Latin American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Studying the Region

Dr. Alessandra Santos, Chair of the Latin American Studies program at UBC, describes what makes the program unique, what skills students can develop, and where the program is heading in the near future.

Flickr Photo by Wheeler Cowperthwaite / CC BY 2.0 / with modifications

“Instead of specializing in one academic discipline and exhausting the course list that department offers, Latin American Studies gives you the freedom and flexibility to reach into many different disciplines and become well informed on the Americas from a diversity of perspectives.”
Undergraduate Student, Latin American Studies

What is Latin American Studies?

Latin American Studies (LAS) is one of the many interdisciplinary programs in the Faculty of Arts. Its mission is to advance the study and teaching of Latin America at UBC and throughout the lower mainland. Founded almost 30 years ago, the program serves as a vibrant hub for Latin American-related activities involving teaching, research and community outreach, and aims to facilitate the development of Latin America-related curriculum and public events.

The program offers a Major and a Minor that incorporates a broad range of disciplines within Arts. With over 35 affiliated faculty members ranging across 15 departments and five different UBC Schools, our program is well-suited for students interested in pursuing interdisciplinary and transnational approaches to Latin America.

LAS students take courses from a variety of departments to complete the program. For example, our students may take courses in the following disciplines: Anthropology; Art History; Economics; First Nations and Indigenous Studies; Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice; Geography; History; Spanish and Portuguese; Social Work; Sociology; Political Science; among others.

We also offer Latin American Studies courses (LAST) that cover a rich variety of topics, such as those offered this academic year: LAST 100 Introduction to Latin America; LAST 201 Popular Culture in Latin America; and LAST 303 Indigenous Peoples of Latin America.

The LAS program is unique and innovative because it offers regionally concentrated, yet diverse areas of study. The program highlights the global importance and complexities of Latin America, and it provides students with an understanding of the great cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the region.

What skills can students develop?

Latin American Studies students develop language skills and cultural competencies that serve as the foundation for diverse industries.

These include careers in government and politics, public service, foreign service, business, education, humanitarian work, law, global health care, non-profits, tourism, among many other fields. Students who seek to internationalize their degrees and maximize their global visibility should consider an LAS Major or Minor.

Some of the many transferable skills LAS students develop are: global cultural diversity awareness, international know-how, language proficiency, critical thinking and problem solving, effective communication skills, and effective research skills.

What recent changes has the program undergone?

The Latin American Studies program has recently undergone multiple positive changes. The program is now administratively housed in the Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies (FHIS), helping stabilize the foundation of the program in terms of communications, hiring, course assignments, and review of the program.

In addition, I am the new Chair of the program, having just started what I hope to be a fruitful and productive appointment. We also have an Advisory Committee comprised of LAS Affiliated Faculty, including Bill French (History), Kim Beauchesne (FHIS) and Brianne Orr-Álvarez (FHIS). We hold annual LAS Affiliated Faculty meetings.

We have also launched the new LAS website, which has a new streamlined look and more functional navigation. The LAS website serves a crucial role as the centralized location for all information related to Latin American Studies at UBC, including programs, courses, faculty, news and events. For those interested, please visit the website.

As the new Chair, what is your vision for the program?

As the new Chair of the Latin American Studies program, I am honoured to take on the responsibilities that this position requires, and I am excited about the myriad of possibilities the role offers. The LAS program provides a flexible, unique and vibrant experience to UBC students, and I am enthusiastic about having the opportunity to expand and stabilize its position as a leading interdisciplinary program in the Faculty of Arts.

The importance of Latin American culture to the world is undeniable. The Latin American diasporic population in the Lower Mainland is progressively increasing, and the interest of UBC students about the region is also growing.

The LAS program has tremendous potential, and with my Affiliated Faculty colleagues, I hope to increase the visibility and impact of the program in our community.

We will engage on a review of the courses that count towards the Major and Minor, and of the LAST courses offered. We will also search for other campus-wide faculty and students who are interested in Latin America, in order to establish further dynamic connections at UBC. The strengthening and growth of the LAS program is a collective process, and I hope to serve as an effective facilitator to its successful endeavors, especially towards ensuring a productive future for the program.

Dr. Alessandra Santos is an Associate Professor of Latin American Literatures and Cultures in FHIS. Originally from Brazil, she received her post-secondary education in California. She has been involved with LAS for the entirety of her nine years at UBC. Her interdisciplinary research examines literature and culture in modern and contemporary Latin America with special focus on Brazil. She teaches courses on Brazilian literature and cinema, and on the Amazon region. She also teaches an introduction to Latin American literature in translation, and a variety of special topics courses on Latin American culture. She serves as the current Undergraduate Advisor for Majors and Minors in Latin American Studies, and as well as the Undergraduate Advisor for Portuguese.