:
“Soka is not an ‘information transmission’ model; rather, it’s an attempt to develop people who will work in their communities to create beauty, individual gain, and social good. I spent the spring quarter in Sao Paulo to find out what Soka looks like in a Latino culture. What I saw was really impressive. For example, during a fourth-grade math lesson, the teacher wanted to convey the difference between a circle and circumference. She wrote character traits on the blackboard - compassion, cooperation, courage, and others - in different colors of chalk. The students judged the relative importance of each, crumpled crepe paper color-coordinated with the chalk, then filled circles with crumpled pieces that represented the character traits they thought were the best to display. The lesson? A circle is something that can be filled; a circumference is a measurement. I've never seen math taught this way!
“I interviewed two classes of Soka graduates now in high school, as well as their teachers and parents. Do these teens have a different — a better — perspective? Yes, clearly. In their schools, they’re actively encouraging more respect between students and teachers, and they’re displaying a clear appreciation of the value of an education. I think the Soka model transcends culture: could it close the academic achievement gaps in poor Latino communities in the U.S.?
“I can’t exaggerate the importance of the Center’s support: I could not have done my research any other way.”
Antonio Polo, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, agrees:
“The 2010 fellowship allowed me to write and move my research forward, to mentor students — one of my graduate students is now using the data for her thesis — and to give several undergrads good experience with hands-on research.” Polo’s research focuses on whether cultural factors correlate with how children display emotional and behavioral problems.
“I’ve been focused on linguistic minorities, primarily Latino families, for 10 years. And I’ve found that traditional Latino values, such as respect for adults and deference to authority, are not uniformly associated with one type of behavior — such as aggression, anxiety, or depression — but rather they correlate with healthier behavior across-the-board. What’s most important is the alignment between the child’s and the parents’ values.
“In my work, I had interviewed parents and children after they participated in an intervention for depression. With the time and funding of the fellowship, I was able to hire students to transcribe these interviews. One thing the research shows is that it’s important to reach out to low-income and immigrant communities: the interest is there — people want to participate in programs to help their kids — but one can’t passively wait for them in an office or clinic.”
Based on the strength of its research component, the Center plans to petition for membership in a new, national consortium of Latino research centers housed at Notre Dame University. Martinez also sees opportunities to encourage a better representation of Latino history in Chicago museums and to enhance Diálogo, the Center’s respected publication.