It’s been about a year since the Chicana & Chicano Studies (CCS) program became an official department at The University of New Mexico. But, in that short amount of time, the unit has undertaken its first self-study and external review, shedding light on some impressive gains.
The study showed reviewers that while the department is small in structure and has limited resources due to financial constraints, its overall impact to students is extremely effective.
“Every academic program with a Bachelors Degree undergoes an Academic Program Review that involves the completion of a self-study and external evaluation,” explained CCS Chair Irene Vasquez. “Each reviewing party involved in the CCS Academic Program Review warmly complimented our Department for its comprehensive self-study and its success in educating students at UNM.”
Chicano Studies was first established as an interdepartmental program in 1970. For many years, it primarily offered courses through other UNM departments that were cross-listed and pertinent to the study of the Mexican American population in the United States. By 1985, as a result of faculty, student and community efforts, students were able to minor in Chicano Studies and had access to two, permanent courses and rotating special topics courses.
Over the next 25 years, the study shows that CCS struggled with administrative and financial instabilities, resulting in a drop in enrollment between 2006 and 2010.
However, since that time, CCS has seen a remarkable uptick in interest. Data shows enrollment has grown by more than 600 percent since 2010, leading to the development of a Bachelors degree program in 2013 and then departmentalization two years later.
“We have witnessed remarkable growth despite budget cutbacks and the larger backdrop of the economic crises,” said Vasquez. “During this period of time many others departments and program have experienced enrollment losses. This phenomenon speaks to our relevance and success.”
In the past two years, CCS has seen a 40 percent enrollment increase, with another 10 percent of growth expected for the 2016-2017 academic year. These gains are extremely gratifying for Vasquez and the work she’s done since coming to UNM in 2011. But, she’s the first to say that credit is due far beyond her.
One major reason for the continued growth, she said, is the development of the Chicana and Chicano Studies Student Organization (CCSSO) and the Transnational Research Collective (TRC). These student run organizations have helped increase CCS’ visibility across UNM and the community, getting more people interested in the new department and its courses.
CCSSO has also organized and hosted an Ethnic Studies Conference, bringing more than 100 local high school students to campus to learn about CCS and other ethnic studies programs. Vasquez said these efforts not only benefit the department but the entire University by exposing more potential students to UNM.
“Students involved in CCSSO and our department are making their voices heard in more than one way,” Vasquez said. “They talk to their friends and other students and explain the benefits of majoring and minoring in Chicana and Chicano Studies. They are out in the public talking up the department. They have first hand experience to offer about our caring and personal touch as well as our innovative and challenging curriculum. The students perform a labor of love”
“UNM is positioned to be among educational leaders in the country as they seek to develop curricular outreach efforts to underrepresented communities,” added Vasquez. “We have highly qualified, caring and committed instructors interested in building a better society through education.”
Vasquez also believes a Masters and Ph.D. program would strengthen the profile of UNM as a Hispanic Serving Institution, a federal designation awarded to the University years ago. According to the self-study, organizers hope to have the Masters program up and running for the 2018-2019 academic year.
“The University of New Mexico has all the resources available for a Masters program in CCS despite the relatively small size of the department,” said Associate Chair LM García y Griego. “There are affiliated faculty who can guide master’s theses and the Center for Southwest Research has great primary source materials for anyone doing graduate research on Chicanas and Chicanos in the Southwest.”
The online B.A. degree, however, will begin recruiting students in spring 2016 for fall 2016 admission. Last year, CCS was approached by UNM Extended Learning to develop the new degree program. CCS is seeking additional funding to complete the program, but if it’s successful, UNM will be the first RU/VH (Research University/Very High) university to offer a CCS degree online.
“CCS has been involved in intensive program building over the past three years. We have reached every milestone that we have set for ourselves,” said Vasquez. “And, although the Academic Program Review involved exhaustive time and energy on the part of our stakeholders, we are energized and animated about building a unique comprehensive department that addresses the needs of communities across the state of New Mexico.”