Students would benefit by having a better understanding of Hispanic cultures
By Paula Guarderas
On Mar. 21, 2023, Department Chair and Associate Professor of Spanish Dr. Christine Núñez announced that after the Spring 2023 semester, students no longer would be able to apply for a Spanish B.A. or Spanish B.S.ED, given that both major programs were placed on moratorium. Those registered before the B.A. and B.S.ED. closed will continue studying and graduate as planned. Even so, the official notice raised concerns and confusion among students in the Spanish program, many of whom disagreed with the administration’s decision.
The administration’s main reasoning was that the university needed to make budget cuts and that not enough students were applying to become Spanish majors. The minor remains available to students, and none of the faculty members are being retrenched. However, the school likely will not hire new professors to support a program that has only one minor, and having fewer professors would reduce the selection of courses offered, making the overall program less attractive.
When asked how she pictured the Modern Languages Department in ten years, Dr. Núñez said “Gone.” Once the existing Spanish teachers retire, she doubts the school will hire new staff to preserve the minor. This belief is founded on what has happened to other foreign languages at KU: The university used to offer Russian, Mandarin, and French B.A.s, all of which were reduced to minors before ultimately being removed. Spanish and German were the foreign languages of B.A. programs remaining, but shutting them down may mark the slow end of the department as a whole.
According to Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, Hispanics are the second largest race/ethnicity demographic at KU, and it has continued to grow through the years. Due to this, KU has gained an interest in appealing to the Hispanic community, as they “want to represent it,” explained Dr. Núñez. However, eliminating the Spanish major programs (B.A. and B.S.ED.) may be counterproductive if this is their goal.
According to data from Kutztown University Institutional Research, although the number of students in the Spanish major programs is relatively low compared to other majors, Spanish remains one of the highest enrolled minors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, even throughout COVID-19. According to Dr. Núñez, current data on the number of Latino students in their programs (major and minor combined) is over 50%. Removing the Spanish major contradicts the “Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Plan” that proposes to “Develop a plan to supplement student retention with the measurable goal of increasing black and Hispanic student retention” since the program largely contributes to Latino retention at KU.
Before the global pandemic, Dr. Núñez recalled that the department used to host events every year with students across the region. “Sociopolitical things and Día de los Muertos” were some of its themes, along with initiations for Spanish Honor societies for KU students. The ceasing of events promoting the language and its program no longer being a general requirement at KU might be part of why not as many people participate, considering these activities were what sparked some people’s curiosity about Spanish in the past.
There is a thinking that latino/hispanic students may not be interested in Spanish, but studies have shown that latino/hispanic students that take classes like Spanish for Heritage speakers and other spanish courses foster a positive ethnic identity, which studies have shown lead to academic success. It is common for Hispanic students who have lived in the US for a long time to forget or have never been taught aspects of the Spanish language or their own ethnic culture. Pursuing a college degree in Spanish serves as a way to reconnect with their background and sharpen their bilingual skills.
Some of the courses can benefit students who do not have foreign languages as a focus in their career. Spanish is the second-largest spoken language in the U.S., so gaining a basic understanding of it is advantageous in diversely populated states, like California and New York, to ease communication.
This also applies to areas in Pennsylvania. According to Reading Eagle, Reading, Pa. has the highest percentage (nearly 69%) of Latinos in the state. Learning culture and customs among Hispanic communities can provide insightful context that counselors, social workers, sociologists, political scientists and other positions need depending on their client or subject of interest.
As a last point, because the Spanish B.S.ED. program was discontinued along with the Spanish B.A., students no longer have the opportunity to pursue certification as a Spanish teacher at KU and will have to pursue it elsewhere.
On Wednesday, Mar. 22, students who wanted to speak to the administration directly about this situation showed up to the “Open Hour with the Provost” at Bears Den, MSU. After voicing their thoughts, students were told the choice was strictly due to budgeting reasons and there is a possibility they might bring it back in future years, although they did not expand upon how they would attract more students to the major.
Finally, per Núñez, as a “last-ditch effort in hopes they change their minds,” students were encouraged to write letters expressing their opinions to her, and she would pass them on to the administration. The deadline for the submissions was Friday, March 31. However, as of Fall 2023, it does not seem to have made a difference.
Overall, due to the growing population of Spanish-speaking students on campus and in the area, KU would be wise to maintain the Spanish B.A. and facilitate the teaching of the language and culture to its students.