Amherst this fall is offering a new major, Latinx and Latin American studies (LLAS), a development both long in the works and brought about to meet current student needs.
Also new this fall will be a major in classical civilization, which is being offered to allow more students the opportunity to study the Greek and Roman cultures of antiquity.
In May the faculty voted to approve these new majors—the first in five years—after securing endorsements from the Committee on Educational Policy and the Executive Committee of the Faculty.
Through an interdisciplinary course load, students who major in Latinx and Latin American studies will critically examine the diverse histories and cultures of Latin America, the Caribbean and U.S. Latinxs.
Rick Lopez ’93, associate professor of history, dean of new students and longtime chair of the Five College Latin American Studies Committee, will chair the new Amherst program starting in the fall.
This new major is distinct from the Five College Certificate in Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies, offered since 1990. While that certificate remains an option for Amherst students, now that the College has its own major, interest in it will likely decline.
“The nice thing is, we already have most of the classes that we need,” says Lopez. Last year, he and Solsiree Del Moral, associate professor of American studies and black studies, taught “An Introduction to U.S. Latino/a History, 1848–Present.” Two other faculty members, Mary Hicks (of black studies and history) and Lloyd Barba (of religion) will be teaching courses on Colonial Latin America and the Black Diaspora, and U.S. Latinx religion.
Faculty are also developing a new, 200-level course that will be required for the major: “Major Debates in Latinx and Latin American Studies.”
In addition, students will be required to complete, in any department, a course on U.S. Latinxs, a course on Latin America, a course on the Caribbean and two courses taught in languages spoken in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Required coursework will also include a research/methods seminar from any department.
“We want to make sure that students see it as interdisciplinary, so that they think very specifically which of the disciplines that they're focusing most on,” Lopez says.
He says efforts to establish a major in Latin American and related studies date back to before his undergraduate days at Amherst and have seen starts and stalls over the decades.
Two major contributors to the LLAS becoming a reality were changing demographics in the student population and conversations about race and representation that followed the 2015 student protests on campus, Lopez says.
Over the past decade, the number of students who self-identify as Latin American, Latinx or of Caribbean origin has doubled. The number of courses over various departments dealing with Latinxs, Latin America and the Caribbean has increased eightfold, to more than 40.
“Like Black Studies, which also emerged from a confluence of major demographic and political changes in the College and country at large, a major in LLAS will fill a curricular void for our students, and just as important, increase faculty interaction and collaboration in the area,” the proposal committee wrote. Professor of Spanish Paul Schroeder Rodriguez was central to moving the proposal through the approval process.
The new classical civilization major, which came about in response to recommendations from outside scholars who visited Amherst in 2016, is an attempt to open up studies in the classics to a larger audience. Until this change, the classics department offered three majors: Latin, Greek and classics (which encompassed both languages, and whose students had to take at least seven language courses, combined, in Greek and Latin). This new, fourth major reduces that requirement to four, while broadening the expectation of courses in ancient history, philosophy, archeology or literature.
The new major is an acknowledgement that it’s often not practical to complete all the course work for the required two languages while also pursuing a second major or a pre-med track, says Frederick Griffiths, Class of 1880 Professor in Greek (Classics).
“Some students are fascinated by studying both languages; others really love Latin or Greek and don’t want to spend time on the other,” he says.
Christopher van den Berg, associate professor of classics and chair of the department, says this new, more accessible major could result in a higher enrollment in Greek and Latin. It will also open up options for students who have not had instruction in the classical languages in high school.
“We cherish the experience of our focused, intensive language courses, but it is also worthwhile to recognize the potential value that greater inclusivity can bring to such courses,” van den Berg says.
To mark the new major’s start in the fall, the classics department will cross-list a new course taught in theater and dance, “Re-imagining the classics.” In the spring, the department will offer another new course, “Sport and Spectacle in Ancient Greece and Rome.”