Decolonizing minds : the experiences of Latina Mexican American studies majors at a predominately white university



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The recent attacks on ethnic studies programs both in Arizona with house bill 2281 and locally at the University of Central Texas serve as an urgent call to address how ethnic studies programs impact the educational trajectories of students. Additionally, research done on ethnic studies programs has largely focused on high school programs, overlooking programs in higher education. Therefore, this study addresses the following question: In what ways does being a Mexican American Studies major influence the experiences of Latinas at a predominately White institution (PWI)? Using Chicana feminist thought and Yosso’s (2005) community cultural wealth model as theoretical perspectives this study seeks to; 1) understand an educational approach (ethnic studies) that has shown success with students of color, 2) fill in the gap in the literature of ethnic studies programs in higher education, and 3) look at the gendered experience of Latinas at PWIs. Through a thematic analysis of six in depth interviews and a focus group conducted with six Latina undergraduates the author finds that Mexican American Studies represents a site or process of reclaiming and redefining. Four major themes are identified and discussed; reclaiming knowledge, the self, and space(s) and redefining la mujer. The findings suggest that there is a relationship between student retention and ethnic studies programs, adding epistemic and mestiza capital to Yosso’s community cultural wealth model, and using ethnic studies programs as models of how to best support students of color at PWIs. The author concludes with the suggestion that more research is needed on the experiences of other undergraduate students (White, African American, men, etc.) that are ethnic studies majors in order to further understand the impact, importance, and wealth of potential in these programs.