African American Studies   |    Latin American Studies   |    Native American Studies

African American Studies

The African American Studies program at UMD is largely a product of the racial tensions that were dominating political discourse in American society in the late 1960s. A glance through Diamondback articles from 1968 reveals that "white racism" was the main issue of the year in College Park.[i] Campus politics largely revolved around the issue of white racism and debates over how students should get involved in this issue or if they should get involved at all. The intense interest in racial issues was, of course, heavily influenced by national events. The assassination of Martin Luther King in the spring of 1968 sparked one of the largest student manifestations the university had ever seen.[ii] Students were beginning to see that there was strength in numbers. Two weeks later black student leaders made the campaign for Afro-American Studies official by interrupting President Elkin's convocation speech and handing him a list of demands, which included the creation of a black studies program.[iii]

By the end of that spring semester the Black Student Union (BSU) was formed out of what had previously been CORE, a group with the same goals as the Congress of Racial Equality but not affiliated with the national organization. In an opinion piece published in the Diamondback one member of the BSU expressed the importance of having black students come together:

A new life was being molded for most of the blacks at this University. For the first time we were pulling together. We began to show what we could accomplish by being together…No one can hurt us with words. No one can hurt us with Confederate flags. No one can stop us from saying proudly, ‘What's happening black brother.' We are now together.[iv]

The formation of the BSU was in many ways a first step in achieving a black studies program because it provided black students with a unified front from which to express their grievances to the larger university community.

A general strategy that the BSU employed in campaigning for a black studies program was maintaining the image of a unified and powerful black student populace.[v] One step in achieving this image was creating a BSU that was much more exclusive than its predecessor CORE; white students were not invited to participate in BSU activities and meetings were closed off from the general public, including reporters from the school newspaper The Diamondback. According to Hayward "Woody" Farrar, who became the President of the BSU in the spring of 1969, "This secrecy, which aggravated the ever-increasing paranoia white students and administrators had at College Park concerning black students in 1969, prompted them to grossly exaggerate the power—actual and potential—of the BSU."[vi] An obstacle to maintaining this image of a powerful BSU was the internal division that existed within the organization. In reality the black student population at UMD was extremely diverse in background and ideology. Besides creating an exclusive organization that kept these internal divisions from being seen by the larger university community, another way the leaders of the BSU dealt with this challenge was by creating various opportunities for involvement and a democratic structure that did not impose one single viewpoint.[vii]

Once an assertive yet flexible student group had been established the next step in the campaign was to call attention to the concerns of black students at the university and state level. A major target for this effort was President Elkins. In February of 1969 President Elkins had sent a letter to the chair of the university's history department, Francis C. Haber, requesting that he set up a committee to look into the possibility of starting an Afro-American Studies program.[viii] The power to create such a program was clearly in the hands of the president of the university and students would either have to pressure him or those above him. An opportunity to gain media attention as well as to pressure those in power arose unexpectedly in March of that year when Woody Farrar was given the opportunity to speak in front of the Maryland Board of Regents. What he said appeared the next day in the Baltimore Sun which reported that "The president of the Black Students' Union at the University of Maryland warned the school's Board of Regents yesterday that continued failure to deal with racial problems could lead to campus disorders."[xi] An important strategy that Farrar used when speaking to the Board of Regents and that the BSU used in general was to refer to national events and federal reports when speaking to decision makers. For example, when speaking to the regents, Farrar alluded to riots at other universities, the 1954 Brown v. Board decision, and a HEW (Department of Health, Education and Welfare) report that charged Maryland with operating a racially segregated university system.

The remarks that Woody Farrar made at the Board of Regents meeting were successful at achieving the crucial step of calling attention to the campaign because the media covered the story, which empowered the BSU and caught the attention of President Elkins and other decision makers. Another tactic that was employed to draw attention to the concerns of black students on campus was a walk out organized by the BSU in April. This walk out was planned in response to President Elkins' refusal to read a list of remarks that the BSU had drafted concerning progressive racial change on campus. Wilkins' refusal was a trigger event because it infuriated black student leaders and led to hours of deliberation on how to react. The outcome of these deliberations was the decision to walk out and on the day of the convocation speech approximately 200 black students stood up and left the building just as President Elkins began speaking about "Negroes."[x]

Now that the BSU had the attention of President Elkins and had proven that it could mobilize large numbers of students if needed, the last step in its campaign for a black studies program was to negotiate. After the convocation speech Woody Farrar, in front of reporters and cameras, invited President Elkins to a BSU meeting and the president accepted. On April 23 President Elkins attended a BSU meeting during which he assured students of his commitment to creating both an Afro-American Studies program and an affirmative action plan. He also appointed Woody Farrar and the BSU's unofficial faculty advisor to the two committees that were working on these plans. By May 1969 the plan for desegregation reported that "A special committee has outlined a program of Afro-American studies and candidates for the directorship of this program are now being interviewed. The suggested courses will be open to all students as electives or as part of a major or minor."[xi]

U.S. Latina/o Studies

The campaign for a U.S. Latina/o Studies program at the University of Maryland in many ways built off of the successes of the campaign for black studies that preceded it by several decades. The establishment and justification of the African American Studies program at UMD paved the way for the creation of other academic programs relating to identity and diversity, including: Women's Studies (1977), Jewish Studies (1980), Latin American Studies (1989), Asian American Studies (2000), Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies (2002), and Persian Studies (2004). Advocates for U.S. Latina/o Studies also built off of similar struggles for Ethnic Studies programs that had occurred at other universities, such as the movement for Chicano Studies in California in 1969.[xii]

Interestingly, in the "Report of the Special Committee on Afro-American Studies" from May 1969, the committee justifies the creation of Afro-American Studies with this statement:

It is important that students at the University of Maryland be given an opportunity to study a group which has formed so large a part of the population of the United States throughout its history. The largest, most readily identifiable minority ethnic group in America, Negroes have had a profound impact on American society. No American can truly understand his own society and culture without a knowledge of this impact. [xiii]

By 2003 Latinos had surpassed African Americans as the largest minority ethnic group in America and although organizers involved in the U.S. Latina/o Studies campaign identify 1998 or earlier as the starting point of their efforts, by 2007 there was still no such program.

Efforts to establish a Latina/o Studies program began at least as early as 1998 when Dr. Ana Patricia Rodriguez was hired through the Spanish department to teach U.S. Latina/o literature. According to Dr. Rodriguez, the university hired her with the intention of eventually developing a program.[xiv] Between 1998 and 2007, when the first course was taught under the heading USLT (U.S. Latina/o), several segments of the university community took steps that lay the foundation for the program. For instance, in 1999 Dr. Judith Freidenberg, a professor in the Anthropology department was awarded $2000 to aid in the development of a Latino Research Network.[xv] Also, in 2004 the College of Education created a Center for Research on Latino Educational Success, led by Dr. Edna Szymanski.[xvi] Both of these projects were essential at doing the outreach and research necessary for the eventual establishment of an academic program. Students were also involved in advocacy and research efforts, such as in the spring of 2005 when the Latino Student Union successfully advocated for the creation of a staff position to be in charge of Latino student services.[xvii] All of these efforts were not always unified or even aware of each other, however, and this lack of unity became a major obstacle for future advocates.

In the fall of 2007 the first class was offered under the heading USLT, but there was still no major, minor, or certificate that a student could earn in U.S. Latina/o Studies. That fall several students enrolled in the USLT class decided that students needed to organize and campaign if they wanted to get a minor approved. In the spring of 2008 three students, Manny Ruiz, Aerlis Hernandez, and Evelyn Lopez created the Latinos Unidos Committee with the mission of uniting Latinos and other supporters on campus to push for the approval of an official minor.[xviii] An important part of the strategy of this informal coalition was, as the BSU had done forty years earlier, to appear organized, committed, and large in numbers. In an article published in the Diamondback that spring Arts and Humanities Dean James Harris was quoted as saying, "For a minor, it takes a relatively short amount of time to go through…Normally we respond to large student interest, and I think in this case there is a large interest."[xix] Student leaders realized that to make the ten-year process of advocating for Latina/o Studies move faster they would have to draw attention to Latino student concerns by using the media and by mobilizing advocates. And just as Woody Farrar had done in 1969, sometimes threats of potential unrest were made. Later in the same article that was quoted above, one student leader estimated that 250 students would come out in protest if a minor wasn't approved: "If it doesn't happen this semester, there will be a riot…We have full support from the Latino professors. They're going to be at the frontlines with us."

One important step that was taken by the Latinos Unidos Committee (LUC) was the creation of a manifesto in spring 2008 that was inspired by "El Plan de Santa Barbara," which helped establish Chicano Studies in California in the 1960s.[xx] Students on the committee had learned about this document in their USLT course the previous semester and they titled their own document "El Plan de LUC."[xxi] This manifesto contributed to LUC's strategy of appearing organized and unified when approaching administrators by showing that students were dedicated and providing advocates with a reference point.

Another important role that students played in the campaign for U.S. Latina/o Studies was that of "mediator" between different factions on campus.[xxii] As mentioned earlier, although there were several proponents of such a program on campus they were not always in communication with each other. To solve this problem student activists took it upon themselves to meet with student groups, faculty, staff, and administrators to build support and to motivate and push for quicker action. It was difficult for students to play this role because of their unfamiliarity with campus politics and processes. At the same time students had to juggle advocacy with schoolwork.

Another tactic used to keep the pressure on decision-makers was organizing two large manifestations. The first took place on March 26 when members of LUC attended an open meeting on the university Strategic Plan that was being drafted at the time. Students and other supporters showed up in large numbers to this meeting where they were able to take over the microphone and speak about the importance of Latino Studies to a room full of administrators, including Provost Nariman Farvardin, who was a main target throughout LUC's campaign.[xxiii]

The second manifestation took the form of a rally outside of the administration building on campus. Its purpose was more symbolic and celebratory than anything else since it took place on the day when the approval of the minor was going to be voted on, and by this time administrators had probably already made their decision.[xxiv] LUC's campaign was ultimately successful at attaining a U.S. Latina/o Studies minor for the University of Maryland. Advocates stress, however, that the struggle is far from over as the program continues to struggle for funding, support, and stability.

Native American Studies

The history of Native American Studies on the University of Maryland campus is a short but sweet history. While there may have been pushes and rumblings for more classes in the past, the definitive starting point for the current push was in the spring of 2009.

University officials decided to cut the only two Native American courses offered on campus under the context of budget cuts due to the national economic recession. While it may have been prudent for university officials to cut certain classes that did not fill up every semester, there was no justification for cutting the Native American courses. Not only was each Native American course fully enrolled each semester, there were generally waiting lists of twenty plus students each semester. Sensing the injustice of the situation, the President of the American Indian Student Union of the time, Dustin Richardson, sprang into action.

Dustin raised to the attention of the university a few of the grievances that the AISU and the larger student body had about cutting these courses. For one, the University of Maryland is one of the few large public universities that does not offer any programs for Native American Studies. Secondly, even though the amount of Native American students in the university was and is small, it is unfair to take away what little they have. It would be ignoring the history and culture of the peoples who were here and had a very big influence on American history. Third, not only were students against the cuts, but they were upset that there weren’t more classes about Native American topics.

Dustin and the AISU created a petition calling for the classes to be reinstated, more classes created, and the eventual founding of a Native Studies minor. That same semester the SGA passed a resolution in support of the demands of the AISU. Following the success of the petition and a rally and demonstration, the university reinstated the classes for the next semester.[xv]

Due to circumstances, the momentum from the petition and rally weren’t harnessed immediately. The next academic year was used as more of an organizational and planning year, in which the Native Studies Working Group was conceptualized and planned out by SGA legislator Natalia Cuadra-Saez. In the Fall of 2009 the AISU put together an American Indian Solidarity Week to raise awareness of Native American issues on campus and the need for a studies program. In the Spring of 2010 another SGA resolution was passed calling for more Native American Studies classes and a minor. [xvi] Meanwhile, members of the AISU and the SGA met regularly with professors and administrators to start identifying allies and the push for a Native American Studies program. Over that summer, the push for more Native American classes and an eventual studies programs started gaining more student and faculty support.[xvii]

At the beginning of the 2010-2011 academic year, the major push for Native American studies was restarted under the leadership of Natalia. Due to Natalia’s persistence and dedication, the working group picked up steam and gained more support. Much progress was made in the first semester, when the working group gained the support of key department chairs, professors, and more students. The culmination of all the hard work put in by the committee resulted in a meeting with the provost. The provost gave his support to the committee, and pledged to help create more Native American classes, and start the process of creating a new minor for Native American Studies. Currently a small task force headed by the Chair of American Studies, Nancy Struna, is working on a proposal for a minor.[xviii]


i. For example, see: "Students Form Coalition Committee Against White Racism," Diamondback, 11 October 1968, p. 13.

ii. See: Jerry Ceppos, "Political activists converge over black student rights," Diamondback, 23 October 1968, p 1-2.

iii. Hayward Farrar, "Prying the Door Farther Open: A Memoir of Black Student Protest at the University of Maryland at College Park, 1966-1970," Higher Education and the Civil Rights Movement: White Supremacy, Black Southerners, and College Campuses, Edited by Peter Wallenstein, Gainesville, FL: UP of Florida, 2007, 140.

iv. Andrew J. Chisom. "Reflections in Black: University blacks pulling together," Diamondback, 11 October 1968, p. 11.

v. Hayward Farrar. Interview by author. December 7, 2010.

vi. Hayward Farrar, "Prying the Door Farther Open: A Memoir of Black Student Protest at the University of Maryland at College Park, 1966-1970," Higher Education and the Civil Rights Movement: White Supremacy, Black Southerners, and College Campuses, Edited by Peter Wallenstein, Gainesville, FL: UP of Florida, 2007, 146.

vii. Ibid, 145.

viii. Ibid, 148.

ix. Alvin P. Sanoff, "Black Student Union Warns Maryland Board of Unrest," Baltimore Sun. 22 March 1969.

x. Hayward Farrar, "Prying the Door Farther Open: A Memoir of Black Student Protest at the University of Maryland at College Park, 1966-1970," Higher Education and the Civil Rights Movement: White Supremacy, Black Southerners, and College Campuses, Edited by Peter Wallenstein, Gainesville, FL: UP of Florida, 2007, 150.

xi. "A Plan for Desegregation of the College Park Campus of the University of Maryland," Submitted to President Wilson H. Elkins, 16 May 1969, p. 5.

xii. Arelis Hernandez, Interview by author, 9 December 2010.

xiii. "Report of the Special Committee on Afro-American Studies," Submitted to the Department of History, College of Arts and Humanity, College Park, MD, 1 May 1969, p. 2.

xiv. Ana Patricia Rodriguez, Interview by author, 10 December 2010.

xv. See: Curriculum Vitae of Judith Noemi Freidenberg,

xvi. See:

xvii. Information comes from unpublished letter: Latino Student Union Advisor Action Committee to President's Commission on Ethnic Minority Issues, College Park, MD, 10 March 2005.

xviii. Manny Ruiz, Interview by author, 11 December 2010.

xix. Mark Millan, "Latino studies minor may not get approval," Diamondback, 24 March 2008.

xx. Arelis Hernandez, Interview by author, 9 December 2010.

xxi. "El Plan de LUC-Manifesto," Presented by the Latino Unidos Committee, College Park, MD. April 2008.

xxii. Manny Ruiz, Interview by author, 11 December 2010.

xxiii. Ken Pitts, "Advocates demand answers at meeting," Diamondback, 27 March 2008.

xxiv. Valerie Strauss, "U-Md. Officials Approve Minor in Latino Studies," Washington Post, 19 April 2008.





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