By Benjamin Neufeld
Honoring over five decades of excellence, the Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) Chicana/Chicano Studies Department hosted a 52-year anniversary celebration. The event took place at the St. Cajetans—a former church in the west Denver neighborhood—located on the Auraria campus. Activities included a welcome lunch with food provided by Los Molinos; a department Chairs’ Plática featuring current by Chicana/Chicano Studies department Chair, Dr. Adriana Nieto and former chairs Dr. Ramón Del Castillo, Dr. Luis Torres, and Dr. Irene Blea; an Intergenerational Conversation among alumni; and a Fiesta and Scholarship Fundraiser with entertainment by Grupo Huitzilopochtli and Mariachi Correcaminos.
The event also tied into a Tenure and Promotion Ceremony where Drs. Chalane Lechuga and Adriana Nieto were recognized for being promoted to Full Professor.
Attendees included former and current staff, faculty, and students of the department, as well as local Chicana/Chicano community members.
In a welcome speech, Dr. John Masserini, Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, explained the origin of the Chicana/Chicano studies program saying, “by 1979, [MSU] began offering a major in what was called ‘B.A. in Bilingual and Chicano Studies.’”
He continued, “In 1995, Chicano Studies solidified itself as a stand-alone department. Today Chicana/Chicano studies offers a major, a minor, secondary and elementary education concentrations, and a host of our important general studies classes.”
According to Masserini, many of MSU Denver’s progressive policies and equity initiatives have been driven by the Chicana/Chicano studies faculty and staff. He said the department played a key role in MSU Denver becoming an Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI).
“CHS faculty provide key contributions to MSU Denver’s multicultural requirement and curriculum development,” said Masserini. “They influence and create policy changes that help increase institutional diversity, such as the faculty senate resolution to ensure diverse faculty in 2020, the BIPOC safer spaces resolution of 2020; they provide leadership on the CLAS [Diversity Equity and Inclusion] committee, and MSU Denver’s work on special tuition rates for DACA students.”
“There was a lot of resistance to it.”
Dr. Irene Blea
Masserini also praised Drs. Adriana Nieto, Adriann Wyncoff, and Chalane Lechuga for raising $10,000 toward student scholarships through royalties from their textbook: Introduction to Chicana and Chicano Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Colorado/New México Region.
During the chairs’ Plática/Chat, the current and former chairs of the department sat down to discuss the history of the department and the state of diversity in academia through the past 52 years.
Dr. Blea described a rocky beginning to the department when she became chair in 1980. “There was a lot of resistance to it,” she said. “I heard someone say that Chicano studies was the bastard child of the university.” The department was relatively small and did not have much outside support from the rest of the university community. Dr. Blea said she navigated this adversity and ensured the perseverance of the program by making sure to serve “on any committee that had to make a decision on Chicano Studies.”
As the department grew, the professors described forward progress made on behalf of both the program and the university as a whole. Dr. Del Castillo described their success in implementing a multiculturalism studies requirements for the general student population. The professors spoke generally about their influence over MSU Denver’s other equity initiatives. According to Dr. Torres, “If it hadn’t been for Chicana and Chicano Studies,” MSU would not have become an HSI.
The Plática panel included Dr. Blea, a native of New Mexico who chaired the department from 1980 to 1991. Dr. Blea has a Ph.D. in sociology and has published textbooks, poetry, many articles, one play, and four novels. Dr. Torres chaired the department from 1995 to 2004. He has his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Del Castillo served as chair from 2007 to 2019. He received his Ph.D., from the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado at Denver and is an active poet and activist. Dr. Nieto has served as department chair since 2019. She earned her PhD in the doctoral program in Religious and Theological Studies at the Iliff School of Theology and University of Denver in 2009.
Benjamin Neufeld is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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