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  • Accidential choice

    Hector Avalos' foray into multicultural teaching wasn't by design

  • Hector Avalos came to Iowa State as a Biblical scholar.

    Now Avalos can add College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) master teacher to his resume.

    Only Avalos' master teacher award didn’t come as a Biblical scholar, but rather as a multicultural instructor - something he wouldn't have dreamed of when he first came to campus in the 1990s.

    "I'm a scholar of the ancient Near East," the associate professor of philosophy and religious studies said. "I never intended to work with U.S. Latino/a Studies before I came here, but soon after I arrived I was asked to develop such a program.

    "I have never even take a Latino/a Studies course," he continued. "It was completely by accident that I became involved in multicultural teaching."

    As the founder and still director of the U.S. Latino/a Studies program, Avalos is directing the only such academic program at any college or university in Iowa. Since the program began with just one course in 1994, U.S. Latino/a Studies has helped hundreds of Iowa State students fulfill their diversity requirements on campus.

    In addition Avalos has developed and introduced many of these courses including an introduction to U.S. Latino/ Studies. He has also developed courses on how Latino/a literature and film portray religion.

    It was his involvement in this area that was a major factor in Avalos being named as one of five LAS master teachers in multicultural classroom instruction for 2003-04.

    When the program was just beginning to take shape, Avalos says he was faced with a dilemma on how to construct U.S. Latino/a Studies program. In the end he decided to design a holistic program, requiring teaching strategies to provide balance and fairness in the coverage of many Latino sub-groups.

    "Many similar programs specialize in just one Latino sub-group or generalize into all Spanish-speaking cultures in the U.S.," Avalos said.

    Instead Avalos decided to look at three different Latino sub-groups - Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban-Americans. With the rapid rise in populations immigrating to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and other Central American countries, Avalos is constantly re-evaluating the program's course of study.

    Avalos also took another different view of the way U.S. Latino/a Studies should be structured.

    "In the '60s and '70s, many universities added ethnic studies to the curriculum in order to promote social justice and to give minorities a voice," he said. "In the '90s, we tried to focus on the education and economic benefits of knowing more about Latinos. Anyone in this country that is interested in business, law enforcement or health care, should know more about Latino culture."

    From that first course offered in 1994, the U.S. Latino/a Studies program now has faculty from sociology, English, history and political science, as well as Avalos. For the spring of 2004, program's fundamental course ("Introduction to Latino Studies" or LAS 211) is offering two sections for the first time ever.

    Avalos developed this course and has come to realize that while he wasn't actively involved with multicultural instruction when he first arrived on campus, he has always been a multicultural professor.

    "The more I thought about it the more I realized I was teaching the Bible from a multicultural perspective," he said. "I also do that when I talk about health care in ancient times.

    "I never meant to be a multicultural teacher per se, but the fact was I was doing it all along."

Hector Avalos in office

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December 1-21, 2003