The Latinx Studies Major: A Love Letter to Sewanee

Eva Monahan

Features Editor

Before my interview with Stefen Rincon, a sophomore who created his own Latinx Studies major this fall, I expected his story to be one of an unfulfilled student, simply put. However, I was very pleased to learn that there was much more passion for so many aspects of student life that culminated in the making of the Latinx Studies major. 

Photo courtesy of Stefen Rincon (C’25)

The main goal of the major for Rincon was to help him find a place at the school and learn more about his own culture and the cultures around him. He commented that being able to focus on something so tangible and personable as Latinx Studies would help to bring the few people on campus in that community closer together, including himself. Of course, there was also the allure of being able to decide many of your own classes and even make your own comprehensive exam—something which hadn’t been done since the student-led creation of the Italian Studies major in recent years.

There was a bit of a misconception about the Latinx Studies “major” itself, as it is not technically a major as of right now but an independent study. However, Rincon intends to continue working with his contacts in the departments to make it more easily available for other students and create a full Latinx course sometime in the future.

Naturally, one of my first questions was “why did you decide to make this new major?” Rincon explained that, although having tried IGS (International & Global Studies), the school simply did not offer what he was looking for. Since Sewanee offers African American Studies and Asian Studies, Rincon argued that there was certainly room for a Latinx Studies major as well. He added that taking IGS or Spanish culture courses often left out other cultures and ethnicities that instead fell under the Latinx umbrella. Due to this lack of acknowledgement of the larger Latinx community by the Spanish courses, the IGS courses also seemed to lack a focus on “what it meant to be Latino in the United States. ” He would go on to add that “I can’t continue in a major where I don’t know the history of my people.”

Rincon also added that taking Spanish language courses, (as he had been recommended), felt like an unnecessary aspect of the kind of studies he wanted to do. Rincon said that he felt like he shouldn’t have to “prove” his ability to speak Spanish, nor is it necessarily a part of every Latinx experience since many of them (like myself as well) do not speak Spanish. I found this to be such an interesting point and it was explained so succinctly. It showed me very quickly how much thought had been put into Rincon’s major. 

Apparently, the administration had come to a similar conclusion and the overall process of the Latinx independent study went over very smoothly. Although Rincon is the only student currently signed up for the major, he explained how he would love for it to be available for other students eventually. Plus, adding new classes specifically for the major would add to the diversity of available courses for those whose curiosity is not satisfied by IGS, Spanish, or WGS (Women’s and Gender Studies).

Rincon explained the process for those interested in creating their own major or independent study. The first step would be to email Associate Dean of the College for Undergraduate Academic Affairs, Alexander Bruce, and explain that you have an idea for a major. You should then be emailed a form to fill out with personal information, and then you will write a statement explaining why you think the University should offer this major and what the major entails. Rincon explained that he had to consider what he felt the University was lacking and how to convince them that this major would help fill in these gaps–and how it could be applicable to other students beyond himself. Rincon mentioned that he worked with many cooperative administrators including the Associate Dean for Inclusion and Faculty Development, Betsy Sandlin, and Professor of Religious Studies, Sid Brown, Senior Director of EEOT(Equity, Equal Opportunity, & Title IX), Dr. Sylvia Grey, Assistant Professor of History and Women’s & Gender Studies, Molly Brookfield, and Associate Professor of History, Kelly Whitmer. 

Rincon explained that you will also be advised to pick three to four faculty advisors including a head advisor, who will write a letter of support backing your major and you as a person. All of this is sent to Dean Bruce then to the committee to where it is then denied or approved, then onto the next faculty meeting where it is again voted on. You will be asked to look through the registrar and make a list of all the currently offered courses that you think are applicable to the major. Applicable classes could be spread out through many different departments so it would be worthwhile to search through them all. 

Although not every faculty member became a part of this process, Rincon said that practically everyone he talked to was in support of his major and wanted him to succeed. He mentioned that of the faculty that aided him in the process, most were Latinx as well. He said that “[maybe] they saw me in them, and I saw a lot of them in me.” 

Here is Rincon’s last piece of advice; “Look over everything in your mind. What do you want your major to consist of…What would you name it. Consider whether or not it…fits the school’s standards…[and] my biggest piece of advice is finding a professor who is going to ride or die for you.” 

Rincon’s story felt like a love letter to Sewanee—to the students, the communities formed within it, and the professors and administration that keep it afloat. Closing out our interview, we discussed the fact that he considered leaving to attend other colleges that already offered Latinx studies. Rincon quickly added that “there is something special about being here…like [the] Posse…program…and the people here are so unique…my friends…and those people who just wanted to see me succeed. That’s what makes this place so special. Students just want to see each other succeed. Throw sunshine, not shade!”

I will admit I teared up a little at the end. Meeting and talking with Stefen Rincon was such a pleasure and I hope others get the chance to do it too!