By Samuel Banales, professor of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies
I had the honor to teach the special topics course, “Youth Activism and Social Change,” this fall semester 2014 for the Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies (LHCS) Department. This interdisciplinary class provided a sophisticated overview of the linkages between youth activism, scholarship, institutional change, consciousness, art, and other forms of human expression.
The course is relevant to the LHCS Department and the university since the field of Latin@ studies is unique due to its origins. After students, professors, and communities protested many social inequities, including structural, educational, and institutional racism, the field of Latino Studies was implemented at various colleges across the US. At Rutgers University, for example, a Puerto Rican Studies Program was established in the fall of 1970 in response to demands that 16 Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) students at the Livingston campus initiated.
This program became the Department of Puerto Rican studies in 1973, and, due to the evolving nature of Latina/o and Caribbean migration and the academic field itself, the name was eventually changed to the LHCS Department. Given such a history, students—along with faculty and community members—are therefore central to the discipline. In particular, youth voice and experiences are valued because, without them, such a field wouldn’t have been made possible in the first place.
Relevant to the course on “Youth Activism and Social Change,” the Department of LHCS hosted a panel titled, “Latino and Caribbean Youth Activism Today,” which took place at Lucy Stone Hall on Thursday night, November 20, 2014. The event began at the Department’s conference room where students, faculty, and staff socialized and enjoyed food together.
As the evening progressed, LHCS Professor and Chair Nelson Maldonado-Torres explained the murals that decorate the Department’s hallways with vibrant colors, like the Puerto Rican Flag of Independence, which were painted by students over 40 years ago.
Afterwards, the panel featured myself and several student activists at Rutgers: Christopher Hernández, who is a third year student majoring in Economics and minoring in LHCS, is currently the president of Puerto Rican Student Union; Bianka Marte-Pérez is currently a co-chair of the Latino Student Council and a community college transfer student who is currently a senior majoring in LHCS with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies; Edward Quinceno, of Colombian background, is currently a leader of the Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, majoring in Visual Arts and Women’s and Gender Studies.
Students discussed how they became involved in student activism, why social change is important to them, and they also described their journey navigating their commitments to civic engagement in and out of the university. The Department looks forward to planning future panels that continue focusing on Latin@ and Caribbean student activism at Rutgers and beyond.