Spanish Department Prepares for Name Change

Emma Fletcher-Frazer, Staff Reporter

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The Spanish Department has decided to change its name to the Department of Hispanic Studies, beginning in the next academic year. The name change was inspired, in part, by an external review recommendation and changes within other colleges’ Spanish departments, according to Assistant Professor and Chair of Spanish Department Carlos Vargas-Salgado.

“The tendency in most of the departments or programs like ours is replacing the word ‘Spanish,’ which refers to the language but also the nationality of people from Spain, for a more comprehensive term that can capture the diversity, the cultures that are included in the Hispanic world… [and] use Hispanic Studies,” Vargas-Salgado said.

The topic of changing the name was first discussed within the Spanish Department, and then throughout Division II and at a faculty meeting before deciding on ‘Department of Hispanic Studies.’ The entire Spanish Department was a part of the conversation, said Assistant Professor of Spanish Aarón Aguilar-Ramirez.

“We discussed and researched various possibilities and ultimately decided that ‘Hispanic Studies’ best described what we do in the Department,” Aguilar-Ramirez said in an email to The Wire. “Hispanic Studies better reflects the integrative nature of our curricular offerings. All of the courses in the Department combine the study of language, literature and culture in some capacity… We want the name of the Department to better reflect the integrative design of our courses.”

Aguilar-Ramirez says that the change in name is partially due to the linguistics of the word ‘Spanish.’

“While ‘Spanish’ can tend to emphasize the peninsular origins of the language, given that the term is the adjectival form of ‘Spain,’ ‘Hispanic Studies’ casts a wider net that includes the Spanish-speaking communities of the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and Spain,” Aguilar-Ramirez said.

Senior and Spanish major Whitney Rich believes that the change in name will help to create a more historical lens in the Department, rather than simply concentrating on the language.

“‘Hispanic Studies’ makes me think more of history as well, and having an element of understanding cultural history, whereas ‘Spanish’ seems very language focused, and less of an all-encompassing topic,” Rich said.

Vargas-Salgado agrees that the name change will help focus on culture, rather than just language, but he adds that the name change was also fueled by a desire to open up the Spanish Department to Hispanic students at Whitman.

“Most of the Latino/Hispanic students at Whitman were not so compelled by the program we were offering, because it was described, typically, as ‘a program of language’ and we want to stress a little more the importance of teaching language through the culture,” Vargas-Salgado said.

However, in terms of words, Aguilar-Ramirez would like to emphasize the difference of Hispanic and Latino.

“It is important to note that the Department uses ‘Hispanic’ as an adjective relating to the Spanish-speaking countries and communities of Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States and Spain,” Aguilar-Ramirez said. “We are not using the term as a pan-ethnic category pertaining to the Latin American-descent populations living in the United States. We use the term ‘Latinx’ to refer to the pan-ethnic communities of Latin American origin living in the United States.”

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