Summer 2020 Newsletter
Dear Alumni and Friends of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies,
I hope this message finds you well.
These past months have been very challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives in ways it would have been difficult to imagine prior to March 2020. During the second half of the semester, in the midst of this pandemic and the transition to online learning, we rapidly transformed our classes to remote instruction, holding meetings and trainings to learn more technology and new pedagogies. When spring semester was over, we continued to refine these new skills over the summer and further transformed our classes to high-quality online courses, both to be offered in the fall and to provide flexibility for those courses taught in person.
During the first months of the pandemic we were shown the impact that inequalities in our society continue to have on Black, Native American, and Latinx communities. In May, we all became witnesses to the brutal murder of George Floyd, a horrific crime that infuriated us all. George Floyd’s murder exposed the urgent need for change and transformation to a more democratic society, focusing on fighting against systemic racism on many different fronts.
The events of the last months certainly transformed our lives and invited the members of our department to rethink everything we do, from pedagogies to technology, from online classes to accessibility, from diversity, equity, and inclusion to racial and social justice. During the upcoming year, our department will have numerous meetings, discussions, and workshops in order to review our curriculum (both language and content courses) and to promote antiracist and decolonial pedagogies—focused on the strengthening of democratic practices and the respect of our cultures and communities.
I want to highlight some of the achievements of our faculty, alumni, and students:
Congratulations to all our graduate students who obtained their PhDs in 2019 and 2020: Eva Palma Zuñiga, Mario Cossío Olavide, Tripp Strawbridge, Sandra Rellier, Carol Ready, Russell Simonsen, Ana Cláudia dos Santos São Bernardo, Mónica de la Fuente Iglesias, and Marit Hanson.
Congratulations to Professor Luis Ramos Garcia, who received both the Corporación Colombiana de Teatro Award and the 2019 Award for Global Engagement.
Congratulations to Dr. Sara Finney, who received the 2019 Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Department of Modern Languages & Classics at the University of Alabama and Dr. Sara Mack, who was recognized with the Career Readiness Faculty Engagement Award
We also want to congratulate Maryanne Williams Smoczyk for receiving the CLA Work Group Outstanding Service Award.
And finally, three of our outstanding graduate students were awarded fellowships for this academic year: Emma Jasnoch received the 2020-21 Harold Leonard Memorial Fellowship in Film Study and José Aguirre and Celia Bravo Diaz each received the CLA Doctoral Dissertation Award. Congratulations to all of you!
This fall, we welcome Assistant Professor Osiris Aníbal Gómez, a specialist of contemporary Mexican indigenous poetry, who joins us from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he completed his PhD in Hispanic Languages and Literatures in 2020.
I want to let you know that on Friday, September 25, from 2:00 to 3:00 pm (Central Time), we will host a celebration of Maria Emilce López’s life and invite contributions to the memorial fund in her name (full information below). If you wish to attend, please register. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
I also invite all alumni and friends to please provide us with feedback about your experience in our department.
Finally, I want to thank you so much for your support this past year. Last month, we created the María Emilce López Memorial Fund. This fund provides scholarship support for students studying in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies; please consider making a gift. To the extent possible, award preference will be given to students who will enhance the diversity of the student body as described by the University. An additional consideration will be given for Latin American, Latino/a, Latinx students.
Un saludo. And stay well!
Professor and Chair
Remembering an Innovator: María Emilce López
María Emilce López passed away on June 11, 2020. She was an outstanding teacher, a highly respected colleague, a generous mentor, and a wonderful friend. She had a huge impact on our lives and the lives of the community.
A Better Understanding of the World
Medical student Julia Dworsky graduated in 2018 with a major in Spanish studies and a minor in neuroscience. “During orientation, professors often pointed out that starting medical school is like learning a second language. Studying languages... gives you the tools to transition smoothly into the challenges of a graduate program.”
Faculty Highlights: The Department of Spanish & Portuguese Studies Welcomes Prof. Osiris Aníbal Gómez
Assistant Professor Osiris Aníbal Gómez joins us from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he completed his PhD in Hispanic Languages and Literatures in 2020, with an expertise in contemporary Mexican indigenous poetry. “I’m very excited about teaching in such an institution known for its work and dedication to human rights and related topics."
Creating Inclusive Language Classrooms
Evolving culture means evolving language. Our graduate students are thinking about how to create inclusive classroom environments for all students, not only those with binary gender identities. Updating the way individuals refer to one another can affect the community as a whole; more inclusive language can create more inclusive spaces.
Not Ready to Stop Learning
Studying another language cultivates new, unique ways of thinking. Carolyn Sakstrup (BA ‘99, Spanish, minors in Latin American studies and studio art) is a senior vice president in marketing at Target. Her path all began with language studies and a desire to continue learning.