|BROWNSVILLE, May 10 - UT-Rio Grande Valley should include the cultural, linguistic, and geographic assets of the region as integral parts of its formative agenda.
That is the recommendation of the Bicultural Studies Working Group, which was formed to help craft an identity for the new institution.
The group comprised academics Dania López García, Alfredo Mercuri, José Dávila, Francisco Guajardo, Sonia Hernández, Suzanne LaLonde, Jessica Lavariega Monforti, Sandra Mercuri, and Sandra Musanti.
The group’s 32-page report starts with a quote from the Canadian-American writer William Gibson. “The future is already here, it is just not very evenly distributed.” Members say this quote reflects an overarching position of the Bicultural Studies Working Group. “We propose that the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley endorse and establish innovative programs that respond to the past and the present while imagining the future of the Rio Grande Valley and beyond. More specifically, this working group urges UTRGV to include the cultural, linguistic, and geographic assets of the region as integral parts of its formative agenda.”
In its introduction, the group points out that the U.S.-Mexico border along coastal Texas is a major population center that has experienced “unfettered growth” during the past two decades. “Close to a million and a half people inhabit the northern side of the Rio Grande and another three million populate the Mexican side. More than 90 percent of South Texas’s population is Hispanic, and the trend throughout the state points to an increasing growth of this mostly Spanish-speaking population. It is also important to consider that Spanish is the second most widely spoken language throughout the U.S.,” the report states.
“In light of this cultural and linguistic reality, the Bicultural Studies Working Group recommends that UTRGV promote bilingual and bicultural education.”
The report states that the working group understands biculturalism and bilingualism as “integral parts” of a multicultural context. “The bicultural and bilingual environment of the Rio Grande Valley, for instance, nurtures problem solving skills, as well as adaptability and open-mindedness. These are no doubt necessary skills for the 21st century, and are central to shape new leaders at the regional and international levels.”
There are other reasons to support bicultural and bilingual education within the context of multiculturalism, the working group believes.
“First of all, although public schools across the region and higher education institutions have worked to create academic opportunities for all members of the community, the educational needs of the Hispanic-bilingual population must be addressed.
“Secondly, the integration of the world economy and new technologies, especially in communication and transportation, have intensified contact among peoples and cultures. Bilingual and bicultural competencies are therefore essential for a competitive global workforce.
“Thirdly, research shows that children who acquire advanced levels of proficiency in second languages experience cognitive advantages compared to monolingual students. For example, bilinguals perform better than monolinguals on divergent thinking tasks, pattern recognition, and problem solving.”
Further, the group states, “biliteracy contributes to intellectual development by providing learners access to a broader range of linguistic and cultural resources and hence an ability to negotiate meaning.”
“In short,” the group states, “if students trained in languages and cultures enjoy an acute ability to problem solve and to negotiate meaning, among others, then the University will prepare students for the future, which will no doubt require a flexibility of mind, in addition to creative problem-solving skills.”
The working group acknowledges that policy makers and educators might view bilingual education as a “high-risk investment.” However, although there are initial start-up costs, the group states, recurrent costs for effective bilingual programs are not significantly greater than those for traditional monolingual programs. It says this statement can be supported by evidence gathered by the group’s fact-finding mission to the University of Ottawa, a fully bilingual/bicultural university.
“By tapping into the language and cultural strengths of the people in the area and the regional strategic advantages, UTRGV will reshape the region; strengthen the state’s economy; and provide a bridge to the Americas. By producing graduates with bicultural and bilingual competencies and by partnering with global leaders in research, education, health and other high-growth industries, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will serve as a leaders fostering intellectual and economic development on local, national, and international levels.”
Here are the recommendations from the Bicultural Studies Working Group:
1) Build upon the resources and faculty expertise already in place to promote classes that are bilingual and bicultural in terms of form and/or content (e.g., identify dual-language professors who might be able to teach classes in Spanish);
2) Create college-level working groups that will continue to examine ways to produce bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate students, especially within the Arts and the Humanities;
3) Incentivize bilingual and bicultural teaching and scholarship in tenure/promotion and merit;
4) Pursue the articulation of programs, courses and curriculum taught in Spanish, with the goal of potentially enabling students to complete 100 percent of the General Education Core in Spanish over the course of a two-year cycle;
5) Expand the online offering of courses and programs with a focus on bilingual and bicultural subject matters that might benefit from a global-student market;
6) Expand course offerings in Spanish at the upper division and graduate levels;
7) Provide regional and international internship/exchange opportunities;
8) Integrate Spanish-language instruction with English-language instruction in the School of Medicine in order to foster bilingual and bicultural medical professionals;
9) To articulate gradual immersion opportunities for international students;
10) To promote the idea of a Spanish-speaker friendly institution that accommodates the linguistic needs of international students and to provide an optimal learning environment for students of both English and Spanish as a second language
11) Create a new Institute for Bilingual and Bicultural Affairs (working name) that has a line in UTRGV budget on a permanent basis. It is recommended that the Institute be established at the V.P. level with staffing and several specialized departments;
12) Adopt a university-wide policy, along with supporting resources that value faculty scholarship published in languages other than English;
13) Provide resources to strengthen students’ biliteracy skills by creating a Spanish-language writing center;
14) Establish a faculty-development fund (preferably from new grants) dedicated to support faculty in the personal and curricular development of biliterate and bicultural competencies.
Click here to read the full report from the Bicultural Studies Working Group.