University’s CLACS program celebrates 50 years on campus

After half a century of growth and education, the University’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The program has planned a celebratory symposium for Friday at the Levis Faculty Center’s music room to commemorate the organization’s commitment to encouraging a better understanding of and engaging with Latin American culture.

CLACS was originally formed as a response to Title IV of the Higher Education Act. The goal of Title IV was to offer funding to various universities around the country in an attempt to expand their range of resources. As a result of this legislation, CLACS was actualized in 1963 when it received its first grant from the Department of Education. As current associate director of CLACS, Angelina Cotler is proud of the work CLACS has done over the last 50 years to expand the knowledge of Latin America to University students.

“There are only four or five universities in the entire United States whose CLACS program has been promoting Latin America for as long as ours. … We believe it is important to promote this region because it is not only just important to the U.S., it is important to the rest of the world,” Cotler said.

Today, CLACS is located in the International Studies Building at 910 S. Fifth St. in Champaign. Its main focus is to offer support and resources for students interested in learning about Latin America. A few of the various resources that CLACS offers include: study abroad opportunities in Latin America, programs that teach indigenous Latin American languages, guest lecture series, the Latin American Film Festival and its Latin American and Caribbean Studies library collection.

Located in the Main Library, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies library collection carries over 601,000 volumes and is thought to be one of the largest Latin American archives in the country, according to Antonio Sotomayor, the Latin American and Caribbean studies librarian. He has a unique perspective of exactly what the collection means to CLACS.

“Our Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies is internationally recognized for its excellence and a big part of that is because of our library collection. It’s the combination of the center and the library working together that’s makes (the University) a very special place to study Latin America,” Sotomayor said.

On Friday, CLACS will be hosting its “50 Years and Counting! Symposium” to commemorate a half century on campus. This event will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will be free to anyone who wants to attend. Additionally, CLACS will be providing breakfast and lunch. Arriving before 8:30 a.m. is encouraged, however, to allow enough time to eat breakfast and sign in before the symposium starts.

James Sauls, graduate student in Latin American Studies, is looking forward to the CLACS 50th anniversary symposium on Friday. Sauls sees this event as an opportunity to get to know and network with others associated with the CLACS program.

“I expect to have fun with the new friends I have made since joining the master’s program for Latin American Studies. … I think it will be a nice place to enjoy each other’s company and get to know one another better,” Sauls said.

The symposium will be highlighted by a panel of guest speakers who will present their experiences and involvements with the CLACS program. Lecturers on this panel will include faculty of the Latin American studies program, CLACS alumni, directors of CLACS programs from other nationally recognized universities and former directors of the University’s CLACS program.

The symposium will also pay special homage to the first director of the University’s CLACS Program, John Thompson. Thompson is the founding member of CLACS and was the man who applied for its first grant 50 years ago in 1963. Thompson will be attending Friday to celebrate the anniversary with many of his esteemed colleagues.

“We want to thank him because without him we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Colter said. “From starting from scratch, I am sure he will be very proud of the progress CLACS has made over the past 50 years.”

Jed can be reached at [email protected]