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Department of Chicano and Latino Studies, University of Minnesota

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Scan of cover of Chicano Studies 1975 departmental brochure of classes (University of Minnesota)

Detail of the cover of a brochure listing classes offered by the University of Minnesota’s Department of Chicano Studies, 1975. From the Chicano Studies Department (1968–present) information files collection (box 62, mixed media), University of Minnesota Archives, Minneapolis.

Founded in 1971, the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies at the University of Minnesota is the first of its kind in the Midwest. Rooted in social justice, the department is committed scholastically and pedagogically to centering Chicana/o and Latina/o histories and experiences.

During the 1960s in the United States, people of color mobilized to challenge oppressive systems, including the educational system. Despite two historic court cases that sought to desegregate schools, Mendez v. Westminster (1947) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954), school injustices persisted. Working-class, Mexican American students often received a poor-quality education. For example, they did not have up-to-date textbooks and typically were not taught about their history or culture.

In 1968 students throughout California organized a massive walk-out. Commonly referred to as the “Blowouts,” this moment sparked a movement for educational reform. One year later, at the height of the Chicano Movement, in 1969, the Chicano Coordinating Council on High Education wrote “El Plan de Santa Barbara.” El Plan served as a blueprint to build a Chicano Studies discipline at the university level.

That same year, a cross-racial group of students at the University of Minnesota (U of M) took over Morrill Hall to demand academic change. The protest resulted in the establishment of the African American Studies Department and the American Indian Studies Department. The latter was the first of its kind in the nation.

Inspired by national and local actions, Chicanas and Chicanos in the Twin Cities worked to create a department of their own. In 1970, Latin Liberation Front, a student group at the U of M, and community leaders hosted the Midwest Chicano Conference. The three-day conference brought together 180 participants from across the nation and provided a platform for organizers to share strategies. At the conference, the community’s plan to start a Chicano Studies department at the U of M blossomed.

Even though the community desired a department, the administration did not comply with the request. On October 26, 1971, twenty students lead by Ramona Rosales, then president of the Latin Liberation Front, took over Morrill Hall, demanding that the university agree to build a Chicano Studies department within seventy-two hours. Otherwise, she said, the group would call for a strike.

The College of Liberal Arts committee agreed to the students’ demands, and the Department of Chicano Studies was established. The first classes were held in fall 1972. In 2012, the department changed its name to the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies to reflect the influx of students from South and Central America, most of whom are more accurately called Latino than Chicano.

For over forty-five years the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies has offered a wide range of courses in subjects including literature, history, politics, and art. Grounded in the spirit of the Chicano Movement, the department furthers social justice movements both locally and transnationally. The department works in partnership with several community organizations including schools, labor rights centers, and youth groups.

Since the department was birthed from the community’s vision, faculty and staff are accountable to the community and work to ensure that the department actively contributes to the empowerment of Chicana/o and Latina/o people. Students who major and minor in Chicano and Latino Studies gain critical thinking and communication skills. Alumni have become city council members, directors of non-profits, founders of elementary schools, and community organizers.

Despite the department’s success, it has consistently lacked institutional support. For several decades, the department had only one or two full time faculty, making it, at times, the smallest department on campus. In 2003, the student organization La Raza held several meetings to address the university’s lack of support.

Over a decade later, in 2015, students continued to see a pattern of neglect. As their predecessors had done in the 1960s, fifteen students involved with Whose Diversity?, a cross-racial undergraduate and graduate student group, occupied Morrill Hall to demand racial and gender justice. Thirteen students were arrested. Their protest resulted in the hiring of two new faculty members and a third new hire the following year. In 2017, the Department of Chicano Studies had the most tenure-track, full-time faculty in its history to date.

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Chicano Studies Department, 1968–present
Information files collection, Box 62 (Mixed Media)
University of Minnesota Archives, Minneapolis
Description: Flyers, newspaper clippings, photographs, and university correspondence documenting departmental activities.
http://archives.lib.umn.edu/repositories/14/archival_objects/288617

Valdés, Dionicio Nodín. Barrios Norteños: St. Paul and Midwestern Mexican Communities in the Twentieth Century. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.

Related Images

Scan of cover of Chicano Studies 1975 departmental brochure of classes (University of Minnesota)
Scan of cover of Chicano Studies 1975 departmental brochure of classes (University of Minnesota)
Scan of a detail of detail of a flyer advertising the 1970 Chicano Midwest Conference
Scan of a detail of detail of a flyer advertising the 1970 Chicano Midwest Conference
Scan of detail of a 1979 Chicano Week flyer (Universityof Minnesota)
Scan of detail of a 1979 Chicano Week flyer (Universityof Minnesota)

Turning Point

On October 26, 1971, students take over Morrill Hall, the university’s administration building, to demand a Chicano Studies department.

Chronology

1968

During a series of protests in East Los Angeles known as “Blowouts,” students walk out to protest lack of resources and curricula in their schools.

1969

Departments of American Indian Studies and Afro-American Studies are established at the University of Minnesota.

1969

El Plan de Santa Barbara creates a blueprint for Chicano Studies in California.

1970

On September 15, the Chicano Liberation Front coordinates a public demonstration in front of Morrill Hall. The University hosts a Chicano symposium the following December.

1971

On October 26, twenty students occupy the Morrill Hall administration building to demand a Chicano Studies department at the University of Minnesota (U of M).

1971

The Department of Chicano Studies is established at the U of M, making it the first such department in the Midwest.

1972

The first Chicano Studies class is taught at the U of M.

2003

A student group called La Raza organizes meetings to demand a reinvestment in the department.

2012

The department’s name is changed to Chicano and Latino Studies to address the growing non-Mexican Latina/o community and to reflect its aim to study intra-cultural Latina/o experiences.

2015

Fifteen students from the group Whose Diversity? occupy Morrill Hall on February 9 to demand justice. Thirteen students are arrested. Days later, the administration grants new hires specifically for the Ethnic Studies and feminist studies departments.

2016

The university hires two additional full-time faculty members, which results in the most tenure-track faculty members in the department’s history.