For the first time, a U.S. Latinx Studies minor will be offered to WCU students this fall, headed by Melissa Birkhofer, a lecturer in the Department of English, who has been named director of the program. With the Latinx population at WCU exploding over the last decade, Birkhofer is excited to see the minor added to serve that group of students.
“We’re super, super excited about the minor starting in the fall,” she said. “This has been a collaborative effort across the College of Arts and Sciences, but really across the university. I’ve had lots of help and lots of people in my corner trying to get this through.
“Latinx students now make up the largest minority on campus. National and regional and state trends project that that’s going to continue. If we’re going to have that many students on campus, then I think it’s really important that they get reflected in the curriculum. That was the impetus.”
In 2010, Latinx students made up 1.4 percent (105) of the WCU undergraduate population, Birkhofer said. By 2018, that number had risen to 6.98 percent (700 students).
Last fall, WCU offered its first Latinx Learning Community, which was taught by Birkhofer, English associate professor Paul Worley and associate professor of Spanish Lori Oxford. The students involved curated and created materials for the photo-essay exhibit “We Were Migrants,” learned about immigration, and discussed Latinx people in North Carolina and the South.
Birkhofer is expecting about 30 students initially to be enrolled in the U.S. Latinx Studies minor, including those who are currently enrolled in approved programs. The minor will consist of six courses. Each student will be required to take “The Introduction to U.S. Latinx Studies.” The remaining five courses can come from a variety of departments, Birkhofer said, including history, sociology, world languages, English and education.
“We have a wide variety of classes, and that gives students an opportunity to tailor the minor to their particular career path,” Birkhofer said. “It’s a nice mix.”
The minor is open to all students and there is no language requirement.
After attending the National Latinio Collegiate Conference, ten students put their minds to hosting their own.
As they were returning to Cullowhee, traveling on I-81 south in the middle of the night, someone blurted out, “We need to have our own conference.” The van erupted into cheers. For the rest of the ride, the students began brainstorming and dishing out assignments.