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Latinos focus of UNT program

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer
By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer

With a growing Hispanic population in the nation and Texas, the University of North Texas Latina/o faculty group wanted to start a program to help students better understand the people.

Now, they have introduced the Latina/o and Mexican-American Studies program at UNT this semester, which was certified earlier this month and will celebrate with a kick-off event Friday.

The program offers a 15-hour LMAS certificate for undergraduate students and will propose adding a bachelor’s degree focusing on LMAS in the coming year, with coursework in history, language, political science and literature. Students can also take electives within the program, such as economic relations between Mexico and the U.S.

The program is designed for students who work in fields who need to know about their customer or patient, Leticia Anaya, interim director of the program explained, not just members of the Latino community.

With the speed that the population is growing, especially as the baby boomer generation begins to retire, the knowledge of other cultures within the United States is necessary, she said.

The program educates students about several subgroups of Latinos, said Valerie Martinez-Ebers, a political science professor who helped start the program.

“Our program is unique to Texas,” she said. “There’s a lot of Mexican-American studies programs, but ours is the only one that includes all of the 22 national origin groups that are considered Hispanic or Latino.”

Even with a broader focus, Martinez-Ebers said she hopes the program also helps foster a sense of community for Hispanic students on campus who participate in the program.

“We also see this program as a way to improve the retention and interest of Hispanic students on campus,” she said. “This improves the quality of life for them, and they may not choose to major in it, but this will be their minor and create a social network for them, which should help retain them.”

The kick-off event this Friday will feature performances by the UNT Mariachi Aguilas, Wilson Elementary School’s Ballet Folklorico, Jose Aponte and the UNT Latin Jazz Lab, and begins at 5 p.m. at the Business Leadership Building atrium at 1307 W. Highland St.

“We’re hoping it will be a community event, as well as a source of recruitment for students,” Martinez-Ebers said.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.