Nov. 1, 2006

Vilma Santiago-Irizarry named new director of Latino Studies Program

Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, associate professor of anthropology and of Latino studies, has been appointed the new director of Cornell's Latino Studies Program (LSP). She succeeds Mary Pat Brady, associate professor of English.

The program currently serves 35 undergraduates taking a concentration in Latino studies and many others enrolled in the program's courses. A minor was recently offered for graduate students.

"Going by the applications we received this year for our graduate student grants, there is increasing graduate demand for training in Latino studies," Santiago-Irizarry said.

The interdisciplinary program was established in 1987 as the Hispanic American Studies Program to focus on Latino/Latina issues in the United States. It was renamed in 1995. Courses cover politics, law, language, history, art, literature, music and issues ranging from racial and ethnic politics to Latinos and the American dream, health and education.

The field is concerned as much with the individual Latino/Latina experience as "with the place of Latino communities across the nation," Santiago-Irizarry said.

Latino studies has its roots in the 1960s, with Chicano and Puerto Rican activism and "mobilization to open up all kinds of public spaces for themselves, [and recognition] that they are significant participants and actors in the United States," she said. The program maintains a library, film collection and computer lab, and sponsors a free, weekly "Fridays with Faculty" lunch series, a speaker series and an annual Unity Dinner, among other events and activities. LSP networks with the Latino Living Center program house and with 19 Latino student organizations on campus.

The LSP has three full-time, tenure-track faculty members with joint appointments in other disciplines and a search is under way for a fourth joint appointment with the Department of City and Regional Planning. Several other faculty members have primary or affiliated roles in Latino studies as well.

Santiago-Irizarry is president of the Puerto Rican Studies Association, whose secretariat is based at Cornell in the LSP offices. The association held an international four-day conference, "Speaking the Unspoken: Race and Its Intersections in Puerto Rican Experience," at Cornell in early October.

Santiago-Irizarry earned her graduate degrees in anthropology at New York University and a J.D. from the University of Puerto Rico Law School. Before joining Cornell, she taught at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice and practiced public interest law for 11 years in Puerto Rico.

She has done extensive field research on arts education, mental health and medical issues, and on substance abuse prevention programs in schools, penal institutions and community-based organizations in New York City. She has also done ethno-historical research on the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, especially on Cuba and Puerto Rico. Her other interests include language, ethnicity and identity, law and institutional culture.

She is the author of "Medicalizing Ethnicity: The Construction of Latino Identity in a Psychiatric Setting" (Cornell University Press, 2001).

For more information on the LSP, call (607) 255-3197 or see