PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The history and culture of Chicanos and Latinos is taking center stage at Portland State University, which is now offering a bachelor’s degree in Chicano-Latino studies.
More than 5500 PSU graduates took home degrees in 2023. Although they could get a minor and certificate in Chicano-Latino studies they could not declare it as a major — or get a degree in the subject — until now.
PSU launched this — the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest — at a time when ethnic studies are under attack in many parts of the country.
The degree program launched this fall under the leadership of PSU Professor Dr. Cristina Herrera.
“We didn’t set out to make history. We didn’t even realize that this would be the first until we started digging in, and doing a little bit more research and started realizing that this would be historic,” Herrera told KOIN 6 News. “Students deserve to see themselves in the curriculum, and while students have always had the opportunity to take classes due to our offering the minor and the certificate, we wanted to take it a step further.”
The Chicano-Latino program will offer Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees, both designed to prepare students to work with Latino communities in everything from education to health care to the non-profit world to the legal profession.
It’s a perfect fit for PSU student Adriana Garcia, who wants to be a counselor helping her community navigate everything from language barriers to cultural differences and the basic nuts-and-bolts of higher education.
She calls the Chicano and Latino professors and fellow students her family.
“I think it’s such a form of resistance for our community for our program at Portland State to really embrace Latinos, Black studies, all these really important parts of our history that are trying to be erased because they are uncomfortable for others,” Garcia said.
“We know that ethnic studies, Latino studies always and already operates within a climate in which our field is constantly under attack,” Herrera said. “It’s always de-legitimized, and so we’re going to continue to do that, no matter the risks because the other part of it is that Chicano-Latino studies and other ethnic studies came out of the political movements of the 1960s, which we can arguably say was a riskier time, and so we have to honor that struggle.”
Portland State University is tracking to become an Hispanic-serviing institution within 4 years. That’s a federal designation for schools with at leat 25% Latinx students. It also means more federal dollars and more attention to Latino history, culture and contributions.
“It’s important because research shows that when students are excited about material, they tend to do better,” Herrera told KOIN 6 News. “They tend to engage with the material and to see themselves as worthy of study.”
The program has 3 professors and several adjuncts at this time. Herrera hopes to expand the program as more students seek Chicano-Latino studies at their major.
It’s what keeps Adriana Garcia at PSU.
“It’s too empowering to leave, and now I see myself being part of this community long-term,” Garcia said. “Hopefully part of the Chicano-Latino studies and helping the next generation, the future generation.”