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Northern Arizona Scholars Reimagine Chicano Studies In The COVID-19 Era

Angela Gervasi


Just over 50 years ago, California State University in Los Angeles launched the nation’s first Chicano studies program. It was designed to focus on Mexican American history and culture in the United States — and to empower Chicano students, faculty and communities everywhere. It also paved the way for ethnic studies as an academic discipline. 

Now, a new program will offer Chicano studies online and completely tuition-free. The courses will be available for college credit through Prescott College. Dr. Ernesto Mireles is a professor at Prescott College and part ofMeXicanos 2070, a group of scholars throughout the country who created the program. Mireles said within days of the program's launch, hundreds registered for the classes. He spoke with KNAU’s Angela Gervasi about reaching people who might not be able to afford or attend college:

Could you start by telling me a little bit about the Colegio Chicano del Pueblo and how that group started?


We started working on it about a year ago. Although, to be honest ... what really pushed us to the digital platform is COVID-19, because we realized we weren't going to be able to go out, go around the country talking to people, the way we had originally planned.

What are some of the ideas you have as this course rolls out?


One of the things about Prescott College, I think, that's really cool, is that it's based entirely in what is called an "experiential pedagogy." You do, you reflect, you apply. ... So what that means is that in every part of these courses, students have to do, and then they have to reflect, and then they have to apply. And that could look like a lot of different things.


So the history course that we're offering, there's a week that talks about colonialism. One of the assignments is to go out into their community and take some photos of things that support these ideas of colonialism.


In the course that I'm doing — Building Mexicano Political Power I and II — what students are doing is they're doing community asset mapping, but they're doing it specifically towards Chicano organizations in their community. So they're building a power map of Chicano organizations in their local area.

How do you see online learning as something that can reach different people?


When you think about how expensive school is — right? Even though everybody, in a way, has access to loans or to scholarships or different things like that, there's a real choice that has to be made.


When you think about the young single mom or single father who is you know trying to raise little kids, doesn't necessarily feel like they can take college courses ... but wants to learn. All of that's available. If they can have access to this Wi-Fi, then they can have access to this information.


And I think the thing that's really the important part here is that we're really reaching out across the country to Chicano studies scholars to have them create these courses. These are the same courses that you would take if you enrolled in school.


We can continue to think of education as something that you only have access to if you can pay for it, or if you've made, quote unquote, the right decisions in your life. ... Or we can think of education as a right that every human being has. 

This interview was condensed for clarity and brevity. Dr. Ernesto Mireles is a professor at Prescott College and co-founder of the Colegio Chicano del Pueblo, which translates to "school of the people."