Rice to offer Latin American studies major

This fall Rice University will begin offering a major in Latin American studies. The Faculty Senate approved at its March 28 meeting the proposal for the new major from the School of Humanities, the School of Social Sciences and the Department of Hispanic Studies.

“This major is designed to reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the field of Latin American studies (LAS) and the interdisciplinary research interests of participating faculty at Rice,” said José Aranda, chair of the Department of Hispanic Studies and associate professor of English, who will serve as adviser for the major.

Unlike similar majors at other universities, Rice LAS majors will be required to spend at least one semester studying abroad at a Latin American university where the primary language of instruction is Spanish, Portuguese or, under special circumstances, French.

“Learning to speak a foreign language is more intellectually interesting if students spend time where they can get to know a country’s culture, politics and native speakers their own age,” Aranda said. Initially, the study-abroad options will be programs in Mexico, Argentina, Cuba and Brazil.

After completing the semester abroad, students will enroll in a capstone research colloquium directed by a humanities or social sciences faculty member.

“A hallmark of the Rice LAS major is its requirement that students demonstrate the ability to do high-level research in a foreign language,” said Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway, the Frances Moody Newman Professor of Humanities and professor of Hispanic studies.

Aranda said another distinctive feature of Rice’s LAS major is the ability to custom-shape the major along a geographic focus. For example, students interested in Argentina could select courses that lend themselves to that region and then choose a program in Argentina for their study-abroad requirement.

“This major will be a great opportunity for many of our students with interests in the anthropology, economics and politics of the region to study these dimensions in more depth and with stronger language skills,” said Dean of Social Sciences Lyn Ragsdale, the Radoslav A. Tsanoff Chair of Public Affairs and professor of political science.

LAS majors must take 10 courses (30 semester hours) with appropriate Latin American content, and no fewer than six courses (18 semester hours) must be taken at Rice. At least two of the courses must be in the humanities and two in the social sciences. A required introductory course will be taught in English, with discussion sections available in Spanish or Portuguese. Language competence must be demonstrated before and after studying abroad.

Aranda said planning for the LAS major began several years ago mostly by Latin Americanist faculty in the schools of Humanities and Social Sciences when it became apparent that students were looking for ways to consolidate their Latin American interests in political science, history and language. Initially the group considered proposing an LAS minor, but Aranda said Shumway advocated that it be a major.

“Like most majors, you need to have a vibrant and interested faculty to support it,” Aranda said.

Other Latin Americanists in the departments of Art History, History, Anthropology and Political Science will be involved with the LAS major, as well as faculty affiliated with the Américas Research Center from the departments of English, History and French Studies.

Shumway said the LAS major will “connect faculty strengths to the undergraduate curriculum” and increase the internationalization of campus.

Aranda noted that about five years ago, Rice had only two senior faculty members in Latin American studies, but that number has since grown to 10 as Rice has strengthened its Latin American Initiative to achieve the Vision for the Second Century goal of becoming an international university with a more significant orientation toward Latin America and Asia.

When the Faculty Senate voted on the LAS major proposal, President David Leebron was in Brazil, where Rice signed agreements this week with the University of Sao Paulo and Brazil’s premier think tank, Fundação Getúlio Vargas. Upon hearing the outcome of the vote, he tweeted from Brazil, “With great timing, the Rice Faculty Senate today approved Latin American studies major. Many thanks to the faculty who made this happen.”

Leebron said the adoption of a Latin American studies major builds upon Rice’s efforts in Latin American studies over the last few years, including the hiring of a number of faculty in different disciplines who focus on Latin American issues and culture. “It is a big step forward that will enhance the opportunities for our students, and Rice is grateful to José Aranda and other faculty members who led this effort,” he said.

To celebrate the new major, Aranda is inviting faculty and students to an open house at Duncan Masters House at 5 p.m. April 5. An information session for students will be held at 5 p.m. April 9 at Razor Hall, Room 123.

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.