In response to program cuts and budget changes at Fort Lewis College, the Spanish department moved to the sociology and human services department to create a new major, Borders and Languages, which offers classes in spanish which cover social and cultural issues.
The idea for the program came in part from work done between the sociology and Spanish departments by Fitzgerald’s father, Jim Fitzgerald, who was a professor at FLC, said Janine Fitzgerald.
He wanted to break down the traditional way of teaching Spanish and focus more on context than grammar. Together, the father and daughter took students to Mexico to study Spanish abroad for years, Janine Fitzgerald said.
“The study abroad component is something we’re trying to bring back,” she said. “There used to be a lot of study abroad programs in the college, but many are gone now.”
One requirement for the major is a study abroad component called the block program, which will be a semester of language immersion, Janine Fitzgerald said.
“For students who can’t go abroad, because of money or other obligations, we’re going to find immersion for them within local Latino and Hispanic communities,” said Alonso.
In other colleges, Spanish programs are being tacked on to other departments, like English or Hispanic studies, Janine Fitzgerald, professor of sociology and human services, said.
“Spanish is still firmly rooted as an area of study at Fort Lewis,” Rebecca Clausen, chair or sociology and human services, said.
The sociology and human services department is still offering non-Spanish sociology classes outside of the borders and languages program.
“Spanish is still firmly rooted as an area of study at Fort Lewis,” Rebecca Clausen, chair of sociology and human services, said.
The change was made after the department realized the circumstances with budget deficit that the college was facing last year and that sociology and Spanish have a lot of congruence, Clausen said.
The forward-thinking way of learning a language is to use context and themes, so the department redesigned the Spanish classes to focus on learning through political issues and culture rather than through focusing on having to learn a specific verb tense first, she said.
“One of the struggles of language learning is the way we teach it through scaffolding,” Janine Fitzgerald said. “You start with present tense even though that tense is hardly used when speaking.”
One of the reasons Spanish became Borders and Languages was to create a more organic use for language learning, Carolina Alonso, assistant professor of borders and languages, said. Teaching language through the issues faced by the culture of that language opens up new opportunities for students with this degree, like public health, social work or criminology, she said.
“You don’t have to be an advanced Spanish speaker to take these classes,” Alonso said. “What used to be Spanish 101 is now Borders and Languages 101, so students will learn Spanish through borders and language.”
Other institutions offer majors focusing on borders, but what makes this major unique is the integration of language studies within the border studies, Alonso said
“We’re at the borderlands of states, nation-states, and tribes here,” Clausen said. “Because of the history of this region, the location of the school is perfect for launching something like this.”
The program looks at physical borders, political borders, and cultural borders,like gender and sexuality, as well as the legality of borders, Alonso said.
In the future the program hopes to expand to other languages where issues of borders will be taught through different target languages, like French, German or indigenous languages, Clausen said.
“We want this liberal arts college to have this flourishing of language like the rest of the world,” Clausen said.