Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The First of Its Kind

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The First of Its Kind

Article excerpt

Cal State Northridge takes the lead by creating the country's first baccalaureate program in Central American studies.

Dr. Beatriz Cortez knows what it's like to work toward educational goals as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. It's not easy, to say the least, but as an associate professor of Central American studies at California State University, Northridge, Cortez attributes her academic and scholarly success partly to the fact that she had to maintain her status as a student while she awaited the lengthy documentation process.

That experience made Cortez into the independent researcher that she is today.

"I was always at the library doing research, working on my own," she says.

Independence is something Cortez had to exercise early on as she emigrated at age 18 from El Salvador.

Cortez's immigrant experience also informed her academic focus. She is the program coordinator of CSUN's baccalaureate program in Central American studies, the first in the United States, and an associate professor at CSUN. The program was created seven years ago as an outgrowth of the university's department of Chicana/o studies.

As the program's coordinator, Cortez oversaw the approval of the baccalaureate program earlier this year.

"Overseeing a program that is the first of its kind has allowed me to have an input in the shaping of the program, its regional character, its interdisciplinary nature, its focus on diversity, its area studies perspective and academic excellence," says Cortez. "Nevertheless, it is also quite a challenge since it is a pioneering effort.

An additional challenge has been establishing electronic bibliographies and resources for the department.

Because, Cortez says, "the literature available in English for teaching courses is limited, and the issues that pertain to the Central American experience are not the same that affect other communities.

"As a result, we designed our courses taking as a point of departure the experience of Central Americans inside and outside the region. We followed models of other ethnic studies programs at our university, such as the Chicano studies, Pan-African studies and Asian American studies programs," Cortez says.

Cortez says the Central American studies program provides space for interdisciplinary studies.

"It is especially important to address the colonial legacy in traditional disciplines, such as literature, history and anthropology, in order to create diversity and opportunity."

Cortez's own work has become more interdisciplinary, and she is currently working on a book titled Aesthetics of Cynicism, which examines Central American postwar fiction and the cultural dynamics behind it. …

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