From the Director 

Over the past dozen years, support for area studies has been wavering nationally.  During the fall of 2021, the situation seemed more dire than ever, with threats of more cuts to our already overworked staff right when we were about to apply for the next four-year round of US Department of Education’s National Resource Center (NRC) and Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) grants, worth over $2 million.  Former director Marta Caminero-Santangelo quit in protest to protect our remaining staff, and office manager, Amanda Hill, followed her out the door.  This contributed to a counter-wave of support from the Provost’s office and our community.  The College not only restored but bolstered our budget and did so again this year.  Meanwhile, Provost Bichelmeyer, after a detailed study of KU’s international potential, announced the creation of the new Institute for International and Global Engagement (IIGE), in which all the area studies centers are now housed.  Our own Melissa Birch (Business) has been the director since last summer.  This support, the solid condition in which Marta left the center, and Marta’s, Melissa’s, and former Assistant Director Aron Muci’s assistance were essential to our winning the four-year NRC and FLAS grants, for which we applied in February and won in August 2022.  Also critical to winning these grants are the strength of institutional resources such as those provided by the Hall Center and KUCR, our strong pool of faculty experts, and our potential to reach communities with programming.  So, congratulations to our entire Latin Americanist & Caribbeanist community for winning another round of NRC & FLAS grants, which places us in the top 17 universities in the US for Latin American & Caribbean Studies. 

Over the past 23 years that I have been in and out of the center in various roles, I have learned that besides excellent programming and enthusiasm for Latin America and the Caribbean, an unfortunate stable feature of the center is staff turnover.  The tradition continues.  In the spring 2022, KU hired our new SSC accountant, Charlie Porter, who was extraordinarily reliable and competent.  He was replaced in April 2023 by Jin Sun.  In May 2022, we hired a very capable office manager in Mariya Borisova, who we share with the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.  My right-hand man (or was I his?), Aron Muci, was the only full-time employee in the center since 2016 and one of the few on the planet who could juggle the tasks of Assistant Director, Outreach Coordinator, Student Advisor for FLAS and Tinker awards, and Communications Coordinator.  Recognizing his talents, the University of Texas’ Institute for Latin American Studies hired him away in December 2022.  We are very happy for him, as he will be moving up in his job responsibilities and salary, but we will miss him.  Fortunately, we have found a highly competent, creative, technologically savvy, and muy simpática replacement in Carolina Simon-Pardo from Colombia.  Carolina began the long ascent of her position’s learning curve on January 9, but she is leaving this month to attend graduate school in Florida.  We also have a team of student workers in Margarita Núñez Arroyo, Silvia Sánchez, Sara Miranda Lucio, and Mia Mosher, all of whom speak Spanish, not to mention Kaqchikel Maya in Margarita’s and Silvia’s cases. 

Our integration into the Institute for International and Global Engagement began in fall 2022.  Director Melissa Birch was originally recruited to KU by former director Elizabeth Kuznesof in 1995 and has been a leader of KU area studies ever since, including directing a USDE-funded Center for International Business Education & Research.  Among Melissa’s many plans have been strengthening communication and collaboration between the centers, other KU offices, the region’s public and private sectors, and KU alumni.  With Provost Bichelmeyer’s and Melissa’s leadership in international education, we are beginning to see KU advance towards its potential in international programming. 

The past year and a half have been busy because of my own steep learning curve managing 6 overlapping NRC, FLAS, and Tinker grants and (re)hiring and (re)training staff.  Some of the activities in the new NRC grant include presentations, trainings, and exercises with and for minority serving institutions (MSI’s), community colleges, K-12 schools, other centers, and the Lawrence community.  One new community event will be a series of cultural, linguistic, and historical presentations about the indigenous Me’phaa-speakers (popularly known as the Tlapanec) in Lawrence, who comprise the largest population of recent immigrants in Lawrence and have become a pillar of our economy.  The NRC will also support existing and new study abroad programs to Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Paraguay.  The FLAS funding allows us to provide four graduate students up to $38,000/academic year apiece and four undergraduates $15,000/academic year to learning languages at the second-year level and above, and 3 graduate students and 3 undergraduates $7,500 apiece for intensive summer language institutes. 

Besides our budget from the College and the grants, we also try to fill in the gaps with donations and other awards.  In the fall of 2021, Marta Caminero led a capital campaign for the center that raised over $6000 for the Anita Herzfeld Study Abroad fund, $1600 for the Charles Stansifer Graduate Fellowship, and $2350 for our general fund.  With this amazing support and a continuous trickle of donations since, we can now boost the award amounts or number of awardees for these.  KU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) also awarded the center $10,000 in recognition of its creation of “an exceptional learning community that lifts each member and advances society.” Former Director Marta Caminero-Santangelo deserves the most credit for this.  The funds are meant to support our campus-wide DEI programs and initiatives, and if you have any innovative ideas, please share! 

On December 1, 2021, within weeks of my taking on the directorship, our community lost a foundational member, Dr. Anita Herzfeld.  Anita was central to Latin American studies since the 1960s, was former director of Study Abroad, and former Undergraduate Director of the center (1994-2010).  Our annual Waggoner Research Symposium celebrated her career and life in November 2022 (see below).  In August 2022, our longest-serving director (1992-2010), Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Kuznesof became Professor Emerita, ending her long and highly successful teaching career at KU and opening a new research and publication phase in her career.  We celebrated Betsy’s transition with ceremony in October 2022.  Although few realize it today, many of us would not be here at KU without Betsy’s and Anita’s dedication, leadership, and vision.