Growing Latino Scholarship: IUPLR at LAS

Maria de los Angeles Torres

Maria de los Angeles Torres.

“This will be the first time in its 30-year history that the Inter-University Program for Latino Research will have a full-time director,” said Maria de los Angeles Torres. “As managing director of IUPLR at its new home at LAS, I look forward to both growing the consortium and taking advantage of its presence here to provide new research and scholarship opportunities for our faculty and students.”

This summer, Torres stepped down from her role as Director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program (LALS) to lead the IUPLR, a national consortium of 25 university-based research centers and academic programs. Through LALS, the College has been a member institution of IUPLR since 2006; in late 2012—with strong support from LAS Dean Astrida Orle Tantillo, as well as Provost Lon Kaufman and Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares—Torres prepared a competitive proposal that LAS become the consortium’s fifth home. The IUPLR transition committee agreed and consortium headquarters officially took residence here July 1, following 14 years at the University of Notre Dame Institute for Latino Studies.

The IUPLR will call UIC home for the next five years. “While I will continue to teach, the rest of my efforts will be devoted to the IUPLR—refining the governance structure, leveraging opportunities for research collaborations between member institutions and with individual scholars across the country, and of course fundraising. This is the first time that an IUPLR director will not also be concurrently running a research center,” explained Torres, who will serve as Chair of the IUPLR Board of Directors in addition to her managing director duties.

“The Board is comprised of the heads of the member centers and as the new Director of LALS, Amalia Pallares will now sit on the IUPLR Board,” noted Torres. “At the top of my agenda for our first meeting, I want to explore alternative models for the executive committee—including regional representation or representation based on project or scholarship area. I want us also to develop ways in which the executive committee can function more actively and effectively.”

The IUPLR was founded in 1983 with support from the Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation and Tinker Foundation; its first headquarters were at Stanford University. Since that time the IUPLR has become the leading research network in Latino studies, advancing the Latino intellectual presence in the United States through promoting and facilitating collaborative, interdisciplinary, comparative and policy-focused research. They also seek to partner with scholars in the arts, culture and humanities and develop programs to support Latino students and faculty in higher education.

“We are at a pivotal point in Latino Studies,” said Torres. “Over the past few decades, social scientists and humanities scholars have been conducting studies and developing theories across issues including political economy, political behavior and notions of citizenship as they pertain to the multiple communities generally classified as ‘Latino.’ Add to that the very immediate concerns of immigration and health behaviors and policies. With more than a million Latinos living in Chicago we are in a unique position to contribute to and strengthen the continuum from research and scholarship to advocacy and public policy.

Nena Torres

Nena Torres.

“In the midst of the initial debates around immigration in 2006 and the marches here in Chicago, we had a research group with leadership out of LALS that did a study of the marchers revealing that the majority of the marchers were not only citizens, but were also active voters. Getting that information to debating and campaigning politicians in Springfield and Washington would have been critically important, but IUPLR was not geared up to take that kind of swift action. I want to change that.”

The IUPLR has offices in Washington, DC and Torres will be traveling to the capital fairly frequently as she works to grow the consortium’s role on the policy front. “In five years I would like for our office in Washington to be very connected, able to bring in researchers to work with legislators and provide the type of research data that informs the best public policy,” she said.

“We could be doing quantitative research at the very basic level, for example, calculating the contributions that the undocumented make to the economy—as we think about immigration and who belongs and who doesn’t, who is invisible or who is entitled, and the notions of no taxation without representation.

“As academics we are also concerned about notions of citizenship and how you can rethink belonging. Lawmakers may be interested in ‘just the facts’ but may also be interested in looking at ways in which we need to rethink some of the country’s current theoretical paradigms.”

In addition to immigration, education and health, Torres wants to seek out projects in the areas of transnationalism and arts and culture, particularly around the theme of art and identity. “My predecessor, Gilberto Cárdenas of Notre Dame, is very passionate about art and made great strides deepening the scholarship on art and identity. I want to continue what he started and have asked him to stay on ex-officio,” Torres said.

“I am in the process of reaching out to all the centers,” she added. “I’ve been around the IUPLR for 30 years so I know many of the centers, but I want to be systematic as we move forward to develop a shopping list of research projects.”

Torres

Torres.

Torres faces a very full agenda, but she is uniquely qualified to lead the IUPLR to the next level. A political scientist by training, her scholarship currently focuses on transnationalism, concepts of democracy, diversity and inclusion, and immigration issues. She has long utilized her expertise in the public and governmental arena, both nationally and locally. Before beginning her academic career at DePaul University in 1987, Torres served for four years as Executive Director of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, City of Chicago and she retains strong ties with constituencies at City Hall. In 2008, she was an advisor on Latin American affairs to the Obama Transition Team and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Humanities Council.

At UIC, Torres and the IUPLR will enjoy active and collaborative partnerships with the Great Cities Institute and the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, two university programs known for their pro-active work in fostering the linkages between scholarship and civic engagement. The addition of the IUPLR to UIC’s roster of dynamic and influential research centers will significantly enhance the university’s contribution to the public good.

“The values and mission of IUPLR align exceptionally well with those of LAS, where we prize collaboration, interdisciplinary research and extending our scholarship beyond the walls of the academy to inform and improve society on the local, national and global level,” said LAS Dean Astrida Tantillo. “The College will be an ideal home for the program and we look forward to enjoying a productive and mutually-beneficial relationship.”

Photos by Laura Ress Design