Q&A: Zlolniski Eyes Bright Future for CMAS

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Earlier this year, Associate Professor Christian Zlolniski (Sociology and Anthropology) took over as director of the Center for Mexican American Studies. College of Liberal Arts intern Charlotte Whiteley spoke Zlolniski about his recent appointment what achievements he foresees for the future.

Q: What is the overall goal for the Center for Mexican American Studies?

A: We have three main priorities. First, to reach out to students and offer courses in Mexican American and Latino studies.  These courses cover the history and cultural contributions of Mexicans and Latinos in the U.S., which is often ignored in the curriculum taught in high school. To that end we offer a minor in Mexican American studies, which has been running for a long time. We believe it is important for Mexican Americans to learn about their own history, culture, and experiences their former generations went through. This is valuable knowledge also for all students regardless of their ethnic and cultural background, as it is part of the US history, particularly in the Southwest.

Our second goal is to foster research on issues important to the Latino population in this country. The way we go about this is by bringing faculty from across campus who do research on this field, not just from the College of Liberal Arts, so they can share their work and forge collaboration with other researchers. We invite scholars who work on a range of issues such as bilingual education, Mexican American literature, social work, transnational migration, cultural flows across Latin America and the US, etc. We plan to organize interdisciplinary seminars to promote this goal and dialogue across disciplines this coming spring semester.

The third mission of the center is community outreach, to build bridges with the Latino community outside the university. For example, we want to work with parents of Latino students who are hoping to send their children to college, but don’t know how. We also want to reach out and work with the “Dreamers,” a term that normally refers to people who were brought into the U.S. when they were children and grew up here, but may not be officially residents. Some of them are students here at UTA, while others would like to go to college but may not have the needed information or experience on how to do so.

Q: How does the center help the students at UTA?

A: In several ways. For instance, we work with the Hispanic and Latino American student organizations. There are a number of them at UT Arlington so we often co-sponsor their events, such as for example the Dia de los Muertos. We try to support the Hispanic organisations, and one of the things that we have done during the semester is to bring them all together. There are about 12 different organizations; they are dispersed across the university and often don’t know a lot about each other. We like to provide for them a home so that they come together, share and help each other. We do this to provide a sense of community and synergy. We also plan to develop a mentorship program to enhance retention and graduation rates of our Latino students, especially those taking our courses or minoring in MAS. This initiative seeks to provide them the necessary skills, motivation, and sense of community they need to succeed.

The center also organizes extracurricular events at UTA. For example, later this month we are going to host speaker John Valadez, who is the producer for a recently released PBS documentary called “Latino Americans.” He will screen part of this documentary and engage faculty and students in discussion and Q&A. In the spring, we usually host a Distinguished Lecture open to the public. We bring some high-profile scholar recognized for her or his work on Mexican American or Latino studies.  All these extracurricular activities provide students at UTA opportunities for learning outside the classroom.

Q: As the new director for the Center for Mexican America Studies, are there any personal improvements that you would like to see?

A: Personally I’d like to raise the visibility of the Center both within the University and in our region in North Texas. We have a rapidly growing Latino student population and I’d like to respond to their needs. We are now considered an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution. This means that when we reach the threshold of 25 percent of the student population, we could qualify for grants to better serve our Latino students in the university.  We at CMAS want to make sure to do our part to seize on the opportunity that an increasingly diverse and global Latino student population offers to UTA to grow and raise its international profile.

We have big dreams for the Center. We have three core faculty members, and soon we will also have three Research Associates from different departments and colleges who will contribute to enrich the academic life at CMAS. We also have a new Assistant Director: Dr. William Arce (English), a specialist in Mexican American and Latino literature. And we are fortunate to have a dedicated staff who, like us, want to make CMAS a friendly and inclusive house for students and faculty alike.  Together we are working on all these goals and dreams and hopefully they will come to bear fruit over the next few semesters.

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