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On the Cusp of Becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Naugatuck Valley Community College Will Offer Its First Latino Studies Course This Fall

With 23.3% of Naugatuck Valley Community College’s 7,293 students self-identifying as Hispanic in fall 2013, the College is on the cusp of achieving the 25% enrollment marker that would name it a Hispanic-Serving Institution, as defined by the Department of Education. Last spring, 17% of all graduates were Hispanic in the College’s largest commencement class to date, compared with just 8% in 2010. In Waterbury, Hispanics comprise one-third of the City’s population and approximately one-tenth of its business owners.

Over the last several years the College has worked to diversify both its cultural and academic offerings to reflect this shifting demographic, bringing Dominican visual artist Pascal Meccariello as a guest lecturer through the Fulbright Scholars-in-Residence program, thrice hosting the bi-annual conference of the Dominican Studies Association, and featuring guest speakers like Dominican author and Pulitzer prize winner Junot Diaz and Mayor of Hartford Pedro Segarra. At NVCC, these efforts were a primer for something potentially much more permanent.

Last spring, NVCC student Alejandro Ortega wrote to President Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D., wondering why the College didn’t offer any courses for credit in Latino studies. Less than one year later, the College is proud to announce it will offer “Introduction to Latino Studies” in fall 2014. It is the first Latino Studies course designation to be offered at a Connecticut community college.

The instructor? None other than President De Filippis herself, who just so happens to be a world-renowned scholar on the subject.

“It has been a couple of years since I was last in the classroom so I have to admit, I am really looking forward to this,” said President De Filippis, who served as chair of the Foreign Languages, ESL and Humanities Department at York Community College before advancing to Provost and Senior Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Hostos Community College and eventually ascending the presidency at NVCC. A critically-acclaimed translator, author and literary analyst of the Dominican-American experience, President De Filippis continues to be a frequent speaker and presenter on the subject and has contributed to dozens of scholarly publications.

During her tenure, President De Filippis has emblazoned the mantra “it’s all about the students” across the College’s work, ensuring that student voices are a significant part of the College’s operational and strategic agenda. She works closely with the Student Government Association and in 2010, she formed the College’s first-ever President’s Circle, whose members are selected based on their ambition to contribute to and make a difference at the College.

“I am so happy for this opportunity to work with our students and share my love not only for the subject, but also the civic process because I think, in a lot of ways, that’s what this course is about, and that’s what community college is about,” said President De Filippis. “It is important that our curriculum represents the range of our students, particularly here, where we all strive to contribute to and support the diverse contributions made by all members of the human race.”

To further incorporate Latino components across the College curriculum, English professors Julia Pettitfrere and Juleyka Lantigua-Williams are currently attending “BRIDGING HISTORIAS through Latino History and Culture: An NEH (National Endowment of the Humanities) Bridging Cultures at Community Colleges Project.” More than 50 community college administrators and instructors are currently attending the grant-sponsored certification to address “the increasingly influential body of scholarship on the importance of Latino/a culture in American history” and “expand the teaching of this topic across the humanities disciplines.”

“In the end, students want to have their identity reflected and that’s the kind of enrichment a college can provide,” said Lantigua-Williams. “We can teach you math and critical thinking, but we can also teach you about yourself.”

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