When Arlene Gamio ’18 was told in the spring semester of their sophomore year that their application for an independent concentration in Latinx studies was not approved, they spearheaded a petition to challenge the decision.
In the short week before Dean’s Date they launched the petition, and received more than 300 supporting signatures from University students. Gamio also noted that over 30 students had emailed faculty members in charge of adjudicating independent concentrations on their behalf, voicing their concerns with the administrative decision.
Yet, despite an outpouring of support, Gamio was told during a subsequent meeting with University administrators that the committee’s decision was virtually not appealable.
In their application, Gamio had noted that their concentration would require proficiency in Spanish or another related language predominantly spoken by the Latino community, at least two courses in Latin and American studies, a Junior Paper on Latin American culture, a senior thesis, and five electives spanning a diverse range of disciplines. Their concentration has a unique methodology for approaching the Latinx studies, Gamio says, as it explores the topic through a multitude of lenses such as literature, performing arts, and other cultural aspects.
According to the website of the Office of the Dean of the College, all potential independent concentrators must define “a methodological approach to their project even as they successfully conceptualize the interdisciplinary benefits of the proposed concentration.”
Furthermore, the website indicated that proposals that seek to pursue a degree in an established certificate, build a concentration around a senior thesis topic, or allow a student to avoid “less appealing requirements” in an existing department are strongly discouraged.
The approved independent concentrations include African-American studies, Linguistics, Cultural and Media Studies, as well as Epistemology, Cognition, and Intelligent Systems, according to the ODOC website.
Dean of the College Jill Dolan, a member on the adjudication committee for independent concentrators, noted that Gamio’s proposal for an independent concentration is separate from the case for Latinx Studies at Princeton.
“We do indeed care about Latinx students and Latinx Studies here at Princeton,” Dolan said. “Although the route we have to take to get there might be longer than any of us would like, I feel very optimistic about the future and how the certificate and the field will grow.”
She added that the administration is working on multiple fronts to increase the number of courses and the size of the faculty who specialize in this discipline.
According to Dolan, the Strategic Planning Task Force on American Studies at Princeton is preparing a report with innovative ideas about the curriculum and faculty that will propose important initiatives that include Latinx Studies. The task force report was posted for community comment this past summer.
According to a survey conducted by the Princeton University Latinx Perspectives Organization, there has been a growing interest in Latinx studies over the past three years. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most satisfactory, survey participants indicated that their satisfaction rate is around 5.
Deputy Dean of the College Elizabeth Colagiuri deferred comment to Dolan.
Gamio noted that they are currently pursuing a degree in history with a concentration in Latin American studies.
Though content with being in the history department, Gamio nonetheless noted that the decision from the adjudication committee was disheartening.
“There really has been no change in the last 21 years,” Gamio said. In the early 1990s, Asian-Americans and other minority students staged a sit-in in Nassau Hall demanding the creation of a certificate program for studies in cultural groups in America. According to Gamio, the current program in Latino studies only came to fruition after collective pressure from concerned alumni.
Gamio stated that as a low-income, first generation student, they feel that there’s a lot of room for the University to better address diversity issues on campus.
Though the number of initiatives that the University has taken towards these issues last year are steps in the right direction, it is hard to measure their immediate effect on students, Gamio added.
“When we are talking about diversity and inclusion outside the classroom, it’s a very fend for your yourself situation,” Gamio said.
“On the one hand, I understand that changes take time,” they said, adding that the University’s decision to not approve their concentration speaks volumes about its attitude towards advancing diversity and inclusion on campus.