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Hispanic Scholars, Students Pressure Princeton For Latino Studies Program

Princeton University may finally defer to three decades of demands for a Latino studies program because of recent efforts by Hispanic students, aided by a group of Hispanic alumni. A Center for Latino Studies with a certificate program modeled after Princeton’s nationally renowned Center for African American Studies could materialize as early as fall 2009, says Victoria C. Laws, who led the student movement for Latino studies and helped write the proposal for the center.

“We are dealing with a new administration, one that is open to change and a little more cognizant of the need for a Latino studies program, and [there is] also the changing demographics in this nation,” says Laws, who graduated from Princeton in the spring.

Adding one or two Latino courses will not “cut it” this time, says Dr. Aldo Lauria- Santiago, a 1981 Princeton graduate.

“There is a pressing need to provide Latino students at Princeton with a sense of their own presence in the curriculum, which is something that was very hard to find when I was there,” says Lauria-Santiago, associate professor and chairperson of Rutgers University’s department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean studies.

The most recent efforts to initiate Latino studies began in the fall of 2006 when Hispanic students were discussing their frustration with Hispanic Heritage Month. That discussion evolved into a series of meetings and ultimately a 16-page report on the state of Hispanics at Princeton, mentioning the lack of access to mentors and the meager 1.9 percent of Hispanic full-time faculty at Princeton, Laws says. “It wasn’t just complaining. There was a set of clear and structured recommendations as to how the university could address the problems that were raised.”

In November, students talked about the report in a campus-wide forum, and the following month Laws and Princeton sociology professor Marta Tienda began working on a proposal for the center that the university is now reviewing. Tienda and Princeton administrators did not want to comment on the issue until the discussions progress further.

While student pressure intensified from the inside over the last academic year, Bob Hernandez, a Boston-based litigator and Princeton alum, formed a group of alumni that is now pressuring the university from the outside.

The group of alumni, many of which conduct research in Latino studies, has presented itself as a resource that Princeton officials can use as they develop the center.

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